Category Archives: VFX Breakdown and Article

Deckard gives up city life in opening scene of ‘Blade Runner 2,’ according to Ridley Scott

http://www.hitfix.com/videos/must-watch-netflix-documentaries-the-snap-daily-71

If there is one genre that Hollywood just can’t seem to spin into a billion-dollar multi-studio phenomenon, it’s cyberpunk. Despite having all the cool tech of science-fiction and all the dystopian grittiness of a YA mega-franchise, it just can’t seem to get a foothold in the industry. “Neuromancer” never materialized and somehow “Shadowrun” is still a niche property. But everyone know “Blade Runner.” Which means it’s ripe for a sequel.

And now we have details from Ridley Scott himself.

Scott was recently at the AFI Festival in Los Angeles when he was asked about “Blade Runner 2” (starring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling) by MTime. They then sent an English translation of the interview to Slashfilm about the opening sequence.

“We decided to start the film off with the original starting block of the original film. We always loved the idea of a dystopian universe, and we start off at what I describe as a ‘factory farm’ – what would be a flat land with farming. Wyoming. Flat, not rolling – you can see for 20 miles. No fences, just plowed, dry dirt. Turn around and you see a massive tree, just dead, but the tree is being supported and kept alive by wires that are holding the tree up. It’s a bit like Grapes of Wrath, there’s dust, and the tree is still standing. By that tree is a traditional, Grapes of Wrath-type white cottage with a porch. Behind it at a distance of two miles, in the twilight, is this massive combine harvester that’s fertilizing this ground. You’ve got 16 Klieg lights on the front, and this combine is four times the size of this cottage. And now a spinner [a flying car] comes flying in, creating dust. Of course, traditionally chased by a dog that barks, the doors open, a guy gets out and there you’ve got Rick Deckard. He walks in the cottage, opens the door, sits down, smells stew, sits down and waits for the guy to pull up to the house to arrive. The guy’s seen him, so the guy pulls the combine behind the cottage and it towers three stories above it, and the man climbs down from a ladder – a big man. He steps onto the balcony and he goes to Harrison’s side. The cottage actually [creaks]; this guy’s got to be 350 pounds. I’m not going to say anything else – you’ll have to go see the movie.”

You can get more details about the original scripted scene over at SlashFilm.

Could cyberpunk be on the verge of a comeback? With “Blade Runner 2,” “Ghost in the Shell, “Akira,” and “Battle Angel Alita” all in the works, fans of the genre can only hope!

“Blade Runner 2” is coming to a theater near you…eventually.

 

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Meet Valkyrie, A Super Sleek Aircraft Taking On The Private Plane Industry

Cobalt is a private aircraft manufacturer launching its first two models today. The fully-certified Co50 Valkyrie and its experimental version, the Valkyrie-X, are available for pre-order starting today.

Valkyrie is super sleek and built for speed. It’s the fastest in its class (single piston engines), with the ability to travel up to 260 knots, as opposed to the typical 242 knots. It’s also safer than most private planes, according to Cobalt.

The craft is canard style, equipped with a forewing to prevent the plane from stalling mid-air, and comes with a five-seater, single-piston engine on the backend for smoother, safer take-offs and landings.

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Classic fighter jets inspired the design with “clean lines and premium finishes” and Valkyrie comes in a range of custom hues, including darker colors like the deep black shown above.

The interior of the craft sports premium leather seating, hand-stitched by a former Hermes craftsman and a simple on/off switch dashboard design, complete with a place for your iPad. There’s also ample storage for typical rich-person-with-a-private-jet activities (golf bags, skis, suitcases with gold bars in them).

You’ll also notice the large plexiglass topper. Valkyrie offers an impressive 320-degree view with what Cobalt tells TechCrunch is the largest one-piece canopy in the world.

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Additional specifications include:

  • Turbocharged 350HP, retractable, IFR-capable
  • Oxygenized non-pressurized
  • Cruise range: 1050 nautical miles (nmi) with NBAA IFR reserves
  • Customization: Interior and exterior are fully customizable upon request
  • Exact dimensions: 30 feet long x 30 feet wide x 10 feet high

The main difference between the Co50 and X, besides Co50’s certification, is the price. Valkyrie-X starts at $595,000, no money down, and with an estimated production period of six months, and Co50 Valkyrie will start at $699,000, with a $15,000 deposit. Cobalt tells us the Co50 will be ready by summer 2017.

TechCrunch was able to get an exclusive first look of the craft and chat with Cobalt CEO David Loury about it. Check out the video above to see it in action and learn more.

Motion capture comes to the small screen on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” through this unique blend of visual effects

http://www.hitfix.com/videos/agents-of-sheild-sicario-fandemonium-5

Lash has been a formidable foe on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” this season but no one expected him to be a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. At first, Lash seemed like a fully formed in Inhuman, but when Daisy (Chloe Bennet) saw Lash transform into a man, everyone began to wonder who he really was.

No one was prepared to discover that this violent Inhuman was really Melinda May’s husband Andrew, played by Blair Underwood. The first time his transformation was shown on screen it looked terrifying. Blair’s performance really made it seem like a monster was growing out of his body.

The video below features “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” visual effects supervisor Mark Kolpack, who is responsible for creating the seamless transitions Andrew experiences as he transforms into Lash. Blair Underwood joins him in the video and together they discuss the combination they’ve created of visual effects, practical effects, and performance capture.


Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/harpy/agents-of-shield-lash-transformation-blends-practical-and-visual-effects#HujTEzGHY63lwpZS.99

I Want To Run Stateful Containers, Too

Using Amazon for everything feels wrong to me — a bit like the rebels in Star Wars renting a Star Destroyer from Darth Vader rather than recruiting the Millennium Falcon to fight the Empire.

“Raaaw, don’t run stateful apps in a container, Raaaw.” That is what currently stands for sound advice in the development/operations world. I hear it parroted over and over. I get it; running stateful applications in a container is hard. However, nobody should be paying you to spin up 1,000 stateless containers to print “hello world” then click a button in Amazon for the hard stateful parts.

You give yourself an out by saying you are following the guidelines of the “12 Factor App.” That tells you writing applications born in the cloud should attach stateful services separately. All you really need to own is dynamically scaling that amazing stateless “hello world” app you wrote using React and Node.js.

Amazon, MongoLabs, Rackspace, Microsoft; they all whisper sweet nothings in your ear. “Run along child, go play with Angular 2, Node.js, React; give Spring Boot, Rat Pack and Polymer a try. Leave the hard stateful parts to us.” You agree and start putting everything in Amazon’s cloud. They get you hooked on their drug. Then, when it is too late, you learn the real cost of “all your data are belong to us.”

Let me back up a minute and tell you why I am writing this and what I want (short version:  I want Google’s Kubernetes, Docker and OpenShift to step up their game). I am working on a rewrite of a large-scale application at my place of employment. We are fed up with the complexity that has grown inside a monolith and have decided to pursue a micro-services architecture. The promise of smaller, more maintainable apps keeps me working all hours day and night.

This is how things progress. I learn Angular 1, Bootstrap, Grunt, the JBoss stack: REST services running in Wildfly’s JEE7 app server, and I secure everything with a central OAuth/OpenID Connect provider to make it easy to share user credentials in a number of separate applications.

Yes, I know JEE7 sucks and Angular 2 breaks backward compatibility with Angular 1 (not the focus of this article). And yes, I was once a native JavaScript fanboy, so I know frameworks like Angular are just awful too. I don’t really think they are awful, but I do think the slowness on mobile is. However, that is a conspiracy for another time (I think it stems from the unnecessary lack of memory and storage space on mobile devices so Google and Apple can sell cloud storage for your 20 billion baby pictures).

Back to my point (I think I have one).

Inevitably, we realize reduced complexity in app development is traded for increased complexity in operations; all of these services and separate clients and databases need to be built, deployed and managed in a sane way.

I thought the value of containers was to make your entire app easy to scale.

I dive head first into the “DevOps” world. I learn straight Docker and use Docker Compose to orchestrate running containers for app services, clients and a single MongoDB node. Plus, containers for etcd (name value storage for ip/ports), registrator (used to keep etcd in synch), nginx (load balancing services) and confd to reconfigure nginx dynamically as containers start and stop. “Yes, I am amazing!” At least, that is what I think until I realize Docker Compose falls very short of making easy the management of those containers.

I do not attempt to scale the setup with Docker Swarm. There are too many moving parts in the makeshift PAAS to justify selling it to management. If the complexity is too much running containers on one node, throwing Docker Swarm into the mix I imagine to be a nightmare.

At this point, my notion is that stateful applications, such as MongoDB, should run in containers alongside stateless clients and services. I didn’t know that makes me foolish. Like a naive dreamer, I thought the value of containers was to make your entire app easy to scale. I was unaware the community had already given an official name to their surrender (Backing Services).

With some Docker experience under my belt, I take another look at the Docker PAAS landscape. I need something a bit more robust than Docker Compose and Docker Swarm. How do I choose? There is Kubernetes, Fleet and Mesos. But wait. I don’t use those directly? They are for the use of platform developers?

Eventually I understand; they are the technology behind a number of other platforms meant for use by me (the developer). I need to choose my platform after I choose from the lower level technology. Kubernetes, being from Google, has a huge following, is open source and plays well with the Docker knowledge I already have. I choose Kubernetes.

Now I need to choose a Kubernetes platform. I already use Red Hat Enterprise Linux to run Docker containers and some of the JBoss stack, so I choose OpenShift Origin. I spend weeks learning OpenShift. I spend hours communicating with OpenShift developers and finally get everything I had running with Docker and Docker Compose running on OpenShift Origin.

Except now I have a build and deployment piece, images automatically get pushed to a registry, I can dynamically scale up and down pods, easily, with a single line command and load balancing is baked into every service I create. Life is good. Except I am still stuck on scaling my stateful MongoDB service. Every PAAS has templates for running a MongoDB database. They all stop at the easy part and leave the hard part to us.

I want a tool that has a repository of templates for making formations of very hard things easy.

If anyone has used MongoDB, they know the hard part is getting a “production-ready” MongoDB instance. That means at least running a MongoDB replica set. For a truly production-level configuration, a sharded cluster is required. It gets complicated quickly. There should be a template for doing that in someone’s platform. There is not. Right now, OpenShift is blocked because Kubernetes needs to figure out how to attach separate persistent volumes to pods in the same service. They have made that a Priority 2. It should be a Priority 1.

This makes me seriously consider switching. Tutum is bought by Docker. OK, maybe I go back to the Docker camp and use Tutum. No, they also stop at the easy part and only have an example for a single development MongoDB node. They are still trying to integrate with Flocker, which means they are nowhere near solving the problem.

All right, I consider leaving the Docker container world entirely for stateful services because I find an Ansible template to do what I want. However, it is out of date and only works with Red Hat 6. That is the problem with Ansible; Ansible playbooks depend on their environment. Docker images are portable and I know they will run.

I want a tool that has a repository of templates for making formations of very hard things easy. If that existed I would not need Amazon to do every hard thing for me. I can mostly get what I want on Amazon. But look at the prices:

hi-res-cost-chart

 

They get you hooked for free and the next level is $1,496 per month… wtf! MongoLabs is little better. I don’t understand why everything is becoming an exorbitantly priced service. Keep in mind, platform as a service providers should have templates for hard-to-set-up stateful services like MongoDB.

Rather than use templates from IAAS providers, I should be able to use someone else’s platform running on my chosen cloud/IAAS provider (call it what you like), like Amazon, to put pressure on them to lower prices. If they know it is easy to leave, their prices will go down. Let’s take back some of our ability to do hard things wherever we choose so that running a database does not cost … wait, what, $21,430 per month?

Please, tell me I’m crazy. Tell me why I’m wrong. I sincerely want to know. So many products are inches from being able to compete with Amazon and give choice back to developers whether they want to run on Amazon or retain a bit more freedom (perhaps even run in another cloud or local cloud environment). Soon, Kubernetes will allow complicated stateful services to run inside containers.

Meanwhile, Amazon announces competing components daily. Amazon has API Gateways, CloudFormations to spin up almost any stack or service, CodePipeline for continuous delivery, load balancing; you name, it they have it.

Using Amazon for everything feels wrong to me.

Now, you might be wondering, what is the problem? Just go with Amazon, everyone is doing it. “You aren’t cool unless you’re using Amazon.” I do work for a large organization that can afford to run everything on Amazon (maybe ;  some would disagree). However, I also work intensely on the multi-way trading platform Abecorn.com. That has no VC funding; I have learned to “do more with less.”

Using Amazon for everything feels wrong to me — a bit like the rebels in Star Wars renting a Star Destroyer from Darth Vader rather than recruiting the Millennium Falcon to fight the Empire. Amazon spins up virtual machines (Amazon Machine Images) for many services. They should be using containers to increase density and lower costs. Besides that, there are features missing in the Amazon container platform.

Native Amazon container support comes in two flavors: Amazon EC2 Container Service and Docker on AWS Elastic Beanstalk. Docker on AWS Elastic Beanstalk is more equivalent to a PAAS and uses Amazon EC2 Container Service under the covers. That offers a way to run and automatically scale containers; Amazon does not offer a way to seamlessly build and store container images. You must pull pre-built Docker containers from a third-party registry because the Amazon Container Registry is not yet available.

Plus, there is no Amazon tool designed specifically to build containers. Combining layers of Docker files to create a complete container image is no trivial task. A number of platforms, including OpenShift, already have container build configurations to make the process easy. Another crucial component is a shared file system for Docker containers.

Right now, Amazon’s Elastic File System is in preview mode. You have to ask permission to use it (I am still waiting). OpenShift already allows me to use a number of different shared file systems, including NFS (Network File System), which Amazon Elastic File System is. It is useful to have the ability to share persistent data between containers (potentially running on separate nodes in a cluster) using NFS mounts. A Network File System would allow Lucene indexes stored on the file system to be shared between containers spanning multiple nodes.

I have run containers on bare metal and in Amazon. Performance can be noticeably slower in Amazon on machines with similar specifications. A detailed explanation why is in this informative video by Bryan Cantrill. It is a talk about how layering containers on top of virtual machines is a recipe for poor performance and wasted resource utilization. He equates it to developers “being given fire, then proceeding to put the fire out.”

All Amazon machine images are virtual machines. When you run containers in Amazon you are running them in virtual machines. New providers are available that let you run containers on bare metal to maximize their performance. They can provide that service economically due to the greatly improved density of applications running in containers.

I am all for “the cloud,” but the cloud does not necessarily mean All Amazon, All The Time. Amazon is actively blurring the line between IAAS (Infrastructure As a Service) and PAAS (Platform As a Service). It is only recently that they have introduced newer developer-focused DevOps tools like EC2 Container services and Docker on AWS Elastic Beanstalk. Just because they are accepted as the dominate provider of IAAS should not give them uncontested dominance in developer-centric platforms. It is OK to use Amazon’s infrastructure, but give yourself the flexibility to move by using a portable PAAS like Kubernetes.

If not, soon, we all may be waiting for Amazon to come out with the missing service we need. Let me give you a glimpse of the future.

‘Pacific Rim’ Featurette Shows Off the Meticulously Crafted Visual Effects

Pacific Rim visual effects

Fans of Pacific Rim are currently waiting patiently to hear what will happen with the development ofPacific Rim 2 and Universal Pictures. The film wasremoved from the studio’s 2017 release schedule, but they have said the project has not been abandoned. Director Guillermo del Toro has turned in the script and budget, and all he can do is wait.

And while you’re waiting to see more kaiju and jaeger action on the big screen, you can check out a revealing featurette that shows how the Pacific Rim visual effects were put together, and just how closely del Toro was involved with their creation in the film.

Here’s the Pacific Rim visual effects featurette from Image Ireland:

https://player.vimeo.com/video/84968603

This focuses on the visual effects work done by the company Animation Boss, and it reminds you just how much work on the film needed to be done in post-production. When your action sequences involve giant monsters fighting a giant robot controlled by people, your action sequences are going to be created entirely with visual effects. And del Toro explains how integral his involvement in those sequences is in the movie:

For me, directing Pacific Rim on the animated side is as elaborate if not more than directing the live-action. I’m directing every little piece of floating debris, directing the performance of the monster. Every single piece of color or light is directed… All of them needs to be put in, and all of that gets put in with my input.

Now that doesn’t really mean he tracks the trajectory of each little spark or piece of debris, because that would be impossible. But all the visual effects we see are approved by him, and the featurette shows some of the input he gives as to how the jaegers and kaiju interact with each other. As a director, del Toro has a vision, and it’s up to the visual effects company to realize that to the best of their ability. I’m consistently impressed and amazed at how much visual effects work goes into these movies, no matter how many times I see featurettes like this.

If you want to know more about the Pacific Rim visual effects, check out this breakdown over here.

56 fun interactive, animated web experiments for you to play with

The aim of these doodles is to exhibit interactive, engaging web experiments which only require a short attention span.

There are 56 doodles on the site currently. We’ve picked out our favourites here.

Play with Le Moustache by Felix Woitzel

Sony Hack Reveals Croner VFX Animation & Games Industry Wages

croner

Yesterday 25GB of data in the sony hack was made available for download. The data unfortunately contains extremely sensitive and personal information. If you worked at Sony it’s pretty safe to say your private information including your ssn have been compromised. What’s even more devastating is it’s just the tip of the iceberg as reports show the hackers have claimed to have TBs of Sony Pictures data that continue to be released.

siggraph

This past summer Sony Imageworks used the paper above to advise young VFX recruits at Siggraph in Vancouver not to share or ask about salary information. The fear companies have is recruits having good knowledge of wages and therefore less likely to accept a lowball salary offer. That advice however doesn’t seem to apply to the companies that employ VFX professionals. As you know there has been an ongoing and expanding class action lawsuit of wage-fixing and collusion with some of the biggest animation and vfx companies here in the US. The companies openly shared wage info and allegedly tried to prevent wages from increasing by agreeing not to try to poach each others employees.

So I had a chance to look at some of the data in the sony hack and was curious to see if a certain piece of data was available: The Croner VFX survey. I wrote about the Croner survey years ago. Basically it’s the holy grail of US VFX wages:

The Croner Animation and Visual Effects Survey is the benchmark survey of the animation and visual effects industry.  For 8 years, the Croner Survey has provided up-to-date competitive compensation information about positions in companies that produce animated feature films or develop animation and/or visual effects for feature films, television and/or software games.

In 2014, 11 companies representing approximately 3,500 employees in the U.S., participated in the Croner Survey and are using the data to understand current market trends and to establish rational market compensation levels in their organizations.

This is the most accurate piece of information of wage information at these companies:

2014 Participant Companies:
Activision Blizzard, Inc.
DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc.
LAIKA, Inc.
Pixar Animation Studios
Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc. (SCEA)
Sony Pictures Entertainment
The Walt Disney Studios
Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
Twentieth Century Fox Filmed Entertainment
Walt Disney Parks & Resorts
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

I won’t post the actual file but for anyone wanting to see it it will be named. You’ll have to find and download the released sony hack data which is out there. Or ask around for this file:

Location: ./HR/Comp/Surveys/2014/Croner/AVE/Results/

Filename: 2014_Croner_AVE_Compensation_Data_Results.xlsx

I’ve said if the contents of the Sony hack are true and available they would be a game changer. The game has changed as far as salary negotiations in the VFX industry starting today. Going forward nobody will go into negotiations without having reputable information concerning wages.

Soldier On.

Amazon Starts Black Friday Early

Following news regarding the launch of its own Black Friday store with exclusive deals for Prime members, Amazon announced this morning that it will actually begin selling its holiday deals this Friday, November 20. Typically, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving here in the U.S., meaning it would be November 27 this year, but Amazon says instead it will offer 8 days of holiday deals with 10 “coveted” (higher quality) deals starting at midnight on Thanksgiving, and up to 10 more on Black Friday.

In addition, the retailer will also be heavily pushing mobile and same-day delivery this season with a lineup of deals that can only be found via its mobile application, and support for two-hour delivery on select “Deals of the Day”.

When Amazon announced the Black Friday online store, many were disappointed to see it was initially filled with lower-quality Lightning Deals at the time of its debut. And getting early access to Lightning Deals is something Prime members can already take advantage of throughout the year, so it didn’t seem to have much of a draw at first glance.

But today, Amazon is revealing a larger lineup of discounted items, including, of course, deals on several of its own products like Kindle devices and the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, for example. It’s also offering deals on a number of TVs, and other electronics, including speakers, headphones, sound bars, cameras, laptops, Android tablets, printers and more. And there will be a range of discounts on other items for the home, kitchen, as well as baby, toys, and pet items, among other things.

Unfortunately, though better than the Lightning deals, not all the newly announced electronics deals are ground-breaking. There are several deals for LED TVs, for instance, but not the newer 4K TVs consumers may be craving this season. Plus, Amazon’s popular, connected speaker Echo is also missing from this early deal line-up – but this is not a full list of Amazon’s planned deals, so it’s possible we could still be surprised.

Because of the deluge of deals being offered, Amazon says it will offer consumers the ability to track those deals they want to be notified about via a “Watch a Deal” feature. This ties into the Amazon app on their mobile device and will send out a push notification when the deal goes live.

It’s interesting to see how heavily Amazon is promoting its mobile application this season. The company says that its total holiday sales from its shopping app doubled in the U.S., and Black Friday had the most rapid growth in mobile shopping. (Of course, its own sales holiday “Prime Day” broke even Amazon’s Black Friday records.)

This year, Amazon says there will be a good handful of app-only deals that you won’t be able to get on the web. Of the thousands of Lightning Deals, which are the lower-quality (i.e. not big-ticket items), 150 will be made available only within the Amazon mobile applications on iOS, Android and Fire OS. These deals, which will include a range of products from electronics to kitchen items, will be released beginning on Thanksgiving and will continue through December 9, and will arrive from 3 PM PT to 11 PM PT.

Well, that’s one way to boost mobile app installs, we suppose.

Select “Deals of the Day” will also be eligible for free, two-hour delivery in 20 metro areas across the U.S. through Amazon’s Prime Now mobile application, as well.

You can read through some of the planned deals here that will begin on November 20 and continue through Black Friday. However, those electronics deals that you might be more interested in include the following:

  • Amazon Kindle deals: Kindle Paperwhite, $99.99; $30 off Kindle and Kindle for Kids Bundle; Fire, $34.99; Fire Kids Edition, $84.99
  • Amazon Fire TV deals: $25 off Amazon Fire TV; $15 off Amazon Fire TV Stick and Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote
  • TV deals: Up to 45% off select Samsung and LG TVs, including Samsung 32” 1080p LED TV for $177.99; LG 49” 1080p LED TV for less than $370; Samsung 75” 1080p Smart LED TV for less than $2,000; 60” 4K LED TV, $799.99; TCL 55” Roku Smart LED TV, $348; Hisense 55” 4K Smart LED TV, $448 (App Only Deal); 50” 1080p LED TV, $149.99 (App Only Deal); 40” 1080p LED TV, $145; TCL 32” Roku Smart LED TV, $125; 32” LED TV, $75; also Acer Home Theater Projector, $299.99
  • Audio/Speakers: VIZIO 38” 2.1 Home Theater Sound Bar, $79.99; $49 off SONOS 2-Room Streaming Music Starter Set; Save 40% on Polk Audio Omni S2 Wireless Speaker; Up to 25% off Denon HEOS 1 Wireless Speakers; 50% off Sony Extra Bass Bluetooth Headphones; Save more than 50% on Sennheiser HD 598 Special Edition Over-Ear Headphones in Black (Amazon Exclusive)
  • Tablets & Computers: Save $100 on an Intel-Powered Dell 2-in-1 Laptop; ASUS 15” laptop, $129; Up to 40% off select Acer desktops, monitors, chromebooks, and tablets; Save more than 20% on select Samsung Galaxy Tablets
  • Other: More than 50% off top-selling point-and-shoot camera; Jawbone UP3, $99; Save up to 70% on select SanDisk memory cards and USB flash drives; Top-selling mobile printer for less than $100

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something a little more original, Amazon this morning additionally announced an expansion of its recently launched Etsy competitor “Handmade at Amazon,” which today offers 20,000 handcrafted items from over 10,000 artisans. The store now includes a new “Martha Stewart American Made store” which features a selection of curated products chosen by Stewart and her editors at Martha Stewart Living, says Amazon.

FEATURED IMAGE: JULIE CLOPPER/SHUTTERSTOCK

6 high-tech bikes that bring cycling to a new level

By Cat DiStasio

For cyclists who want to go farther, ride faster and look cooler doing it, there are a lot of options on the market when it comes to high-end bikes. This week we’re gawking over a few of the world’s most technologically enhanced cycles. Some are electric hybrids; sometransform for better ergonomics; and some take the notion of a bicycle and darn near throw it out the window. From the innovative to the chic to the out of this world, here are six of the world’s most incredible (and expensive) rides on two wheels.

Wait, Did Facebook Just Build A Kickstarter Competitor?

Facebook’s on a quest to absorb the Internet, and now it looks like it could invade crowdfunding. Today the company released a new Fundraiser product that allows nonprofits to set up a campaign page, show off a video explaining their goal, collect cash, and let people share News Feed posts with buttons so their friends can instantly contribute without clicking to a new page. As is, Facebook’s Fundraising feature could compete with platforms like Crowdrise.

But if you just take the “non-“ out of “nonprofit,” what Facebook built becomes a highly viral Kickstarter competitor. Facebook tells me its focused on nonprofits with these tools. Then again, Facebook was focused on nonprofits when it built the charity Donate button in 2013, and a year later it launched a similar Buy button for shopping. Even if Fundraiser was made for non-profits, it could be repurposed in the future.

fundraisers-on-desktop-and-mobile-v21

The fact is that social networks drive an enormous percentage of crowdfunding contributions. Few people are just browsing Kickstarter and Indiegogo desperate to plop down cash. Even campaigns prominently featured by those platforms only get about 25 percent of their traffic that way. Twelve percent is more typical, and it can range down to 3 percent, Plinth Agencycrowdfunding consultant Desi Danganan tells me. Most campaign organizers rely on promotion to their own social graphs and re-sharing through places like Facebook to raise dollars.

The problem is that to actually pledge money, people have to leave Facebook and visit the campaign’s page on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or wherever. That’s friction. There, they might not have a credit card and billing info on file, so they’ll have to enter it. More friction. Then they’re an extra click away from sharing the campaign back to their own friends on Facebook. Even more friction.

fundraiser-on-mobile-and-shared-with-friends-v4
Facebook hates friction. It knows that at its scale, even shaving a little time or effort off a user experience can trigger massive benefits. A recent Facebook Messenger feature called Photo Magic could shave five seconds off sharing a third of the photos sent through the chat app by using facial recognition. But since 9.5 billion photos are shared there per month, smoothing this little friction could save users 500 years in the same time period.

Crowdfunding campaigns on Facebook could offer discovery, payment and virality baked right into the platform. The Fundraiser feature already lets users who want to support a campaign without spending money “Join” to receive updates, post to their feed, or easily invite friends. The social network offers better ways for organizers to stay in touch with donors and encourage sharing than a dedicated crowdfunding site ever could.

Facebook Donation Gif

Streamlining the crowdfunding process could feed into Facebook’s mission while also making it some money. The company’s goal is to connect people, and crowdfunding projects are becoming the premier way people rally together. Whether it’s an invention, art project, or good cause, crowdfunding unites communities. It doesn’t matter if they’re geographically condensed groups of real friends, or far-flung believers in a common purpose. Tackling crowdfunding seems right up Facebook’s alley.

Making it easier aligns with the company’s other initiatives to absorb the Internet, from Instant Articles and hosted videos to small business mobile Pages that can substitute for complex apps. Facebook already has several products that rely on you saving payment information with it. There’s friend-to-friend payments in Messenger, Buy buttons on News Feed, and the revamped Donate button for charities.

Crowdfunding projects could lure in more payment info, as people may be inspired to go through the one-time set-up flow to back a friend’s campaign or something they want birthed into the world. That payment info helps all of Facebook’s other products.

Once crowdfunding campaigns live on Facebook, you can be sure organizers will advertise on Facebook to promote them. You already see plenty of ads leading from the social network to projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. But some users are surely discouraged from clicking because they don’t want to interrupt their Facebook experience.

Ads for Facebook’s own crowdfunding pages could let them contribute in-line and go back to socializing. And since they’d keep users rattling around inside its walled garden, the ads are even better for Facebook than ones that lead off-site.

Facebook Fundraiser

Of course, there a million things Facebook could do with advantages over incumbents. There’s no certainty it will build out a full-fledged crowdfunding feature. I’ve asked Facebook if it’s considering it, and will update if I get a response.

To build Facestarter, the company would have to set up all the reward and update systems and potentially police the platform for scams. Because crowdfunding is relatively well centralized on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, it’s not as ripe a space as creating a social alternative to fragmented non-profit fundraising. And some of Facebook’s clones, like Snapchat impersonators Poke and Slingshot have flopped.

But that’s benefit of Facebook’s behemoth size. It can experiment with barging into any business it wants. There’s no harm kicking the tires of Kickstarter. If it doesn’t work out, on to the next app.

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