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OK, Glass, have an NBA player dunk in my face

Sacramento Kings guard Ray McCollum slams home a dunk during a scrimmage while wearing Google Glass.


(Credit:
James Martin/CNET)

SACRAMENTO, Calif.–”This is the real Google,” taunted Sacramento Kings guard Orlando Johnson.

Johnson leaned in, dribbling a basketball, ready to explode to the hoop. Only teammates Ray McCallum and Jason Thompson stood in the way. Through the
Google Glass I was wearing, I watched Thompson prepare to stop Johnson. From Thompson’s exact point of view.

Moments earlier, I’d watched as McCallum had dribbled in, jumped high in the air, and dunked the ball hard. My view? A look at the rim from a couple of feet away, close enough to see the stitches on the net, again from Thompson’s vantage point,

Each of the three Kings was wearing Glass, and each was recording as they worked their way through an informal shootaround hours before the night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans. As they played, they taunted and bragged, well aware of the technology they were wearing. “Google, record that,” one shouted as he made a sweet shot. “Google, stop Ray,” Johnson commanded.

Johnson, McCallum, and Thompson were wearing Google Glass as part of a new program the Kings have started that is designed to let fans see things like shootarounds, pre-game workouts, and even in-game huddles from the players’ perspective. Using technology developed by San Francisco’s CrowdOptic, the Kings plan on making feeds from Glass being worn by players, announcers, the team’s mascot, and even its cheerleaders, available during games to anyone running its app on their own Glass, on TV, and on the arena’s JumboTron. Unfortunately, players will not wear Glass during actual game action.

A Sacramento Kings cheerleader dances while wearing Google Glass. Her view was broadcast to the team’s JumboTron during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans.


(Credit:
James Martin/CNET)

The Kings’ experiment is an interesting one that promises to offer fans a unique new look at game day action. Along with other experiments, like accepting Bitcoin, using drones to shoot video inside the team’s Sleep Train Arena, and even incorporating Oculus Rift, the Kings are trying to take the lead among NBA teams when it comes to using technology to enhance fans’ experiences.

And no wonder, given that the team’s ownership group is packed full of tech heavyweights like Tibco Software founder Vivek Ranadive; Paul, Hal, and Jeff Jacobs (whose father founded Qualcomm); Leap Motion President (and former Apple vice president) Andy Miller; and former Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly. Thanks to those connections, the team, in its search for new tech to try out, is “literally one phone call away from every tech CEO in the world,” said Kings senior vice president for marketing and strategy Ben Gumpert.

But back to Glass. Here’s how it works.

When Glass records video, it can broadcast that feed, and CrowdOptic’s software can capture it, send it back out, allowing anyone running its app to “inherit” the feed. Although there’s a short delay, it means that an average Glass wearer — or later, someone running the CrowdOptic app on a smart phone — will be able to see just what I saw when I watched Thompson, Johnson, and McCallum play 1-on-2: an up close and very personal view of getting dunked on.

NBA dons Google Glass to put you in the game (pictures)

To start with, the Kings bought 10 pairs of Glass, meaning that at any one time, there are few possible feeds that fans could inherit. But over time, as the team buys more, or fans’ own Glass or smartphone feeds are incorporated into the mix, CrowdOptic’s algorithms will be brought to bear to help find the most compelling views for fans. As Jon Fisher, the company’s CEO explained, its technology is able to analyze multiple feeds coming from a similar location and choose the best one to share. Ultimately, when there’s hundreds, or even thousands, of feeds choose from, “the fans will be in charge,” said vice president of business development (and former NFL linebacker) Jim Kovach. “They’re going to see what they want to see.”

As far as the players are concerned, wearing Glass and using the hot wearable technology to give fans a little more access is a no-brainer. According to Thompson, the best way to use it is when doing “tricks and dunks, and flashy things….[You can] see different things, like the way people talk.”

That’s exactly what CrowdOptic is hoping pro sports teams will realize. In addition to the Kings, the company is working with a half-dozen other (as yet unnamed) NBA franchises, as well as some college teams. The technology, said Kovach, lets fans have a much closer look at players’ personalities. “They have their quirks, and you can’t pick that up from the stands,” Kovach said, referring to things like players messing around during workouts, or on the sidelines. “It’s just interesting to see.”

Sacramento Kings players Orlando Johnson, Ray McCallum, and Jason Thompson (left to right) scrimmage while wearing Google Glass.


(Credit:
James Martin/CNET)

To be sure, this technology isn’t ready for widespread deployment. Though the Kings have tested it out during two recent games, the team has so far only pushed the feeds to the arena’s JumboTron screen. For now, network support is the limiting factor. But soon, Glass wearers will be able to see what it’s liked to get dunked on by an NBA player.

“This is a new century,” Thompson said. “It’s 2014, and this is definitely the future, not just of basketball, but of the world.”

Then again, maybe McCallum put it better as he scrimmaged against Johnson and Thompson. “Oooooooh, Google,” the 22-year-old guard said as he drained a pretty bucket over his teammates.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/giTuRIID3qM/

The Web at 25: Out of the ashes and onto the Friendster

Resting on the Yukon River in 2003. I went a little further than most when I fled the fallout of the dot-com bust.


(Credit:
Johanna DeBiase)

In part 1 of “The Web at 25,” I recalled the early days of the Web and how it exposed young, emerging nerds like myself to whole new worlds online. In part 2, the story continued as I came of age alongside the Web during the era of the dot-com boom and bust. Today, on the actual 25th birthday of Tim Berners-Lee submitting the concept that became the World Wide Web, I’ll revisit the long, painful hangover (it was a literal hangover, in my case) that followed until the eventual emergence of Web 2.0 that laid the foundation for today’s social and mobile Renaissance.

In 2002 in San Francisco, the South of Market district that once bustled with startups paying high rents had become a wasteland of empty offices. There was a mass exodus of tens of thousands from the Bay Area, including me. After years of being a teenage Web monkey and writer in high demand for just my most basic skills, I took the only job offered me, sight unseen, in Galena, Alaska, at an AM radio station where I was one of two full-time employees.

After a decade of living the digital revolution, I had gone all analog. And unlike in Silicon Valley, where loyalty was only as strong as the next best offer and hopping from startup to startup was common, I had signed a two-year contract. The penalty for breaking that contract was to pay back the thousands of dollars in moving expenses it took to relocate someone from the lower 48 to a tiny fly-in village that’s closer to Siberia than to the state capitol in Juneau. I was already in plenty of debt thanks to some paychecks that never arrived from now-bankrupt startups, so I wasn’t about to leave. I was locked in until at least 2004.

My Web design skills were still sub-par in 2002. (Click to enlarge.)


(Credit:
Eric Mack/CNET)

For a while, I tried to juggle the responsibilities of running the only radio station within 250 miles in all directions — news, weather, and country music in the morning, more news and classic rock in the afternoons — with trying not to freeze to death and still keeping a toe in the digital waters from a distance.

I gathered up other dot-com refugees from my Ironminds days and edited an online concern called Nine Planets that probably looked way too much like McSweeney’s in retrospect. That only lasted for a few months, before eventually being demoted to dwell in the forgotten spaces, much like the no-longer ninth planet the name references. In mid 2002, I posted this excuse for the demise of the site, which would also come to serve as my final goodbye to the Web 1.0 world:

The straight and strange truth is that Nine Planets currently lives in a remote rural village on the Yukon River in Western Alaska to which no roads lead. This makes it particularly difficult for Nine Planets to get a decent computer system and/or Internet connection. 24 hours of sunlight during the summer made it particularly difficult to continue spending extra hours at work where the only digital devices reside. When Nine Planets did find a decent computer on eBay, it took a month to be shipped from Maine and appears to have gotten royally f****d up in the process. But more darkness and equipment are on their way, and hence more depression and content will surely follow.

More content did not follow. At least not from me.

A cyborg no more
After that, I spent the next few years living life as a “normal” person. I was no longer an early adopter; I did not own a cell phone or have access to broadband; I did not use the word “content” in an online context. After spending most of my life plugged in, I was now less wired than my mother, who was just beginning to use email at the time.

Strangely, I didn’t miss it much. Perhaps because there was plenty to distract me. Besides the fascinating landscape, people, culture, weather, and Northern Lights, the local bar charged just three bucks for any drink you wanted. ANY drink. During evenings and weekends, I was generally a bit tipsy. But during working hours I was getting more intimate with tech that I used to take for granted. I could service and maintain a 12,000-watt AM transmitter on my own, and helped the village set up an ad hoc cell phone network run off of our station’s tower. It was more empowering than being able to design Web sites poorly, and by the time my two years was up, I was also starting to sober up (thanks in no small part to my future wife). More on what all that was like here.

Even largely removed from the Web, I watched Web 2.0 slowly emerge. If something caught on in my tiny village so far removed from civilization, it was going to take off. Strangely I found that this made Galena a better barometer for the direction the Web would take than the words of supposed gurus in the Silicon Valley hype zone.

Village teenagers and other young adults went absolutely nuts for Friendster early on in the life of the pioneering social network, and of course MySpace followed, and even Facebook was talked about in 2004, before it was available to those beyond Ivy League schools. This kind of chatter was rarely heard at my own high school just seven years prior. The Web had completed the transition from the fringes of youth culture to becoming the bedrock of its mainstream foundation.

Slightly older transplants like myself were also hip to nascent social networks, and started to flock to early blogging platforms like Blogger and LiveJournal to chronicle our great Alaskan adventures. The emergence of Google as a superpower and its many successes in organizing the Web were also evident and undeniable as far away as the Yukon as it filed for its IPO in 2004.

Out of the wild
When I finally left Alaska in 2005, having successfully survived the ordeal and scored a brilliant wife in the process, there were more than 8 billion Web pages online, more than one for each person on the planet. Broadband had become much more commonplace, opening the door for the success of YouTube, Skype,
iTunes, and even wackier digital environments like Second Life.

This period may be the second dot-com boom that nobody noticed. Or they did, but didn’t want to say anything and jinx it all, given what happened last time. By 2006, Google had indexed more than 25 billion Web pages, or almost four for every person on Earth, along with 1.3 billion images, and the search engine was processing 400 million queries per day.

During the Web’s years in the virtual wilderness of sorts, and while I was living in the literal wild, the next-generation www was quietly being built and seemed to emerge all at once around that time. Digg and others helped introduce us to the power of sharing and viral content; Flickr and YouTube enabled a more visual Web worth sharing; and a crowdsourced free encyclopedia popularized the term “wiki” as it became the biggest reference source online, with more than 750,000 articles by 2005.

With this arrival of Web 2.0 came the maturing of Web culture, and the creation of a new generation of celebrities created, nurtured, and exploded by social media. (Where have you gone, Amanda Congdon?)

Before returning to the lower 48 to reconnect with the digital world and sun in the winter, I spent half a year in Asia and witnessed the other dimension of the reinvigorated Web that was soon to crash on these shores. In China, due to the high cost of cellular voice calls, everyone was texting, all the time. Like, even more than we do now. It was already all mobile, all the time over there, and it was easy to see why. Young middle-class Chinese breezed through their days, dashing off brief communiques 10 at a time to lay out and adjust the day’s agenda on the go.

Seeing this helped me to understand the success of Twitter that would soon follow in the United States, even as microblogging bewildered many people who simply could not understand the point of communicating in short bursts. Even then, before Facebook finally overtook MySpace, before the iPhone, it was clear that the world was becoming more social and more mobile.


Texting has been big in China for some time. Like, really big.


(Credit:

China-mike.com
)

By 2006 I was married with a child and a mortgage on the way and settled back in the lower 48, although still far from the once-again-bustling San Francisco Bay Area. New Mexico still seems like a happy compromise between the total isolation of the Alaskan bush and the more crowded coastal tech hubs. Also, remember that pitch we heard back at the beginning of the Web about a future filled with telecommuting masses? Well, it turns out to be kind of awesome, especially for a new dad.

The Web and I came of age at the same time and had to be separated for a bit to get through our growing pains independently, but by 2007 we were both fully embracing our adulthood. The cool thing about coming into your own is that it allows you to focus on just creating and building amazing things. In the next and final installment of this series I’ll wrap it up with a look at today’s golden age of the fully grown Web.

CNET comments are currently down for maintenance, and should be back soon. In the meantime, please share your memories, and parts of early Web history I’ve missed, on Twitter at @crave and @ericcmack.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/AHx935AjG_Q/

Spy on your own thoughts with Glass Brain

Glass Brain

Thanks to an electrode-fitted cap and a combination of advanced imaging processes, you can now see inside your own brain.


(Credit:
Neuroscape Lab)

What do you get when you combine a neuroscientist with the guy who helped invent the virtual world Second Life? A way to virtually fly around the brain with a gamepad watching thoughts in real time.

That’s what attendees at Austin’s
South By Southwest were recently treated to when Philip Rosedale, creator of Second Life, and Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California San Francisco, unveiled their Glass Brain project. Onlookers were able to be neuro-voyeurs as they peeked in on the mind workings of Rosedale’s wife Yvette, and watched the storm of activity taking place there.

If you weren’t lucky enough to be at SXSW, fear not. I’ve found this captivating video put out by the Neuroscape Lab (the project Gazzaley heads up at the UCSF Neuroscience Imaging Center), that shows what’s going on in our gray matter in gorgeous color. According to the lab, “each color that lights up represents source power and connectivity in a different frequency band (theta, alpha, beta gamma) and the golden lines are white matter anatomical fiber tracts.” In layman’s terms, that means you’re seeing the different levels of electrical energy in the brain (the frequencies), as well as the paths by which that energy moves around (the white matter anatomical fibers).

The Glass Brain project site says these astounding video tours of our noggins are produced through a combination of technologies that include “MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scanning to generate a high-resolution 3D model of an individual’s brain, skull, and scalp tissue, DTI (diffusion tensor imaging) for reconstructing white matter tracts, and BCILAB/SIFT to remove artifacts and statistically reconstruct the locations and dynamics of multiple sources of activity inside the brain from signals measured at electrodes on the scalp.”

I’m not so sure how much the brain is going to like getting looked at all naked and lit up. I keep imagining the wearers of the electrode-fitted caps that make Glass Brain possible falling into some sort of endless feedback loop that has them staring, zombie-like, at screens showing what the brain does when you stare at a screen until someone cuts the power. But a much more likely outcome, according to LiveScience, is that the technology could be used to help people with brain injuries get their brains working correctly again.

In either case, the technology appears to represent a true breakthrough in brain imaging. “We’ve never been able to step inside the structures [of the brain] and see it in this way,” Gazzaley told LiveScience). “It’s biofeedback on the next level.”

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/CAQy31opWJk/

Dong Nguyen on the return of Flappy Bird: ‘I’m considering it’

This picture taken on February 5, 2014, shows Nguyen Ha Dong, the author of the game Flappy Bird relaxing inside a coffee shop in Hanoi.


(Credit:
STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The creator of Flappy Bird is doing quite well since he decided to pull the smartphone game from the iOS App and Google Play Stores last month. Dong Nguyen, the 28-year-old Hanoi, Vietnam-based game designer, is still making tens of thousands of dollars off the addictive mobile hit that pushed smartphone users to a game-playing fever pitch, as well as his other titles, Shuriken Block and Super Ball Juggling, that earned success by association.

The clones are countless; a new one was sprouting up on the App Store an average of every 24 minutes in the immediate wake of Flappy Bird’s demise. Even now, three knockoffs currently sit in the top 10 of free iOS games. And announcing via Twitter that he was pulling Flappy Bird with one day’s notice earned the game more than 10 million downloads in 22 hours alone.

“I can’t go back to my life before, but I’m good now,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in an interview published Tuesday, accompanied by a picture of the chain-smoking Nguyen with his now-trademark look: clean-cut with minimalistic dress and a cigarette hanging from his mouth. But despite finally finding peace from the torrent of online abuse, criticism, and allegations of fraud, Nguyen reasserted that the decision to yank Flappy Bird from the spotlight was as much for his own mental well-being as it was for those who played his creation.

Nguyen detailed some of the more personal interactions with those who fell prey to the kind of addictive tendencies that game makers like King now purposefully target with Candy Crush and other top-grossing mobile hits. For instance, Nguyen was told of people who had lost their jobs, mothers who had stopped speaking with their children, and school children who had smashed their phones, all apparently because of Flappy Bird and its addictive design. It was something Nguyen never intended or asked for, and yet had no control over.

“At first I thought they were just joking,” he said. “But I realize they really hurt themselves.” Nguyen pointed out that, as an avid Counter Strike fan whose grades suffered from his over-playing, he knows how games can be as addictive and destructive as any other vice, and that he hated the fact that he was putting people through that. “Please take a break,” a suggestion Nguyen began tweeting to obsessive Flappy Bird players in the waning days of his sparse online presence, will now accompany any future games Nguyen releases in the form of a warning message.

Rolling Stone’s David Kushner also got Nguyen to open up about his upbringing and design influences. Nguyen revealed that he first fell in love with games by playing Super Mario Bros. on a knockoff Nintendo his parents bought for him and his brother because of the expensive nature of imported electronics, especially early GameBoys.

A hand-drawn picture of Mario even sat above his desk throughout the course of the holiday weekend celebrating Reunification Day, marking the end of the Vietnam War, that Nguyen spent creating Flappy Bird. The intention was simple: Make a game that could be played with one hand on the subway, and could process the simplest input — a single tap — anywhere on the screen, yet make it simple and incredibly difficult to get good at, like a paddle ball toy. Throwing in some nostalgic Nintendo love from his childhood, Nguyen pushed out Flappy Bird and watched as it lay dormant for months.

“The bird is flying along peacefully,” Nguyen said, “and all of a sudden you die!” The inherent humor of that design was on purpose, he said, but it also created a craving to continue playing.


(Credit:
Screenshots by Nick Statt/CNET)

Years earlier, Nguyen spent time honing his programming, building a chess game at age 16 and, at age 19, joining Punch Entertainment, a Hanoi game studio that was a rarity for the Vietnam capital back in the early ’00s. There he earned a reputation for independent thinking and coding proficiency. Nguyen echoed that assessment when asked for the defining reason he pulled Flappy Bird: “I’m master of my own fate,” he said. “Independent thinker.”

It was originally reported last month that Nguyen lived with his parents in a modest home. Now, thanks to his wealth, he’s thinking of buying his own apartment and a Mini Cooper while he stays with a friend. With a newfound passport and the financial cushion to quit his job, Nguyen is back to designing games, including a jetpack endless-runner variant called Kitty Jetpack and a chess game called Checkonaut.

As for an official Flappy Bird rebirth, “I’m considering it,” Nguyen said. Beyond that, he doesn’t spend too much time thinking about the game’s rise, the aftermath of its popularity explosion, or the numerous clones it’s still now generating, though he sees frequent offers from interested buyers. “People can clone the app because of its simplicity,” he said, “but they will never make another Flappy Bird.”

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/M_uedYr_G1k/

Is Facebook contributing to eating disorders?

Facebook

Too much time on Facebook can affect body image, says a new study from Florida State University.


(Credit:
Flickr,Tanel Teemusk)

Over the years, Facebook has been blamed for depression, isolation, jealousy, and various other types of emotional dissatisfaction. Now a researcher has delivered another possible reason to “dislike” using the social-media site: it might contribute to eating disorders.

Pamela K. Keel, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, made that determination after surveying 960 college-aged women. Keel divided the students into two groups: one group spent 20 minutes in their own Facebook universe, and the other read about the ocelot on Wikipedia, then watched a video clip about the adorable rainforest cat on YouTube. Both groups of students were instructed not to browse other Web sites.

“Women who spent 20 minutes on Facebook reported greater maintenance of weight and shape concerns and greater increases in anxiety compared to women in the control condition, which demonstrates that Facebook is influencing well-established eating disorder risk factors,” Keel told Crave. Her results were published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders in a paper titled “Do You ‘Like’ My Photo? Facebook Use Maintains Eating Disorder Risk.”

Keel believes the reason eating-disorder risk factors increased in women who spent time on Facebook was that they compared themselves with the way other women looked — or least a carefully presented version of the way other women looked. Peer influences and traditional media are both known risk factors for disordered eating.

“Now it’s not the case that the only place you’re seeing thin and idealized images of women in bathing suits is on magazine covers,” Keel said in a statement. “Now your friends are posting carefully curated photos of themselves on their Facebook page that you’re being exposed to constantly. It represents a very unique merging of two things that we already knew could increase risk for eating disorders.”

This isn’t the first time it’s been postulated that Facebook can lead to comparison fever with negative effects. Last year, researchers at two German universities found that time on the social media site — especially time spent viewing other people’s vacation photos — triggered envy and an overall dissatisfaction with life.

In Keel’s study, the women who seemed most affected by their time on Facebook were those who placed greater importance on getting more likes and comments on their posts and those who were most likely to untag photos of themselves. Keel’s advice for women who fall into this category? “Consider what it is you are pursuing when you post on Facebook,” she said. “Try to remember that you are a whole person and not an object,” she said, “so don’t display yourself as a commodity that then can be approved or not approved.”

Either that, or spend more time researching the ocelot.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/uvJn0C-ZjdA/

Winklevii buy Galactic tickets with bitcoin (because pioneers!)

No, they’re not bitcoins. They’re pistachios.


(Credit:
Pistachios/YouTube screenshot by CNET)

Do you spend every day trying to remove pain from your life? Does friction affect your ability to stay calm, focused, or even yourself?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. I have a solution for you. Go and buy $200,000 worth of bitcoins and then slap them down on a seat into space with Virgin Galactic.

You don’t believe this will work? Oh, but please heed the words of possible Facebook-creator Tyler Winklevoss, one of the famous flying Winklevii.

In a post Wednesday on the Winklevoss Capital site, he wrote that he and his twin had indeed bought two tickets to fly on Virgin Galactic by tossing bitcoins at Richard Branson. (But not, presumably, from the heights of Mt. Gox.)

In Tyler Winklevoss’ words: “Bitcoin and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are two technologies that meaningfully represent our focus at Winklevoss Capital — the reduction of pain-points and friction in an effort to build a better world.”

Oddly enough, I just watched “Gravity” and there appeared to be plenty of pain-points and friction in outer space. But perhaps there are simply things I don’t understand.

This Tyler Winklevoss sentence, for example: “It’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen, but if history is any indicator, the sandbox-nature of a viable protocol almost always incubates killer applications.”

Oh, you mean like WhatsApp?

Winklevoss’ post is a long walk to freedom. Those last words come after a winding journey through Vasco da Gama, Nicolaus Copernicus (whom we Poles call Mikolaj Kopernik), Ferdinand Magellan, Robert Peary, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Yuri Gagarin. To name but several.

There is, surprisingly, no mention of the pioneering social explorer Mark Zuckerberg. Nor of the great virginal Galactic co-explorers Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber.

The Winklevii have invested heavily in Bitcoin. Indeed, last year, they claimed to own 1 percent of all the bitcoin on Earth and, one imagines, outer space. So this announcement will surely offer confidence to the Bitcoin market.

Still, the final paragraph of Tyler Winklevoss’ fine declaration ought to stand alone. It is a tribute to the spirit of adventure, symbolized by twinning of Virgin Galactic and Bitcoin:

I am thankful that the desire to build beyond what we have inherited and push beyond our own preconceived barriers, are fundamental human traits, and when realized, engender the truest sense of accomplishment. These traits are responsible for every human breakthrough and advancement since the dawn of mankind. They are why we are still here on our planet today, and why we stand a chance of being here tomorrow…or on Mars. When we can, Cameron and I will always do our best to support them.

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What makes ‘Caper’ fly? Secrets from the superhero show’s creator

February 26th, 2014 No comments

Beth Riesgraf

Actress Beth Riesgraf plays Amazonian assassin Alexia in the superhero action-comedy series “Caper.”


(Credit:
Amy Berg)

There’s more to being a great superhero than a crazy costume and an impressive lair. The hero needs to fight not just bad guys, but internal battles. But telling a superhero story without a big special-effects budget in less than 10 minutes per episode? That can prove a bigger struggle than grappling between good and evil.

Veteran TV writer and producer Amy Berg co-created the superhero comedy “Caper” as an online series on the Geek Sundry Channel — on both YouTube and Hulu — to show that not only can superheroes be shown as more than just comic book stereotypes, but the show itself could break the rules set by big networks.

“Caper” tells the story of four disenchanted superheroes who must turn to a life of crime just to pay the bills. It’s a show about heists and hijinks with superheroes who don’t have the luxury of a Justice League expense account.

“For me, it’s all about character,” Berg told Crave. “I’m not interested in spectacle. I need something more than visuals to grab onto, which is why I adored ‘Iron Man 3.’ That movie made me realize that I love alter egos more than I love superheroes. They’re the ones keeping secrets and carrying burdens. And that’s where juicy character goodness comes from. There’s something about the duality of these people that fascinates me. It’s the same reason I gravitate to shows and movies about con men.”

Berg and co-writer Mike Sizemore met up last year and started talking about strengths and weaknesses of superhero movies. They came up with a comedy that mocks such popular superhero myths as Superman’s alien heritage, Thor’s king-size ego, and villains gone good. The show also addresses real-life problems many of us face, like making ends meet and getting over power-hungry exes.

“Genre-wise, crime and science fiction are my bread and butter and it’s the same with Mike,” Berg said. “When he and I started tossing ideas around, he brought up the title for a show called ‘Caper.’ All he had was the name. Superheroes who commit crimes is a cool concept, but it doesn’t grab me. But that’s where my love of alter egos comes into play. Desperate people committing crimes because they have no other choice is relatable. And if they just happen to save the world as their day job, that’s really cool.”

Actors Beth Riesgraf (Leverage), Harry Shum Jr. (Glee), Abby Miller (Justified), and Hartley Sawyer (The Young and The Restless) star in Caper on Geek and Sundry.

Actors, from left, Beth Riesgraf (“Leverage”), Harry Shum Jr. (“Glee”), Abby Miller (“Justified”), and Hartley Sawyer (“The Young and The Restless”) star in “Caper” on Geek Sundry.


(Credit:
Bergopolis)

The first episode of “Caper” debuted on February 12, and three episodes out of nine have run so far, with new ones debuting on Wednesdays. Creating an original show that can compete with big-budget programming isn’t easy, but the benefits soon outweighed any obstacles Berg and her team faced.

“I got stuck in television development hell for a while, so it was nice to actually make something again,” Berg said. “To do it without a dozen other cooks in the kitchen telling you what to do was beyond refreshing. Lack of funds is an issue, obviously. But the biggest hurdle isn’t the budget. It’s the limited time you have to tell a story. It’s difficult to create compelling characters, relationships, and story arcs when you only have a half-season of 8-10 minute episodes. You have to use every trick in the toolbox to pull it off.”

One trick that has served “Caper” well is replacing the need for expensive special effects with cheaper motion comic imagery during superhero fight scenes. “Superheroes were created for comic books, and embracing that also helped us cut corners,” Berg said. “From the beginning, I wanted to include animation as a way of bringing that side of things to life. You can’t do superheroes on a budget unless you’re going for camp or crap, and I wasn’t interested in doing either of those things.”

Berg didn’t divulge a number for the show’s budget, but called it “miniscule,” and “after acquiring production insurance and paying location fees, most of it was already eaten away,” she added. “Fortunately, I’ve been working in the industry long enough to acquire a lot of friends who are very good at their jobs, both in front of and behind the camera.”

Airing “Caper” on actress and new-media mogul Felicia Day’s Geek Sundry YouTube channel was the next step in distributing the online series.

“When Felicia expressed interest, it was the perfect marriage,” Berg said. “She had a successful distribution model already in place and, as a showrunner, I know the ins and outs of putting a series together. All the pieces fell into place perfectly. Geek Sundry gave us a budget and I produced the show through my company alongside one of my best friends, Pete Dress. Hulu came to the table after the fact. Geek Sundry’s excitement about the cuts they were seeing must’ve rubbed off on them because they wanted ‘Caper’ on their platform too.”

Leverage actors Aldis Hodge and Beth Riesgraf reunite with show co-creator Amy Berg for the premiere episode of Caper.

“Leverage” actors Aldis Hodge and Beth Riesgraf reunite with show co-creator Amy Berg for the premiere episode of “Caper.”


(Credit:
Amy Berg)

Like other digital programming such as Netflix’s hit shows “House of Cards” and “Hemlock Grove,” Berg’s “Caper” bypassed traditional network and cable TV models and went straight to online venues. Berg hopes to send a strong message that digital programming is quickly becoming the new entertainment model.

“The success and quality of shows on digital platforms like Netflix has been a real eye-opener for the industry,” Berg told Crave. “The traditional studio-network model isn’t obsolete, but it’s becoming increasingly irrelevant. There are a lot of avenues out there now for people who want to make things; all you really need is to catch the attention of those who can afford to make it happen. And the talent to back it up, of course.”

“Caper” isn’t a typical project for Berg, who has written and produced for such hit shows as “4440,” “Eureka,” and “Leverage,” among others. “It’s the definition of a passion project, and the best excuse ever to bring my favorite people together so I can hang out with them all at once,” Berg said. “We pooled our talents and created something from scratch with sheer grit and determination. As a bonus, the show turned out really great. It’s something that we’re all proud of.”

Haven’t watched “Caper”? Be sure to read Crave contributor Kelsey Adams’ take on why you should. You can catch up on “Caper” on the Geek Sundry channels on both YouTube and Hulu.

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Not watching ‘Caper’? Here’s why you should be

February 26th, 2014 No comments

Caper action scene
(Credit:
Bergopolis/Screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET)

PSA: “Caper”! If you haven’t stumbled across this show yet, check it out on YouTube or Hulu — it won’t take long. It’s a fun series of 10-minute episodes about broke superheroes living in a grotty apartment in the City of Angles, patrolling for crime and struggling to make the rent, while their cross-country counterparts like the East Coast Six get all the respect.

Available on Felicia Day‘s Geek Sundry channel, it’s the kind of show that knows you know about supervillains and sidekicks already. So things start in the middle, with our heroes committing a robbery, and go south from there.

You’ve got your genre meta humor wall to wall, your cute banter, and your practical questions about the superhero lifestyle. You’ve got tank tops and hero shots (and Parker from “Leverage”!). Maybe the best part is the way the show handles big action sequences on a YouTube budget: comic book panels, of course! Heart! Sure, there’s a place for “Dark Knight” and there’s a place for “Sandman.” But sometimes something lighter feels exactly right.

Beth Riesgraf as Alexia

Alexia the Amazon assassin wants the team to be able to afford ‘a kickass lair — er — base!’


(Credit:
Bergopolis/Screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET)

This reference goes way back in my childhood, but it reminds me surprisingly a lot of “Asterix” — that kind of casually silly but grown-up humor — and of course “Buffy,” and all those other genre-aware bantering shows that pave our brains.

In “Caper,” the characters are spins on familiar stories — what if the real Iron Man wasn’t the playboy industrialist, but his hard-working scientist employee/girlfriend? And what if that ended badly? Now this non-doormat version of Pepper Potts is scrambling for a job while her ex makes her life miserable to try and get the suit back.

For housemates, she has Wonder Woman reimagined as a sadistic fitness instructor; Superman as, well, Superman, only the product of a fling between a human and an alien; and Thor as — well, still pretty much Thor again, but much more chill about getting long-term exiled to a place with glow sticks and hot chicks.

They’re a nice bunch of people (uh, mostly), but already they’ve been wondering if it’s fair that they work so hard without some kind of help funding the superhero lifestyle. When her smug ex-boss Sam Clarke backs her into a serious corner, Penny Blue, aka The Machine, joins her team in deciding to steal the money they need — from him.

Penny Blue, aka The Machine, lays down the ground rules.

Penny Blue, aka The Machine, may be the only human, and the only nerd-hipster, in the group, but she makes the rules. Also, I just really like saying, ‘Penny Blue, aka The Machine.’


(Credit:
Bergopolis/Screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET)

One thing that makes the show so fun is the great casting. Beth Riesgraf from “Leverage” reprises her comic-limber-badass combo as Alexia the runaway Amazon assassin, but not so girlish. Instead, she’s that one person on a good-guy team who miiiight not be so good, which comes in handy when they turn to crime. Maybe too handy? When asked by an underworld contact if they want someone killed, Alexia’s thoughtful eye-turn to Penny is perfect. What? She’s just asking.

Harry Shum Jr. from “Glee,” dancer’s body on view in clingy T-shirts, plays it sweet and simple as Luke, aka The Trooper (or “the Boy Scout” as an unimpressed local calls him). Luke makes money as a clickbait blogger, which seems like it would hurt his nice-boy soul, but maybe there’ll be more on that later.

Luke grew up on Earth, but after his human dad died, his mom revealed that his bio-dad was an alien who knocked her up and then skywalkered back home, leaving her a super-powered baby and some fond memories. Incidentally, do you think someone’s going to announce, “Luke, I am your father” at some point? Would they go there?

Abby Miller, who you may know from “Justified” (which I haven’t watched yet despite Netflix practically phoning me up in the middle of the night to recommend it) is pretty adorable as de facto team leader Penny Blue, the smart, determined “regular girl” who’s mostly coping with her immortal housemates. They may have superpowers and she just has a flying suit with electrical issues, but she’s clearly an authority in the house. Despite being the one in the hero shot with, as Luke points out, flowers on her sweater.

The couch where they live.

We’ve all had that idea for a story about superhero housemates at some point, right? I swear I even pictured this couch.


(Credit:
Bergopolis/Screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET)

Honestly, I think that’s what I love most. The Robert Downey Jr. playboy style of Iron Man is definitely fun. But there’s something so appealing about the idea of this battered, frustrated little hero driving around with her stolen suit in the trunk of her
car, too broke to keep the rockets repaired properly.

I have no idea who Hartley Sawyer is, aside from being the guy who plays Dagr, but he makes me laugh and laugh, and I don’t mean because of his Zack Morris hair. Some genius realized that a noble Viking-like visitor from another dimension should talk like a prince, not a frat boy. (Always my problem with Rygel on “Farscape“: we’re supposed to believe he was an all-powerful emperor when he talks like an average slob?). So Dagr delivers all his lines in a courtly, aristocratic fashion, which makes his repulsive jock wooing of Penny so much funnier. To me. I’m a sucker for Viking-based humor.

Together, the four of them keep the peace; plead with the landlord (Edison Po on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”); and get into classic housemate squabbles like, “You are the bastard child of a deadbeat demigod!” “Right back atcha!”

Luke punching Dagr

Trolling for Luke/Dagr shippers, are they? They think they can just throw a couple of sweaty hostile dudes at the viewers and get fanfic? Oh, so they’ve met the Internet?


(Credit:
Bergopolis/Screenshot by Kelsey Adams/CNET)

It is a short show. This post is practically longer than the show. It seems there are only going to be nine episodes total, and since we’ve already had three just setting up the heist (new ones air on Wednesdays), it’s hard to imagine there’s room for much more story.

Regardless, fans are already asking the important questions: “So I’m in love with Caper and I’m starting to hard-core ‘ship Dagr and Penny but I don’t know what to call them as a portmanteau. Should I call them Danny/Denny or Pegr or something else that doesn’t sound as silly?”

So first of all, the obvious right answer is Pegr. Hello. Try saying it out loud. Secondly, Geek Sundry (I guess it was them? I don’t understand Tumblr) replied by encouraging everyone to brainstorm ship names, and also, “P.S. BRING ON THE FANFICTION/ART. All ships welcome.

Really, they want the horrifying fan art? They are braver than I. I do want more episodes, though. And we should be getting another one today! In the meanwhile, check out this awesome interview with show co-creator Amy Berg by Crave writer Bonnie Burton, or possibly this Reddit AMA with the cast. Or you could just troll the Net for horrifying fan art. You know you want to.

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New ‘Godzilla’ already gets my roar of approval

February 26th, 2014 No comments

Godzilla

Gojira!


(Credit:
Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

You’ve probably heard there’s a new “Godzilla” coming, and the pointy fella’s not looking to give humanity a hug. The last time this happened on a large scale, with the 1998 “Godzilla” remake, I yawned, dragged my butt over to the theater to watch Matthew Broderick go to battle, and left feeling thoroughly unimpressed.

I have memories of weekend mornings as a child, hiding behind a pillow as my brother and I watched old black-and-white monster movies on television. “The Deadly Mantis” was particularly terrifying, but I always got a thrill when spiny-backed Godzilla showed up, rising out of the waves, hauling a desperate nuclear legacy behind him. It didn’t matter if he was stomping on cities or going at it with Mothra. Godzilla was a star of my childhood movie memories.


Godzilla 2014 poster

The poster for the 2014 “Godzilla.” (Click to enlarge.)


(Credit:
Warner Bros.)

It’s hard for slick modern films with overloaded GGI graphics to rekindle the visceral sensations of watching these movies as a kid. But the trailer for the new “Godzilla” is as close as I’ve come since I reached adulthood.

There are some interesting choices going on in the trailer, not the least of which is Bryan Cranston’s hirsute head. As a resident of Albuquerque and a “Breaking Bad” fan, I have an immediate fondness for any production Cranston is in. I have a sort of blind faith that he’ll pick a solid script and that “Godzilla” will be good based solely on his decision to show up for filming.

Cranston is all over the trailer. He’s growling, “You’re not fooling anybody when you say what happened was a natural disaster. You’re lying!” Shivers. There’s something rising up out the water. The torch arm has been ripped from the Statue of Liberty. There’s a big fat reference to the original 1954 film. There’s a nuclear explosion, so we know it’s not going to leave that crucial part of the legend out of the mix. These are all promising signs.

It doesn’t look like there will be any scrimping on the special effects. We see CGI all over the place in the ruined cityscapes and airplane crashes, but I’m fostering a belief that it will all be in the service of a strong core story with a human connection I’ll actually care about. Because, Bryan Cranston.

The trailer could have played coy with us. It could have gone all “Cloverfield,” but instead we get a pretty good glimpse at Godzilla’s screaming maw. This is totally the right call, because everybody knows what Godzilla looks like. There’s no use in trying to hide it.

My “Godzilla” optimism could turn out to be misplaced, but my hopes for this movie are running strong. We could just look at this as another dark reboot in the ongoing trend of dark reboots, a la “Batman Begins.” But the thing is, it’s hard to get much darker than the original 1954 Japanese “Godzilla.” I’m not talking about the re-cut 1956 Americanized version with Raymond Burr, which was released as “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!”

Before the new film comes out on May 16, it’s worth going back to the beginning, which I plan to do. It’s worth revisiting the fear, the sense of uncontrolled power, and the aftermath of nuclear scars left on Japan, all expressed by a beast that rose out of the sea and broke through the fragile constructs of mankind. These thematic goals may be too lofty for a Hollywood blockbuster, but I hope the new “Godzilla” at least strives to touch that primal part of us that still wonders what lurks deep beneath the waves.

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BBC News suffers spectacular, entertaining camera disaster

February 25th, 2014 No comments

Now you see her. Just.


(Credit:
Ben Bristow/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

In the short annals of Monday joys, this might have a permanent place.

For it seems that as Britain watched its BBC News today, some citizens could not believe their eyes.

I am grateful to YouTube poster Ben Bristow, who captured the event for, hopefully, an infinite posterity.

As a fine and wise lady presenter called Caroline talked about apologies and financial costs, the rug seemed to be pulled from beneath her.

Or, perhaps, a trapdoor opened up because she’d said something wrong.

Or, I suppose, there might have been a tiny glitch in the camera or its operator’s head.

Indeed, when she handed back to her fellow presenter, the latter offered, with very British lack of feeling: “We had a problem with our camera there at the end.”

Well, let’s hope no one noticed, madam.

There is something reassuring in being told, by an entirely straight face, that your fellow BBC News presenter has not, in fact, been eaten by a ravenous octopus.

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