Tuesday, December 05, 2006

hot damn. basecamp on my treo.

Looks like a few weeks ago someone released a Basecamp client for several mobile platforms, including my favorite, PalmOS.


I'm working on 2 short films, a documentary, and another documentary right now on top of my day job, and the busier I get, the more Basecamp reveals itself to be a lifesaver. This little palm app, Tracker, is ugly, seems to be written in Java, flaunts palm UI conventions and has a frankly bizarre setup procedure. It also seems to work, and right now that's where the bar is.

For anything I manage by myself, I still love you SHADOW, the best outliner anywhere...but the collaboration thing is so undeniable once you start seeing it in practice, and being locked out of basecamp by the Treo's low-end mobile browser is very frustrating. Tracker seems to work by using a server backend to grab info from Basecamp and then pass it along to the handheld; it has to re-sync a project from time to time, but it's all there - milestones, messages, comments, to-dos. Actually...alllll the to-dos are there, even completed lists, which is a bit annoying...clearly still a 1.0 product. Also, no writeboards, but it's understandable; that could be pretty tricky on a small screen.

Making Basecamp genuinely mobile is a huge step - I'd been considering picking up PalmOS development myself again to do this one - and so I am thrilled to have Tracker around. I assigned it a hot-key within 5 minutes.

Been Reading.

I've noticed that when I'm busy I tend to get the most stuff done - that is, busy with work, somehow, results in lots of non-work creative and inteelektual meanderings accomplished. To wit: while working on Rhyme Animal, I read:

Collected Short Stories of Pushkin
"Anansi Boys", Neil Gaiman
Re-read "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", Susanna Clarke
"Ladies of Grace Adieu", Susanna Clarke
"American Gods", Neil Gaiman
"Good Omens", Nail Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
"Foundation", Isaac Asimov
"Rising Tide", John Barry
"Water for Gotham",
Gerard T. Koeppel

I know there are at least a couple of others I'm forgetting at the moment. It's no spectacular truism, but it does point to the fact that an agile mind depends on keeping it well fed...and don't worry, the queue of books waiting for attention is a bit broader than the previous list, so the diet is properly balanced.

I could use a good, interesting history book right now actually.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

So freakin close

Rhyme Animal is almost done. We are retransfered, picture locked...everything but the mix is final. It's been a long road, and I am looking to resume many frivolous activities once more, such as cooking, sleeping, writing here and generally not making my girlfriend's life quite so miserable. It's a lot of work to make a film, even a short, but I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. We've already submitted to Sundance, Slamdance, Tribeca FF and SXSW...wish us luck...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

i have been SO busy

but there is actually quite a backlog of things to write about, so it's all good.

In case you've stopped appreciating the sheer insanity that the 'net provides, take a few steps back and look at it through the eyes of Douglas Adams, about twenty years ago.


It's a film Douglas Adams made for the BBC about the future of television and the internet, though of course it wasn't called that then. Totally fascinating stuff.

Via the interesting blog of Kevin Marks, quicktime and now blog guru.

Friday, August 11, 2006

that explains it.

fortune cookie:

"in order to discover who you are, first learn who everybody else is. You're what's left."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

material culture and music, or boy how i miss record covers.

a few years ago - basically, within about 3 days of getting one of the first iPods - I decided to put my whole cd collection into a digital jukebox. I'm no dj shadow when it comes to record collecting, but even a fellow who's just moderately interested in music can come up with a few thousand cds and records over the years without trying too hard. I made a project out of it, took a stack of cds in to work with me every day for like 6 weeks, and had my laptop convert them while I did my job.

That allowed me to file the actual disks away - such a relief, as in a crowded new york city apartment, every inch is valuable. No more time spent wondering how this disk got in that one's sleeve, or buying another copy of something because you kicked that 22$ import across the floor and scratched it all to hell. The juke ran on an iMac(blue) I purchased on ebay solely for that purpose, and basically worked really well. Before my most recent move, I carted all the CDs up to a friend's basement...people who have entire houses don't mind that sort of thing, it turns out. At the new place, not having to fill a whole bookcase with music is completely liberating.

The thing is....initally the record collection all fit on a 40 gig hard drive. Eventually, that filled up...and I swapped it for a 80 gig drive. You can't delete the stuff from the forty, though, because of course it would take forever to reload everything, so it stays in the closet as a back up. Most recently I bought a 250gig drive, and amazingly that's close to filled up now; the iTunes store and my video iPod (which I love, and use all the time) have left me with the 'need' to archive ever larger amounts of data. I started the damn jukebox project so I wouldn't have to worry about the ever-increasing space demands of my library, and of course that problem never really goes away - it just gets transferred from one medium to another. As far as I can tell, there are really on two ways of dealing with the issue. First, make it someone else's problem - and that means probably paying some sort of subscription fee forever, not a great option. Second, leapfrog the situation by getting a truly gigantic amount of storage, which is in fact another temporary solution, but hopefully more longer temporary. That's what I'm leaning towards right now.

Mary asked me to give her some CDs to listen to in the office she's working at right now. It took me back for a minute, because I sort of assume that if you've got a space where you can listen to tunes at work (not like me, a video editor), you just plug the ipod in and go. But this magazine has a stereo and CD player, so very quaint. Of course, I didn't actually have any to give her, so I picked a few things out of the jukebox, burned the CDs and used the iTunes print feature to make the cd covers. As I held the finished products in my hands, I got kind of sad. I really miss CDs...I don't think it's the CDs exactly - I know it isn't, they sucked from day one - but I definitely miss having a physical component to the music. Something to hold, and to stare at. I loved minidiscs for that reason; there were so many types, and colors, it made a record collection literally look like a bunch of candy. I buy almost all of my music online now - eMusic, Bleep (god bless you warp records) and the iTunes store all make a pretty excellent range of stuff available. But I do miss the liner notes, the variations in the cd packaging, the double colored vinyl of a stereolab LP. And it's not just music that seems to benefit from this physical accompaniment to the cultural product being disbursed. People collect movie tickets, save the program from an orchestra concert, buy a t-shirt at a rock show. It's ingrained pretty deeply into our system to have a physical object which can contain all our associations with the artwork in question. It doesn't really seem like something we can get past...I doubt I'm gonna start going to record stores twice a week again, the downloads really fit my lifestyle a bit better. But I might carry a few CDs around, just for grins, instead of my iPod.

Of course, I'll need to clear out a shelf for them.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What's goin' on...

What's goin' on...

(Listening to America: A traveler rediscovers his country, by Bill Moyers. Published 1971.)

I just finished reading Bill Moyer's travelogue, published the year after I was born. I know I was born on an air force base in north north north texas, since my dad had been drafted, but for some reason I still think of the time around my birth as being relatively calm. I guess the artificial divides of the "the sixties" and "the seventies" lead to me consider that we'd landed on the moon, and everyone was sitting around drinking cocktails, marvelling at what a crazy time we'd just had, and waiting for for the next part of the show to begin.( "Apparently, they'll be inventing PUNK rock! I hear it's AWFUL!", one party-goer will say to another.)

Of course history isn't ever that neat, and reading this book 35 years later, you get an idea of how messy it can actually be. Having concluded time as Deputy Director of the Peace Corp, "special assistant" to President Johnson, and publisher of NEWSDAY, Moyers spent a summer driving through America, asking people what was on their minds, and listening. It turns out they had a lot to say. America was worried about: the long hairs, unions, school integration (bussing), the war, immigration, the trade deficit, identity politics of several varieties, race, zoning, and how one person can actually make a difference. Moyers really lets the folks he interviews speak their minds, and the book is full of minute details about each issue, but it's fascinating anyway.

What resonates throughout all of the complaints is a pervasive sense that there's something worth saving about the country. It's rather amazing to see how much differently folks interpreted the idea of patriotism; there seems to be a genuine sense of dialog between opposing factions at many of the towns that Moyers stops at along the way.

Most of what people were worried about 35 years ago is still with us today. The country was in a war that many of the citizens opposed, and most folks had a hard time explaining to each other what it's purpose was. Anytime anyone speaks about the war, it's fairly uncanny, as we spiral ever deeper into Iraq and the Israel-Lebanon crisis gets more explosive daily.

Stepping back in time, to a day when MLK was a person whose loss was freshly felt, when the nation's youth were testing their voices and being heard, and when someone could ask a question, and know how to simply listen to the answer, is a powerful experience...I finished reading this book with a much fuller picture of what America was, and is.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

al gore finds out about avenue x.


greenlight it, folks!

this is a 'making of' doc about avenue x, that was just uploaded to current.tv, al gore's experiment in community television.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

al gore makes a slideshow.

I haven't managed to see this yet, but here is a cool article about some of the post-production on the film. [link] The film was directed by Davis Guggenheim. I worked with Davis' dad, Charles Guggenheim back in the early part of my career. I learned an awful lot of the foundational stuff for my career by listening to him.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bloggin' is like the opposite of life, except not really

I haven't written much here lately, but not because there hasn't been a lot of interesting stuff going on. The easy assumption is that we only blog when there isn't anything else to do; but that's not really how it's ever worked for me. I find I get the most reading or whatever done whenever I'm really busy with a 'day-job'.

Anyway: this weekend. Pride Day in New York City means drag queens drinking way too much and clogging up the streets, a crowd spilling out of Henrietta Hudson until 5 in the morning. Good, clean fun. See photos in [my photo blog] for evidence of same in Jersey City.

Also, LibertyJam took place this weekend and was fun, although severely underattended. Two contrasting attitudes towards politics and performance:

Patti Smith chose to play Steely Dan's "I'm a Fool To Do Your Dirty Work", a song she admitted her band had never even tried to play together before. At the end of the song, she added "Take That, George Bush", or something close. Parliament, on the other hand, at one point unveiled a large, handwritten sign, that simply read "FUCK GEORGE", and got a much bigger round of applause from the audience. I like the work ethic on those guys.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My friends are writing books.

Not only that, the books are getting picked up and now, you can buy them!

My friend June Cross has finally finished her memoir. It's called "Secret Daughter", order it here, and read June's experiences with the whole book publishing thing in her blog here. June and I worked on a couple of films together, including the orientation film for the Museum of African American History in Baltimore.

And my friend Andrew Beaujon's book on Christian rock is out as well. The snappy title is "Body Piercing Saved My Life", snag it here. He'd been thinking about this one for a while, and pitched it everywhere without much luck. Then, Bush got elected for the second time, and his phone started ringing and ringing.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Crazy for bicycles.

I rode in the 5-boro bike tour over the weekend. Lots of fun; much better organized than last year. Once again, not that many folding bikes in the crowd, which surprised me; my dahon speed pro served admirably once more.

I've put some photos over on the photoblog:


TFF: loudQUIETloud

I'm gonna keep posting my reviews of things from the Tribeca Film Festival even though it's over for this year. I saw a lot of great films, and I think a good few of them have a solid chance for distribution, so eventually you can see them again. Thus:


is the title of a pretty cool documentary about the Pixies reunion tour. It's a nice mix of behind -the-scenes footage and concert footage. The concert stuff looks amazing; they shot on super-16 film and it was worth every cent.

The basic premise the film-makers ended up settling on was that this was a doc about four band members who don't actually seem to talk to each other very much. You get to spend time with each of the band members as they do whatever they do when they aren't together, which can be fascinating and hilarious. How rock is it to see the Deal girls doing needlepoint, right? The drummer, who provides the closest thing to an arc for the film, seems to have become obsessed with magic and card tricks during the interim (again, extremely rock, yes?) and basically everyone's been living life as someone who used to be in the Pixies. Guitarist Joey Santiago is seen playing with his wife as a duet to about 14 people...

There's no big finish to the film; the tour ends and no one has written any new pixies songs or booked time in a studio, despite the overwhelming acclaim and financial success of the tour. But if you're even a marginal pixies fan, you'll want to see it. The main problem, as I see it, is that Some Kind of Monster already came out...It's hard to compete with footage of Metallica in group therapy. But all in all, this was a blast, and even if it's a bit of golden oldies & halcyon days, it's great to see the people behind the amazing music. Oh, they also got Daniel Lanois to do the score.

ps: at one point, someone in the film says that Kurt Cobain said he was just trying to rip off the Pixies...on my way home from work today, U-MASS came on my ipod, and I'll be damned...right there in there chorus, is the hook to 'smells like teen spirit'. How about that.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

TFF: burke and wills

low budget, b&w 16 mm film about two losers passing each other, one going lower and one going higher. Lots of things I liked - open editing (not cutty at all), a few very thoughtful setups, some decent music and some decent performances from the leads. But they wall to wall used music, sometimes to good effect, but often just to fill up the empty space. also, the story had a million title cards which I didn't like very much. And frankly the story kind of doesn't make a huge amount of sense upon reflection. It was, I will say, pleasantly non-commercial. Very dark. - Robert
I have a blog now:

Friday, April 28, 2006

Tribeca Film Festival is ON!

The title says it all. I've got tickets for 8 screenings over eight days. I have one day off, so that means on saturday I get to see two movies. A bizarre turn of the scheduling is that both the first and last film I've got tickets for are documentaries about Turkey.

My opening film,37 uses for a dead sheep, is an inventive documentary about an ethnic group called the Kirghiz...they lived in that part of asia around afghanistan and pakistan and china where the twentieth century borders have never really had much to do with the actual lives of the people there. In recent times, (ie the turn of the 20th century) things have been particularly difficult for them, and they've ended up migrating a preposterous five times to different countries to try to eke out an living; they end up in Turkey, no longer nomads but with small homes provided by the turkish goverment, and living in a primarly kurdish part of the country.

The film's director, Ben Hopkins, had a fairly brilliant solution to a common problem with documentaries - how do you show it if there wasn't anyone around to take pictures at the time? What he did was have the actual tribesfolk re-enact significant moments in their own history. In effect, he got them to colloborate with him on making a film about themselves. It's a really neat twist on the typical form of a documentary - as he said in the Q&A - in the 70s & 80s a documentary tried really hard to pretend that the film-makers didn't exist, which is patently absurd. So, the tribesfolk help art direct, talk about what should go into the film, and show up on certain days to shoot the scenes, which are filmed on 8mm and 16mm, and end up looking fantastic. The 'historical' footage was shot with a real early cinema style - not much camera movement, silent, so many grand gestures and title cards. The doc is thus a mix of info about the tribe through interviews and voice over, behind-the-scenes of the movie-within-the-movie, and then the re-creations. It's a neat mix, and it works pretty well.

The director has a good sense of humor, and he brings out humor in the Kirghiz he interviews as well, so the film is frequently funny, as the title suggests. It turns out there was one old man interviewed who came up with about 63 uses for a dead sheep, but he wasn't as good on camera as the the elder dude with 37, so 37.

My one complaint with the piece is this...I think in his homage to the cinema of the early twenties, the director uses a lot title cards and many sections within the film separated by black. I think this really drags the film's pacing down a bit. It's a small thing, and almost certainly intentional, from hearing the director speak about his influences and ideas about documentary; my preference is still to have the film-maker knit the story together a bit more rather than handing me so many fragments.

I also think that the re-created footage could have been used to greater effect somehow; I wonder if a reprise of the whole story towards the end might have worked. The stuff just looked so great I wanted to see it all together.

If you can get the chance to see this, I'd go for it. There are two more screenings during the festival, and Ben seems like a super nice & intelligent guy. By the way, the still at the top of this blog is a shot of the guys playing polo with a dead sheep for the ball.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

web - magazine - thing

I've just discovered the escapist. it's a weekly magazine about the video game industry. the writing is interesting; they're really trying very hard to do a good job. Also interesting is the layout - they've decided to mimic a traditional magazine layout and not just through the articles onto a long page. Each article page/screen is layed out like a real magazine, with artwork, photos, whatever. It looks good. I just read an interesting article about some game designed by the guy who originally wrote Prince of Persia (Jordan Michner I think) ; the distributor fell apart just as the game was finished and it only shipped like 30,000 copies, but it sounded amazing. I grabbed it off of amazon for about $20, and will have a report on it eventually...anyway, sad to think that an amazing game can disappear the same way an amazing film can due to some many issues not actually having anything to do with the content directly!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Another Blog

I've started a new photo oriented blog over at http://synchrofoto.blogspot.com/. I may or may not mention here when I've added things over there; I will put a link to it in my links over on the right side of the page.

There's a few pictures up there now.

Book Corner, April 23 2006

I've picked up a fun little book called A short history of the movies; by Gerald Mast. A cursory bit of research indicates it's out of print;I guess that means I got a good deal on it at 75 cents in a used bookshop in nyc.

It's always fun to read a history by someone with an axe to grind, and Mast definitely has a strong point of view. What's so amusing is that's he's completely unafraid to call a film,(or even a director) crap.

I'm only about a third of the way through right now, but the early part of the book covers the creation of film as an industry in very thorough detail. It's a story that should be pretty familiar to anyone who pays attention to the development of the internet, and I'm sure many other industries...essentially, the early years are characterized by numerous attempts to control the entire market - monopoly, patent battles, collusion, vertical integration, industry "coalitions" designed to keep everyone else out. Big players spending years locked in court battles while small players eat their bacon and leave them behind...

[I work for Paramount, indirectly, and the Paramount Corporation was there right in the very beginning, a descendent of a company called "Famous Players in Famous Plays" - an "independent" company, not a signator to the "trust" which required theater owners to only get films from trust members..... so whatever complaints we may have at the office, the staying power of the company can't be denied.]

I've been reading a lot about D.W.Griffith in the last fifty pages or so...I knew about Birth of a Nation and Intolerance but I didn't realize Griffith had worked as a hired hand for Edison pictures for a few years, first as an actor and the director. As a director he made a new, single reel film EVERY WEEK. He used that time essentially as a lab to figure out how motion picture storytelling worked, and in the process created many of the conventions we still use today. One of his features was called Broken Blossoms. The title is extremely similar to Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, but just from the descriptions I've read I don't immediately cotton the connection.

I'll add more once I finish the book, right now it's just making me want to line up everything made before 1930 you can get from Netflix.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Saturday, April 01, 2006

I heart Jersey City

Today, two very amusing things happened.

First, while sitting around reading and eating breakfast, I heard a loud noise that sounded like a gang of children being dumped off a schoolbus directly into a playground. And it started get closer, and closer, and closer. Eventually, I realized that the noise was not in fact coming from the playground a block away behind my apartment, but from the street in front of the apartment. Running to the window, I was greeting by an amazing sight: the little league parade. As far as the eye could see, small gangs of children were wearing their team jerseys, chanting team slogans, and marching down the middle of Montgomery Street. Truly a suburban paradise.

Later, after stopping in to our local tea shop to pick up additional loose black tea and 'oaties', we were crossing the street. From out of nowhere, a tall, coffee colored gentleman appeared...he was running, but he didn't really seem to be in a huge hurry. It was more like a race walk. As he dashed in front of us, we could hear him singing to himself.


and he was on his way.

This actually really did happen.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Library

I finally managed to get organized enough to walk around the corner and visit the Jersey City Free Public Library last week. It's stupid, but it's been a real long time since I was in a library...as far as I can discern from my local branch, libraries have not changed at all in the last 20 years. I know as a rule that's not true, but there is something really amazingly "Library" about this place. Somehow putting even a new hardcover into one of the full-contact/impact resistant book covers makes it seem extremely boring and like something the doctor gave you rather the fun mysterious object that books can be when they're good.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The story of the Rough Cut Lady

Old news. I'm not sure how widely this circulated around the 'net; if you're not in the video field you might not have heard these. It's a series of fake radio commercials dedicated to "honoring" certain types within the industry; essentially bosses who get in our way for assorted reasons. Turns out they were originally done by a marketing department for discovery channel.

The story of the Rough Cut Lady

And here is an interesting exhibit I'd like to go see.

(A 'rough cut' is what you call an early draft of a video piece; lots of things are finished yet. Sometimes it's a little tough to imagine what the finished version might look like, but for professionals who deal with it e v e r y s i n g l e d a y it really shouldn't be a problem. And yet...)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Nightstand roundup

What's been occupying me lately...

records: got snowed under with promos from a friend of mine, but the one that hit the ipod first and stuck is The Celluloid Years, a pretty wide ranging collection of tracks from an early hip hop label. It's got Futura 2000 doing a track with The Clash (maybe not the smartest thing they ever did), several good mixes of Wild Style by Time Zone, and some African/French flavored stuff by Manu Dibango that I really like. Also, I'm still listening to the latest Boards of Canada record, The Campfire Headphase, but the one that caught me off guard is Blockhead's record from late last year, Downtown Science. It's instrumental hip-hop of a sort I didn't realize you could really even make anymore due to licensing restrictions. Artful, complicated, hummable and delicate, while never letting you forget that it's hip hop record. Of course you may start to wonder what that really means. Anyway, apparently the genius is from downtown NYC. I liked the first record, but the new one is a huge step forward. I've also been totally grooving on Konono No.1 - Congotronics.


It's funny how you sometimes aren't ready for a book, but if you come back to it later, it all makes sense. In my quest to keep my personal library under control I read and re-read my books over and over again (New York apartments & all that; even now in Jersey City there just aren't that many bookshelves).

One book I tried to read a few years ago was Umberto Eco's In Search of the Perfect Language, which I found pretty dry. But I kept the damn thing, and returned to it a few weeks ago. It turns out that reading Neil Stephenson's Quicksilver trilogy was a pretty excellent introduction to the central idea of this book of Eco's. Several of the scientists Stephenson fictionalizes spent significant amounts of their lives working on this idea of a perfect, pre-Babel type language, which would have a perfect 1:1 correspondence with the real world. Many of them felt that if you could figure out the language, then merely constructing new sentences in that tongue would generate new truths, philosophical and otherwise. Eco devotes chapters (which each feel very much like a self-contained lecture) to Kaballism, Dante, Wilkins, Leibniz, Dalgarno and the evolution Esperanto. This was totally fascinating stuff to me.

I also just found my way through Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which was extremely fun. It's always nice to read things that are understated and a bit snarky, and this book fits the bill. As many others have noted, it's sort of a bizarre mix between a slightly Tolkienesque world and a Jane Austen novel, and while that could certainly be a recipe for an astonishingly boring and really long book, it isn't. It's a completely fascinating alternate world that Susanna Clarke has constructed, with a gigantic adventure story at it's heart. I suppose there are all sorts of things to draw out of the book, but I think one of the most fascinating things to me was the use of the idea that a country has particular place in history that's special. In this alternate history, England is a place where magic had been quite common, and it seems that it wasn't in other places. There's never really any specific explanation as to why this might be, but it makes for a very interesting read.

And another thing: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. Fabulous. Read it before, I'll end up reading it again. If you have any record you consider even slightly "dance music", reading this book will explain a million things to you about why those records are the way they are. Starting with fundamentals - the evolving role of the dj during radio's early days, and following the development of the dj's role from various US cities to England , the Carribean and back to the States, it's a superfun collection of stories, some from names you know already, and many from names you don't know. It's the best kind of history; uncovering details about things we take for granted.

Early report on my latest acquisition is that Droidworks is pretty good, though perhaps obsessively thorough. It's the story of how George Lucas changed modern cinema. It's not any obvious thing, either...the book methodically plots the courses Lucas and his buddy Francis Coppola took to get in to the 'industry',and what they then did to set themselves free of it. This one seems to be written as a college textbook maybe; it's footnoted like crazy. I like it a lot because it's the story of people making a series of practical decisions to achieve their vision.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Does this cancel out the China thing?

Google is digitizing the national archives.

Download it straight to your video ipod. I really wonder how fast this will go. Amazing stuff for doc producers. Makes wandering the stacks accessible to us all...

Monday, February 20, 2006

Learn your history, it's weird!

Interview with a guy who worked on ENIAC.
Eniac was the first electronic computer, more or less. It was intended to work out trajectory tables for bombs and mortars during WWII, but as with some many computer-oriented projects, the schedule slipped. They ended up using it to do some solid work on the h-bomb though.

From wikipedia:
A difference engine is a historical, mechanical special-purpose computer designed to tabulate polynomial functions. Since logarithmic and trigonometric functions can be approximated by polynomials, such a machine is more general than it appears at first.

Charles Babbage designed the difference engine in 1834. He never even finished building one. In 1985 the British Science Museum started building one and completed it in 1991. It's said by many that he intended to use it make a killing at the horse-races.

Some guy built a freaking difference engine out of LEGO.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Newsflash: I was shooting at things.

In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to let everyone know that last night I spent approximately 1 hour shooting things in HALO. I'm sorry it took me this long to let you know; that's my fault and my fault alone.

I've often thought that as much fun as the 1st person shooter games can be - and I do think they are fun - they often reduce to a highly dressed up version of the moving tin ducks you can shoot with a bb gun out at coney island, or in a thousand carnivals around the country. I played the same section of Halo over and over yesterday; it's a slighly tricky section, but I love the parts where you get to fly around in the alien spacecraft while it's snowing; it's really beautiful. Anyway, I'm playing this same section over and over while I fail to get all the shots right, and it was very fun and after an hour I thought to myself, "time well spent, but time to stop". Things exploded, I got a lot of time in the air, and honed that itchy trigger finger as millions do playing similar games every day, and for all the press about violence in video games, apparently in general violent crime is down.

Can somebody teach Dick Cheney how to get his computer on the interweb so he could just play Halo like the rest of us?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Friday, February 10, 2006

tristam shandy - random thoughts

Very funny, and in an oblique way extremely faithful. It amuses me to see how we've become used to odd storytelling structures so that it's not even really an issue. (and of course, the book being adapted is proof of how long people have been confounding audiences with bass-ackward yarns).

For me, a nice surprise: some michael nyman music, early in the film. Thanks to modern technology, one cue recycled from Draughtman's Contract sounds about a million times better than it did in the earlier film.

The crowd at the Angelika was definitely a bit more mature than is usual for a friday night crowd...and as the lights came up, a gentleman sitting behind me proclaimed it 'one of the worst damn movies I've ever seen. Not one damn funny scene in the whole film.' - I 'd love to know what he was expecting. I guess he thought the book was better. (or maybe aforemention moebius-strip diegesis is more trouble than I thought!)

There is some fine artistic philosophizing wrapped up in all the low-rent humor, which for me helped sell the whole thing. Neat discussion of the value of battles and conflict in a story structure.

Two stars!

(via cellphone - apologies for the telegram style terseness. Full stop.)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Phone pics

I like this picture.

Jack Bauer vs. really bad guy from Serenity.

I never watched Firefly when it was on tv, but was a Buffy fan, and I was fairly impressed with the movie. The critic in me realizes that it didn't quite add up to a lasting piece of work, and the fan and creative voices tell me it was a hell of an effort. Lots of things I liked, a few big problems. I watched it a second time with my folks on DVD, and had more or less the same reaction; a few of the cheesier decisions were more apparent the second time through. But I noticed something that made me feel a little uncomfortable - and that makes me think slightly better of the whole thing.

When I think about the movie, "the operative" character seems almost like a good guy, and not a bad guy. I don't think this means I'm a fascist, though it's obviously something to consider. But the man who fights dirty to maintain the order of the society, who follows orders without asking why, even when it seems clearly against the stated goals...he just seemed like a dude with a really hard job, who was severely competent, and relentless in his application to his duty. Where Serenity is brilliant is how that fight between Mal (the captain) and the operative, gets blurred. Honestly, when watching, it's pretty clear, because we root for the team of scrappy heroes. But the operative is pretty appealing - his idea of order may get shot down, but he survives. He has something he believes in, a structure, and he's willing to risk his life for that. He's honest about it; not a religious nut who doesn't see the holes in his schema.

Anyway, most of us are probably more like Mal, and inasmuch as the film seems to be a story about order versus disorder, I appreciate very much the benefits of disorder in art, in life, and in social structure. It's the random twitch in the DNA replication that makes the world the fascinating place it is. ("I'm a leaf on the wind...") But I think we all probably have some desire to be the other guy, with rule to follow and a clear plan we don't second guess.

So. 24 is on again, and I'm watching and I'm loving it. I start thinking in a silly way about how many folks Jack kills during the show, and it looks like this so far (conservatively):

07:00-08:00 1 directly - the assassin
08:00-09:00 Possibly one FBI agent.
09:00-10:00 (jack is busy with paperwork and expense reports)
10:00-11:00 3 terrorists (one by vest, 2 by shooting)
11:00-12:00 1 assassin (again!)

Making it a total of at least 5 people before 1pm.
(note: i still need to go back and check the hours and the count to make this more accurate)

Which means that Jack is the scruffy version of the fascist enforcer. He'll do anything to get his man, no matter how far over the line of propriety it takes him, because he believes in the idea of the society he works for. It's not entirely articulated in the show; we know he respected the presumably democratic & african-american president palmer and doesn't respect the current nixon look-alike, but he serves respectfully. Since there is always a clear-and-present-danger, Jack's excesses seem understandable if not commendable. But of course, he's basically insane, and this rule-following, unyielding submission to an ideal ends up destroying every human relationship he has.

Which only leads me to think that maybe the actual subject of 24 is the family. It's always been a big issue on the show, and we're getting a variety of angles into that subject this time around.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Murch thinks 3 is a magic number. (well, 2 1/2 anyway)

Walter Murch is more or less the only rock star editor. He's written books (In the Blink of An Eye), essays and lectures somewhat frequently. You'll remember him as the editor of Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, The English Patient, Cold Mountain, Jarhead, etc. I often wonder if he's really the smartest editor out there - not meaning that he isn't smart as hell, cause he is - but I wonder if other editors think as much about what we do as he does. I know some very considered, thoughtful editors, and I know some who work a bit more...instinctively. Thinking about Walter Murch always makes me curious about how deep you really *should* go on a given project.

I just stumbled on this essay from him about complexity in sound design. Good stuff as always.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why we fight.

Managed to snag a ticket to this basically excellent doc last night. You can say it's about why we're in Iraq; a lot of the film is, but it really does try and get to the heart of the matter, as the title suggests. When it's on, the film is as beautiful and compelling as any doc I've seen. When it wanders, it's still pretty good, but fallible.

It opens with a genuinely amazing speech by Eisenhower, as he is about to end his presidency, in which he essentially warns against the perversion of democracy that a standing army and the attendant industries will wreak. This coming from a five star general who'd served in WWII. I wish they'd run the entire speech at the start of the film. Instead, we get excerpts, and then a standard talking-heads and footage piece. It sits halfway between a normal PBS story structure with several characters interwoven and something where the talking heads advance a thesis from start to finish..

What really got me was how *close* to being astonishing it was. As I said, many sections of it are beautiful -– it has a nice soundtrack that bridges a lot sections together into bigger pieces - then it would get bogged down a little with bites that were maybe not exactly off-topic, but maybe weren't bold enough. Much of the dialog is preaching to the choir, and so what frustrates me is to see the other elements get lost within the rote '“our politicians don'’t care'” soundbites. The good stuff by my reckoning includes: a great story of a NYC cop, a Vet himself, who lost a son in 9/11; a young guy signing up for the army;an army colonel (I think) who was in the Pentagon when it was struck and felt that she had to leave the armed service because of policy differences; and a woman scientist who works on bunker-buster bombs who turns out to have fled Saigon days before the fall, and who has deeply patriotic feeling for the US.

My gut tells me that if they'’d kept this a little more trim, a little more poetic, and maybe kept the run-time to 1:15 instead of 1:38, they'd have a film that was breathless, and left the audience stunned at the end, rather than feeling like they'’d seen a really great documentary. There were quite a few sections during the film that are that good, and so major hats off to the team.

I know docs aren'’t the same as news stories, and it'’s not a rule that you have to give equal time to opposing viewpoints, but I did feel like there might have been a useful way to contextualize the argument a bit better with regard to the conservative side of the fence. Not just hearing things to debunk them, but to broaden the scope.

I hope this film is a huge success; I'’ll be very curious to see what the numbers are when it opens outside of new york/la.

Monday, January 09, 2006

There were lots of animals in PAPILLION

Papillion was this prison-break movie released in 1973, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman; it takes place sometime in the 1930s. There is a bizarre amount of wildlife on screen:

1. Little crabs when arriving in French Guiana.
2. Lizards on roof.
3. Alligator when on work detail.
4. Butterflies on work detail.
5. Snake on work detail.
6. Roach in solitary.
7. Bat in solitary.
8. Large crab in solitary.
9. Millipede in solitary.
10. Dog on leper island.
11. Turtles on boat.
12. Sharks on final island.
13. Pigs and goats on final island.
14. Grasshopper on final island.

There are probably more, but that's all I can remember. It's an interesting idea, to use animals as shorthand for different situations or conditions. Not something that would work in every film, but it worked here just fine.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

rocking the ebay for some retro gaming.

I spent the large sum of $3.99 + 3$ for shipping to get a copy of one of my favorite games ever: Mechwarrior 2 for Mac. Released 1996. Requires at LEAST System 7.5. It runs in OS 9 no problem at all (though not Classic) once you download a patch (which actually was to let it run in OS 8!), and is super super fun. I remember it had a pretty good soundtrack; kind of reminding me of the first Autechre record (Incunabula), which is one of my favorites.

Today it might be called a realtime strategy game; it requires fast reflexes but is not a twitch game like some of the first person shooters are. It's really more about planning and tactics, if not actual strategy. Unlike some of the FPS games out there, you rarely are significantly more weaponed up than your opponents; in fact at most times you can blow yourself up with about two wrong clicks or keypresses by firing weapons too close together: heat buildup = boom.

The part I didn't remember was how thorough the environment was - not the level of details in the models, which is frankly lower than I remembered - but the details of the storyline. It really is a campaign; each mission has screens and screens of background to read, and a lengthy description of the aftermath of the battle you've just completed, or not completed as things may have turned out. There is a 'reading room' where you can just peruse the history of your clan. And you can play the whole game from either of two sides, with entirely different history and missions. It's a whole world.

The game is an adaptation of something vague D&D-ish called BattleTech universe, so much of the 'lore' is lifted from that, but it's an interesting comparison to make with something like Halo. Halo's backstory is clearly grafted on by a team entirely separate from the team building the game engine itself; not a problem necessarily, but in practice the backstory is just a few pages in the instruction manual that gets left in the box. If you want to know a little more about Master Chief, may I kindly direct you to the lovely snow falling on the battlefield as that hover-buggy swings by for another sortie on your position? It's cool, right? What was that about you were asking about Master Chief? Right, never mind.

It's not the reams of copy that made MechWarrior II such an immersive experience; part of was the sheer complexity of the tasks you're asked to complete, and part of it comes from the details you CAN'T skip over, like the endless scenes of code procedure on the bomber in Doctor Strangelove. But I think the biggest part of it is the overwhelming sense that you are participating in a larger story. Not just blasting, but a real story. When you finish a mission, you feel like a hero, not a mass murderer or a kid shooting cardboard cowboys with a BB gun at a stand out at Coney Island. It was clearly a talented bunch of folks who put the game together.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

-so- underrated.

The Thomas Dolby best of caught my eye, flipping through the ipod on the way home today. The dude was completely misunderstood in his time; he's a crazy good storyteller who happened to be using new tools that freaked everyone out. If I had to pick something to remember him for, it would be the lyrics rather than his crazy synth action, though that is generally very creative as well. I ain't saying he didn't drop some real mal-mots from time to time, but there are some gems in there for sure. I think my favorite line from one of his songs is from "Urges": "I look at you and I feel half human". I don't know why, but I love that. The efficient set-ups of "airwaves" and "screen kiss" are things to admire as well.

Also, as someone who has been in recording studios both low and very hi-fi while songs were being recorded, I would like to point out that "She Blinded Me With Science" sounds absolutely crazy to me now, but for very different reasons than when I was like 13 and it was released originally. I just can't imagine someone actually systematically setting out to create that track. Wow.