At The Freedom 2015 Conference

DesMoines

Heidi and I are in Des Moines today, for the Freedom 2015 conference, a conference focusing on religious liberty in America. There are going to be some great speakers here, a few presidential candidates, and I can’t wait to see what all will be discussed.

This is also James’ first conference, and while I don’t think he’ll remember it very well (maybe the ten hour drive each way… maybe), he is a big part of the reason that we are here. It’s a great opportunity to discuss the future that he will be living in with the friends and families that he will grow up knowing, and the conversations we are having here about liberty are the same conversations about liberty that he will have, and that men have always had.

The Angry Mob and the Internet

MobRuleOld

The internet, like all technologies, is a double-edged sword. It can be used to edify, educate, and unite people. Of course, it can also be used to corrupt, misinform, and divide people. It is undoubtedly the most powerful communication and teaching tool since the printing press, but it also has incredible power to create emotionally-driven, uneducated mobs screaming for immediate action.

A perfect example of this is the furor that surrounded the SALT Gun campaign that was posted on the crowd-funding website Indiegogo. Last week, Chicago-based entrepreneur Adam Kennedy and his friends claimed that they had invented a brand new kind of gun, the world’s first safe gun. Instead of deadly bullets fired by violently exploding gunpowder, it shot harmless capsules of pepper powder propelled by silent compressed air. They marketed their product as the perfect, child-proof, safe home-defense device that could instantly stop any threat and, for the first time ever, offer a “a fear-free user experience.” However, these claims have a few problems.

TippmanSalt

The first problem is that they haven’t really invented anything. They are selling a completely unmodified Tippman TiPX paintball pistol; something that’s been sold in sporting goods stores for years at a fraction of the price. The projectile, which they claimed to have developed by “completely rethinking the bullet,” is also an off-the-shelf OC-filled paintball that has clearly been bought from Rap4. This combination of standard paintball marker and pepperball ammunition has actually seen real-world use, usually by law enforcement or corrections officers doing minor riot control outside.

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Welcome to our New Blog!

Isaac, Heidi, and James

We are Isaac, Heidi, and James Botkin, and we live in middle Tennessee. We got married in May of 2014, and our son was born September 2015. Isaac is a designer and filmmaker who has worked in a variety of media in several countries, and now runs his own design firm. He has been writing about culture and ideas sporadically for several years. Heidi is a helpmeet, mother, homemaker, chef, advisor, and she provides the order and structure needed to implement a small number of the crazy ideas Isaac generates. She is learning to enjoy writing, even when the sink is full of dishes. James is a baby. He doesn’t write much yet, since he is only one month old.

We are attempting to create a very simple family-portfolio-commentary-diy-review-design-homemaking-news-theology-art-sewing-debate-photo-security-crafts-guns-cooking-political-technology blog. The reason for such a scattered and diverse set of topics is that we are going to write about the things that we talk to each other about, and the things that we are interested in. It won’t always cover what we are doing, or the most important international news of the day, but it will be based on conversations that we are having with one another, with our friends, and the conversations and lessons that we would like James to be part of or learn from… if he were older.

So if we can’t narrow down the topics that this blog will cover, we can narrow down its purpose. We are trying to accomplish 5 things:

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In Remembrance of Howard Phillips

When I was a very small boy growing up in Washington DC, there were four heroes who shaped my life and how I saw the world. At that time the Soviet Union was a very real and present danger to the United States, and the four public figures most actively engaged in fighting the USSR were Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II, and Howard Phillips.

Heroes of the 80s

My father would describe their actions and policies to me, and for three of them, he would do so with caveats. “The President issued a great statement to Gorbachev today,” he would explain, “but remember that the Republican Party is wrong about these four points.” Or, “Mrs. Thatcher is fighting for what is right, but her strategies should be modified this way.” And he communicated how deeply he appreciated the Pope’s fearless stance on Communism before clarifying why our family was not Roman Catholic.

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Thoughts on the VFX Crisis

If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter lately, you’ve probably seen a number of users who have replaced their pictures with green backgrounds. These people, normally used to being invisible, are trying to give a little extra visibility to a crisis that isn’t getting much attention in the media. While almost every industry is being affected by today’s global recession, a disproportionate number of visual effects studios are shutting down even as their own films set box-office records at home and abroad.

90% of the background and 50% of the Avengers will be added in post.

This year, Bill Westenhofer accepted the Oscar for Best Visual Effects while his employer, Rhythm & Hues, was filing for bankruptcy. To add insult to injury, the Academy organizers cut his mic when he tried to mention that his team of award-winning effects artists were now unemployed. This was a painful snub, since on most of today’s films, visual effects artists put in the majority of the man-hours, represent the largest chunk of the crew, and often create the vast majority of what the audience actually sees on screen.

For example, 2012’s Disney’s Marvel’s Joss Whedon’s Avengers’ climactic battle took place in an entirely digital New York City, was fought against entirely digital alien invaders, and usually involved digital stuntmen protecting digital extras from digital explosions. For Life of Pi, most of Claudio Miranda’s Oscar-winning cinematography was actually shots of flat blue walls that were replaced with completely original renders from the Rhythm & Hues team.

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The Global Election

As the American election cycle comes to a close, I’m looking forward to being able to have conversations about things not related to the White House. In fact, I might even get around to talking to folks about the other offices that we’ve elected people to today.

But in all seriousness, I’ve found it very interesting to follow the progress of the discussion, both here and abroad. The American presidential election is the largest, most popular, and most globally scrutinized political contest on earth, and watching world opinion can be very revealing.

When I lived in New Zealand I had just come from working in American media, and I was amazed at well international television reports from the BBC and Deutch Welle covered some things and how inaccurately they portrayed others. Being away from home provided perspective our own news, and made it easier to compare cultural ideas.

Even after moving back, I’ve tended to follow international coverage of our elections, and there were a lot of international opinions that arose on a recent Quora.com question: “If the current US presidential election candidates (Obama Vs. Romney) were running in your country who would you vote for and who do you think would win?

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Of course, some statistics actually exist, and a recent Globescan poll of 21 countries resulted in a final tally of 50% voting for Obama, 9% for Romney, 31% various don’t knows and don’t cares, and an insightful 10% who didn’t believe that there was any difference between the two.

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Men O’ War Gets Theatrical Release at Film Festival (kinda)

Most of you probably remember Men O’ War, the 3D Lego short that my brothers and I made in 2006. We cobbled it together for fun, to salute the many stop-motion animators who had been submitting films to the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, and to create some very basic object lessons about pre-production, modeling, animation, art design, compositing, sound effects, and music. We never really expected that it would go anywhere beyond that, so it’s fun whenever we get mail from people who have watched it.

 Minifigs love Men O’ War

Today, I got a YouTube message from a new friend named Øyvind, who has just built a stunning LEGO replica of the Verdensteateret, which is the oldest operational cinema in Norway. You can see his very accurate, nearly-scale model below (on the left) compared to the real building (on the right).

 The Verdensteateret in Tromsø
click to enlarge

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