Saturday, December 27, 2008

Writing Exercises

If you ever took any creative writing courses or were part of a writing group you might remember writing exercises -- something like "write a ten page story that includes Fig Newtons, a dyslexic wombat, is set in World War II, and the main character knows how to play a Xylophone."

I always thought those were rather artificial, of questionable educational value, and distracted you from the real task of getting your actual writing done.

The distributor is now requesting that we put together stories where the lead character is a 15-year-old boy, plus or minus a year (COP DOG's 12-year-old lead would be too young for next year's slate); with an animal ala COP DOG, but we're already using a dog in another movie and couldn't afford something like a bear and definitely not something aquatic! (did you know that chimpanzee actors are governed by roughly the same working condition rules as child actors?); it must of course be about 90 minutes long; limited locations and limited number of parts, including non-speaking parts because, at these budgets, extras are expensive too (unless your family members all have a lot of free time); should be humorous but maybe with a little heart (er, sentimentality -- but not during the first ten minutes! The first ten minutes should be fun); and there must be a family aspect, i.e. adult or other members of the family centrally involved (don't ask me, that requirement is pretty vague).

It'd also be good to include a holiday theme -- but Christmas is used in another project and we need holidays that also resonate in Europe -- so no Thanksgiving and Halloween isn't so great either.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Round Table Pizza from Ellensburg WA

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J'aime and Gary have had to suffer a disastrous drop in pizza quality. I'm fond of Round Table Pizza. Though individual restaurants vary, when they're on they're one of my favorites. And 40 minutes for good pizza is an easy trade-off.

Besides -- I think it's legal to drive like 150 in Washington if you're east of the Cascades.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Di Fara Pizza

From Brooklyn and New York

Di Fara is two stops away on the Q train. I suspect one of the ingredients is Crack, given that I can't bear going a week without it. This addiction is complicated by the fact that it's pretty much too busy to eat there Friday through Sunday, closed Monday, and can get sorta busy during the weekdays too.

I suspect it might be the best pizza place I've eaten at, since I'd have a tough time choosing between it and Casa Bianca -- but I grew up with Casa Bianca so that gives it a hometown advantage.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Proposition 8 -- the end of laws in California

It occurred to me that the passage of Proposition 8 in California would set a pretty radical precedent.

Essentially, what proposition 8 does is recast an old law that was ruled unconstitutional by the CA courts as a constitutional amendment -- and, in theory, make it impossible for the courts to rule it unconstitutional.

If this proposition goes through then why would ANY future propositions ever be worded as anything other than a constitutional amendment? There's no downside to doing so since the only requirement is still a majority of votes cast -- and this way the people who got the proposition on the ballot knows that they can simply bypass the judicial branch.

Only a fool would ever word a proposition as a law -- they'd all be constitutional amendments.

In effect, this method would simply eliminate the judicial branch with regard to propositions. And, if I were bringing a challenge before the court, I'd make absolutely sure to point out that okaying prop 8 would be tantamount to writing their branch of government out of existence.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Politco has a creepy but actually interesting feature as part of Politico 44 -- the hour by hour schedule of Obama's transition, or, as I'm calling it the Obamastalkometer.

It is interesting to get a deeper picture into just what all goes on in a transition -- just how busy it is and what sorts of things they need to do.

We can start a pool about what hour gets filled with the "puppy-hunting" activity.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

You think you know what to expect

given the polls and so on. But the emotional reality dwarfs the intellectual understanding.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

COP DOG YouTube Clips

Kuma's trainer, Sarah Clifford, appears to have uploaded a couple clips to YouTube, so you don't need to go off-site to get the video:

UPDATE Jan 26, 2009 -- a better version of the trailer was uploaded to YouTube, you can even get a high quality video if you want. I've swapped that out below:

The following clip goes in and out of focus a bit. This is the credit sequence:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

COP DOG Trailer

COP DOG now has it's own webpage and trailer -- and poster.

Unfortunately, the player they're using can't be embedded and I also can't download the video to put it on YouTube -- but you can go to its webpage to view it.

I also had a few problems with the high-bandwidth version -- the pop-up window only showed part of the viewer for some reason.

At any rate -- it's a nice, peppy trailer -- and includes my favorite scene to write, the gum CSI scene...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Heroes Premiere Down 25% -- Heroes fan says "Heroes was on last night?"

According to Hollywood Reporter:

The two-hour premiere of NBC's top drama "Heroes" was down 25% compared with last year's one-hour opener, taking an expected hit following a creatively middling second season and an extended nine-month hiatus prompted by the writers strike.

I found out about the Heroes premiere last night at about 10:05, which, oddly, isn't one of the factors they mention in its ratings decline -- fortunately, there's a repeat showing on the weekend that I can DVR.

This is that mystery period of the year where shows you like may or may not start running at any time. I suspect the big networks have their schedules run by people who still act like it's the 80s when there were only 3 or 4 channels and everyone knew everything that was happening on them.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is mainly just a way of me keeping track of the few recipes I have so that the next time I switch computers they don't all vanish.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar

1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flour, scooped
1/2 cup oats (Quaker oats work fine)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (or more) chocolate chips

This is just a variant on Nestle's Toll House cookies, but with oatmeal and half the batch size. We don't eat cookies fast enough around here to make full batches.

Melt the butter in the microwave then mix the sugar and brown sugar in so it dissolves. Dissolving the sugar like this makes for a more "cake-y" cookie. For thinner, crispier cookies let the butter get to room temperature by leaving it out.

Then mix in the egg and vanilla.

Then add flour, oats, baking soda and salt. You can simply scoop the flour for this (which packs it down tighter, thus giving you a little more) instead of having to do the annoying scoop then measure into a separate cup thing.

Add in the chocolate chips after you've gotten the dough nicely mixed.

Bake 10-12 minutes

I highly recommend parchment paper when cooking -- just tear off a sheet and lay it on the pan. The cookies cook more evenly, don't stick, and the pan doesn't need to be cleaned.

Since I'm pretty much the only cookie-eater in the house I'll only use about one third the first night (enough for 6-8 cookies) then split the remaining dough into two batches and put them in little plastic containers to use at a later day.

Monday, September 08, 2008

First Sorta Review

Cop Dog received it's first sort-of review:

What a suprise!
Watched Cop Dog with my family and when it was over (after lots of 'happy tears' as my daughter said) the kids raved that they wanted to watch it again - right now! They've since watched it twice more. The cast is great, the dog is fantastic! Funny, touching movie for both adults and the kiddies.
Liam S. 12:08am Sun 7 Sep

I'm hoping that Liam doesn't happen to be related to anyone involved in the movie. Given our budget there's a decent chance we couldn't afford anyone international.

Anyway, you are warned -- monitor your glucose levels before watching.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Friend in Trouble Scam

My wife recently got the following email:

I am in hurry writing you this short message and I am sorry I didn't inform you about my traveling. I traveled to Malaysia and i got my self stranded. I am really stranded in Malaysia because I forgot my little bag in the Taxi where my money, passport, documents, cell phone which i have all my contacts and other valuable things were kept on my way to the Hotel am staying, I am facing a hard time here because i have no money on me. I am now owning a hotel bill of $1,200 and they wanted me to pay the bill soon else they will have to hand me over to the Hotel Management, I need this help from you urgently to help me back home, I need you to help me with the hotel bill and i will also need $2,000 to feed and help myself back home. So please can you help me with a sum of $3,200 USD to sort out my problems here. I am sending you this email from the city Library, I will appreciate what so ever you can afford to send me for now and I promise to pay back your money as soon as i return home. So please use the details of one of the hotel managers below to transfer the money to me through Western Union money transfer because that is the only way i could be able to get it fast and leave since he has a valid ID to pick up the money for me from the western union. This is the detail below....

Name: Adam Sanchez
Address: 24B Jalan Loke Yew, Bandar Melaka, Malaysia
Text Question: To whom
Answer: Gabrielle

After you have send the money, email to me the western union money transfer control number or you can attach and forward to me the western union money transfer receipt so that i can pick up the money fast and leave. Right now, i dont have any acess to phone communications because the phone in my hotel room had been disconnected due to too much bills imposed on me, i only have acess to the computer at the library where am sending you this email right now.

Hope to hear from you soon. The embassy here has already promised to give me a covering traveling papers that i will need to have my way back home, all i need right now is the money to settle up the bills and leave.

Thanks and get back to me soon.


Jaru does know Gabrielle (not well enough that she'd be coming to Jaru for help though) and the message appeared to come from her email address (a Hotmail address) -- so perhaps someone broke into Gabrielle's account. You can imagine how distressed Jaru was.

Anyway, the message is a SCAM. You can find a similar message at this link, but set in Nigeria.

You can also find almost the exact same scam if you scroll down into the comments section on this page (quoting here):

Posted by hmorgan on August 13, 2008 at 1:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Here is an E-mail I received only yesterday

THIS IS A FRAUD but I thought some of you may like to read one of these theving Emails.

(I have have a good friend named Pete Crasher BTW and I did forward this on to him.)


I am in hurry writing you this message and am really sorry I didn't inform you about my traveling to Malaysia for a program called "Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education. The program is taking place in three major countries in Asia, which are Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. It has been a very sad and bad moment for me, the present condition that i found myself is very hard for me to explain.

I am really stranded in Malaysia because I forgot my little bag in the Taxi where my money, passport, documents, cell phone which i have all my contacts and other valuable things were kept on my way to the Hotel am staying, I am facing a hard time here because i have no money on me. I now owe a hotel bill of $1,400 and they wanted me to pay the bill soon or else they will have to seize my bag and hand me over to the Hotel Management. I need this help from you urgently to help me back home, I need you to help me with the hotel bill and i will also need $1,500 to feed and help myself back home. So please can you help me with a sum of $2,900 USD to sort out my problems here? I need this help so much and on time because i am in a terrible and tight situation here, I don't even have money to feed myself for a day which means i had been starving, so please understand how urgent i need your help.

I am sending you this e-mail from the city Library, I will appreciate what so ever you can afford to send me for now and I promise to pay back your money as soon as i return home. So please use the details of one of the hotel managers below to transfer the money to me through Western Union money transfer or money gram because that is the only way i could be able to get it fast and leave since he has a valid ID to pick up the money for me from the western union. This is the detail below....

Address: 26B Jalan Loke Yew, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Text Question: To whom
Answer: Peter

After you have send the money, email to me the western union money transfer control number or you can attach and forward to me the western union money transfer receipt so that i can pick up the money fast and leave. Right now, i dont have any acess to phone communications because the phone in my hotel room had been disconnected due to too much bills imposed on me, i only have acess to the computer at the library where am sending you this email right now.

Hope to hear from you soon. The embassy here has already promised to give me a covering traveling papers that i will need to have my way back home, all i need right now is the money to settle up the bills and leave.

Thanks and get back to me soon.



I'm putting all this stuff up here along with the links because one of the best ways to uncover a scam email is to simply copy and paste the text into Google and do a search (that's how I found the above links) -- and I figure a blog post is a good way to get a permanent warning posted to the internet.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cop Dog premiere --

-- if you're in the U.K.

Apparently Cop Dog, alias Marlowe, will be showing on Sky Movies Premiere over the next few days -- here's a link to listings of its current showing times (as of August 29).

On Saturday it's playing at 4 (GMT I suppose), then at various afternoonish times after that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brooklyn Shenanigans!

It's been two weeks since we finally found a place in Brooklyn and signed a lease -- and, since one doesn't need a car in NY, someone helped us solve the annoying parking problem by stealing ours.

The problem with having your car stolen in Brooklyn is that you park a 5-10 minute walk away on one of a dozen identical blocks and constantly have to move the car around to deal with street cleaning issues so all these blocks start looking familiar since you've parked in them at least once.

And, while I had high confidence that I remembered where I did park the car originally, the fact that the car wasn't there is potent evidence that I'm mistaken. It's either that or, like some incredibly lame light comedy about bumpkins moving into New York, our car was stolen within the first two weeks of being here.

(My actual first thought was towing -- but all the various services have no record of towing the car. Apparently, they don't tow cars in NY until they can make a bundle off the unpaid parking tickets.)

After scouring a three block radius, going to the police precinct, and trying to file a report, I must conclude that I am, in fact, living in some incredibly lame light comedy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

NJ vs NY -- apartment hunting

In the process of apartment hunting for our move. Unlike previous moves we're not going to rent a place based on photos -- so we're dragging all our stuff there then going to scurry around looking at places.

Because Jaru has many very good friends in New Jersey, we're looking at Highland Park. There have been 15 apartments advertised for Highland Park over the last month and we've set up three appointments for next Tuesday to look at them.

Because Jaru's school is in Brooklyn we're also going to look in Brooklyn. There are 100+ apartments advertised per day in Brooklyn and the only guy who replied to my email for an appointment wants God to steal my money.

Brooklyn apartments also frequently want your tax returns, copies of W2s, three months of bank statements (shouldn't have bought all that porn on the ATM card!), and a colonoscopy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rental Scams

I saw a Craigslist ad for a $1,000/month apartment in Brooklyn -- photos too good to be true. I'm willing to risk a little spam since gmail has great filters -- here was the response:

Hello Dear,

Thanks for the email. My name is Green Gin,I own the 1 bedroom apartment address 8 Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11215. The apartment is available for you to move if you are serious about moving in and also want you to know that it was due to my transfer that makes me my wife and Son to leave the house and also want to give it out for rent ,so we are looking for a responsible person that can take very good care of it as we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean at the time and the person that will rent it to take it as if it were its own. So for now, We are here in west Africa, our new house.

I personally wanted to Sale the apt before but I and my wife decided to put it out for rent.If you could promise us to take very good care of the Apt,the you can send an email with the information required. One Mr. smith called me about the apartment,I told him that I cant give him the apartment because he is married with 4 kids ,I do not want his children to get my property damaged.

If you are still interested, Note that the rent is going to be $1000 Inclusive Utilities.I will like you to give me a call on this effect to know how serious you are.
below is my phone number
0112347032367105 or +2347032367105

Your information

1) Your Full Name
2) Your Full Address & Phone Number
3) Age
4) Marital status
5) How many people will be living in the house?
6) Do you have a pet?
7) Do you have a car?
8) Occupation?
9) Duration of lease/Rent
10) Gender
11) Your Picture if available

I personally will actually come visiting you at September as our new tenant.
Looking forward to hear from you with all this details so that i can have it in my file in case of issuing the receipt for you and contacting you. Await your urgent reply so that we can discuss on how to get the document and the keys of the house to you.
If you are still interested, kindly let me know so that I can delete the ad from from crigslist...

NOTE THAT THE KEYS WILL BE SENT TO YOU via FED EX to your personal address
As a man of God please I am giving you all this base on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words, I am putting everything into God's hand, so please do not let us down.

Green Gin

If you whore out your supposed religiosity enough perhaps you'll be able to steal a little extra money!

Cleverly, the crook merely mentions "God" without going into specifics regarding religion. Being New York, you don't want to accidentally offend marks who follow a different faith.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Friday, June 06, 2008

Must remain strong, will weakening...

I'm moving in 24 days. There is no need to cart around an additional 3 heavy hardcovers. I can't even play a game in lord knows how long.

But, still...

UPDATE: Willpower lasted until 6 o'clock. Anyway, I can use the exercise when moving.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Heart of the Story Is Emergent

I'm finishing up the first draft of a new assignment, a low budget action movie (for more info on low-budget (but higher budget than mine) action movies read the excellent Bill Martell's blog).

One thing about assignments is that the outline and structure is far more fixed than when you're doing things yourself. The people buying it want to know pretty precisely what they're getting.

I'm also working with the director on this (in fact, it's his idea I'm developing) and he wants it to have theme and character arc, some real moment of drama that we can pull out of it -- the heart of the story. So we bounce around some ideas and lay in the sketch of that for the outline.

But it's not until I'm halfway through the first draft that what feels like the correct heart starts to show itself. And it's not until I'm fully through the first draft that I hit the full theme and character drama that makes me feel this can really work.

And these are things that just never emerge, even from a detailed outline (for Marlowe the outline was over 20 pages, and the script was only 95!).

Which makes me think that the heart of a story is an emergent thing. It is not so much something that you put in there the way you put set pieces and characters and reversals in there. It is something that arises in the interstices between those bigger pieces of structure -- small moments of character, small changes in dialog, and so on. And when I did hit on the heart of the story, what I mainly did to bring it out was mainly go back and make subtle alterations to scenes.

In a real sense, the plot didn't change at all -- just some flavor bits around the plot. Which is frankly a bit nerve-wracking because I think the story felt quite a bit worse before, and that means that the difference between a good story and a mediocre one could be nothing more than a pageful or two of words out of the 100 pages of script.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Gonorrheaman beats them all!

Forget spiders and ants -- research has found the strongest creature alive: the gonorrhea bacterium.

A human with the proportional strength of gonorrhea could lift 10,000 tons -- or the naval heavy cruiser, USS New Orleans. Whereas proportionate strength of a common house spider purportedly allows lifting up to 10 tons, one tenth of 1% of what Gonorrheaman could lift -- and pathetic ant-strength would only let a 200 lb guy lift 1,000 pounds.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

5th State in 6 Years

Moving again! This will be the fifth state we've lived in over the course of six years.

As you might imagine, Jaru is ecstatic.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Lexington's April Fool's Day Joke

Lexington is playing an April fool's day joke on us this week -- it's looking gorgeous and trying to convince us to stay!

Two houses from us -- it's some kind of historical site.

Chapel near Jaru's office.

Old rail trestle

Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 31, 2008


The IMDB page for Marlowe, my first produced film, is now up. Still missing a bunch of details (like me!) and we don't have cover art yet, but a few of the principal actors are listed.

Also, my scene in the film, a true gift to cinema, is apparently staying in, so before long I'll have a Bacon number of 3.

I'm in Marlowe with Billy Unger who was also in National Treasure: Book of Secrets with Ed Harris, who was in Apollo 13 with Kevin Bacon.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Class of 1984

Fellow Glendale High School Alumni, Greg Rodriguez scored a book-pimping on the Colbert Report recently!

And does a good job! He also writes weekly op-eds that appear in the L.A. Times.

Another famous alumni of my year is Clark Peterson, one of the producers of the film Monster.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Indie Computer Games

Used to be that I'd own a PC because that's where all the games were. Now all the big games are on consoles -- but the PC still has to be my platform because I like wargames, and they're pretty much only on here (Matrix Games has most of the selection).

But I'm also discovering a wide variety of fun Independent Games. Manifesto Games has a good selection. Play this Thing offers daily reviews to point you towards interesting stuff.

And there's an annual contest called the Independent Games Festival that has a great list of "Best of" for various years. Many of the games appear to only be sold via their own website.

I just started playing last year's winner, Aquaria -- which is a very fun arcadish, adventurish, puzzle-solving RPG -- albeit a bit chicky. Here's some video:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dangerous Strategy

CBS News has an article up about how some in the GOP see Rev. Wright as a path to beating Obama, if he's nominated -- even to the point of saying:

“For the first time, some Republicans are rethinking Hillary as their first choice,” said Alex Castellanos, a veteran media consultant who recently worked for Mitt Romney’s campaign.

Later in the article this is mentioned:

“I usually get three or four emails a week on Obama,” said Michigan Republican chairman Saul Anuzis Monday. “Today I received more than 10 - all of them on his minister.”

Among the e-mails Anuzis received was a link to a mash-up video splicing together Wright’s most extreme comments, Michelle Obama’s statement, footage of Obama not putting his hand over his heart during the anthem at a political event and images of Malcolm X and the two black Olympians in 1968 who raised their fists in the “black power” salute set to the iconic rap song by Public Enemy “Fight the Power.”

While Wright's comments won't make many friends, including those other images strikes me as very dangerous for a Republican party that's already struggling.

This isn't the 1960s -- and I'm not at all sure that modern Americans will react that negatively to Malcolm X or those two black Olympians raising their fists. Americans of all color are awfully sympathetic to the underdog rebel, even if we have doubts about their methods. Are they trying to indicate that blacks in the 1960s didn't even have a right to be angry? Are they trying to sell that idea now? In 2008?

I can guarantee that if I had been subjected to segregation and similar policies up through the 60s that I would have had a hard time keeping my anger in check.

And I also wonder to what extent it's even possible to make a criticism such as "he's not patriotic" stick to a presidential candidate. Did they even manage that against George McGovern? They didn't even try against Kerry and instead went after his truthfulness.

Thinking more about it, I suspect this is a feint. They can't really hope for it to work in the general election -- if they did, they'd wait until the general election to bring the full force of their arguments to bear instead of blowing their (perhaps only) wad in March. But maybe by media-blitzing this now, they could influence the primary and super-delegates into putting Clinton at the top of the ticket.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Power of Honesty

This will be my one open sales pitch for Barack Obama -- a link to video of the speech he gave today:

I'm concerned that most people will only hear it second-hand, from commentators or carefully chosen clips shown on TV. It's really best to see it as it actually is.

When Obama said that he'd be giving a speech on race in America and in this campaign I thought that what he would need to do is just be honest. And I think that is what he does here.

While some of my reasons for supporting him are specific and rather narrow policy points, I have to admit that certainly his "speechifying" has a fair bit to do with it as well. But I think it's cynical to attribute the power of a speech, or any writing, to being the mere ability to organize words in such a way as to create emotional affect.

I know from my own writing that often my first stab at a key emotional scene or bit of dialog fails -- that I put together clever words in carefully constructed artifice -- and it sounds like tin. When I go back and manage to remember that the key to this isn't pretty words, but honest expressions of what the character would do or feel -- that's when the writing truly works. And maybe I can include a few pretty words anyway. What's amazing is just how HARD and infrequent it is that one does manage to write honest, instead of just write well.

I see talking heads on TV discuss and dismiss Obama's ability to put together good speeches -- and I think that this is symptomatic of their own problems. That language for them has become so detached from meaning that they no longer even comprehend the fact that hollow talk sounds hollow and that writing, or art, or speeches only truly touch you when they've said something honest.

We don't remember the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, or I Have a Dream because Jefferson, Lincoln, and King sure did talk pretty. We remember them because they were not only honest, but expressed deep truths.

And I don't want to say here that Obama is necessarily one of those guys, or that this speech is in their realm -- but I definitely believe that it's honest and expresses some real truths.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Go Toronto!

Toronto is single-handedly changing the gender ratios in academic philosophy (from the Leiter Reports):

Kirstin Borgerson (Toronto) hired by Dalhousie University. AOS: Philosophy of Science, Bioethics.

Danielle Bromwich (Toronto) Post-Doc at NIH. AOS: Ethics

Sari Kisilevsky (Toronto) Post-Doc in Law and Philosophy at UCLA. AOS: Philosophy of Law, Political Philosophy.

Kara Richardson (Toronto) hired by Syracuse University. AOS: Early Modern, Medieval.

Chloe Taylor (Toronto) hired by University of North Florida. AOS: 20th Century Continental, Social and Political Philosophy. Previously SSHRC Post-Doc at McGill University.

Margaret Cameron (Toronto) hired by University of Victoria as the Canada Research Council Chair Candidate in the Aristotelian Tradition. AOS: Medieval Philosophy. Previously Assistant Professor at Hunter College, City University of New York (tenure-track) and a Research Fellow at Cambridge University.

A local cheer to former card-sharp Douglas Parvin (Rutgers) hired by Augustana College. AOS: Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Mind. Yay Doug!

And, apparently Princeton still needs to remind us that it's Princeton (bolding mine):

David Baker (Princeton) hired by University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. AOS: Philosophy of Physics. Also had tenure-track offers from NYU and University of Wisconsin.

Congrats to all!

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Fifth Branch of Government & My Own Crowd-sourcing

The Google-your-government law struck me as an elegant solution to some long-time problems of democracy. In fact, I suspect this sort of transparency is not merely a good, practical, and affordable alternative to greater internal oversight of how the government spends money -- but, in fact, flat out superior. In theory, you could achieve something similar with internal watchdogs within the government -- but then you just run into the "who watches the watchmen" problem. And I think historically the watchdogs just become part of the corruption.

So you just lay all the info out there and let bored nerds on the internet serve as your check and balance -- a special benefit of transparency combined with crowd-sourcing, something really only available due to the technological breakthrough of having the internet piped directly into nerd homes.

NERDS! They're the fifth branch of government!

And it's a good thing because I'm not so sure about the other four lately...

Although, truthfully, our modern news media is probably better than it has ever been in the past (probably our government too). The problem it has is that now news stations/papers are much better at revealing the failures of other news stations/papers and subject to the scrutiny of NERDS! -- who are often ridiculously expert in their incredibly narrow field of expertise, and thus able to show the shortcomings of the news media that, in the past, would have slipped by without question.

Hiking Trails in the Lexington VA area
In a vaguely related bit -- I've added some of my own effort to the crowd-sourcing: posting a bunch of hiking trails in the Lexington VA area to Google maps. Some of the directions to the trails in the guide books were either wrong or horribly confusing, so having them on the map makes it a lot easier.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Thank God for NetFlix

All the movies showing within a 40 minute drive of our house:

R/C State Cinema 3
12 West Nelson Street, Lexington, VA, 24450
Theater Info | Map It
10,000 B.C.
Rated PG-13, 1 hr 49 min
College Road Trip
Rated G, 1 hr 23 min
Rated R, 1 hr 30 min

Valley Cinema
2275 Beech Avenue, Buena Vista, VA, 24416
Theater Info | Map It
Bucket List, The
Rated PG-13, 1 hr 37 min
Fool's Gold
Rated PG-13, 1 hr 50 min

A one hour drive gets the following as well:

Dixie Theatre
125 East Beverly Street, Staunton, VA, 24401
Theater Info | Map It
Bucket List, The
Rated PG-13, 1 hr 37 min
(4:00), 7:10
Definitely, Maybe
Rated PG-13, 1 hr 52 min
(4:15), 7:05
Rated PG-13, 1 hr 31 min
(4:30), 7:15
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Rated R, 1 hr 56 min
(4:20), 7:00

Regal Staunton Mall Cinemas

90 Lee Jackson Hwy, Staunton, VA, 24401
Theater Info | Map It
10,000 B.C.
Rated PG-13, 1 hr 49 min
(4:10), 7:10
College Road Trip
Rated G, 1 hr 23 min
(4:30), 7:30
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who
Starts on Friday, Mar. 14
Click here for Showtimes
Rated R, 1 hr 30 min
(4:40), 7:40
Spiderwick Chronicles, The
Rated PG, 1 hr 37 min
(4:00), 7:00
Step Up 2 the Streets
Rated PG-13, 1 hr 38 min
(4:15), 7:15
Vantage Point
Rated PG-13, 1 hr 30 min
(4:20), 7:20

Visulite Cinema

12 North Augusta St., Staunton, VA, 24401
Theater Info | Map It
2007 Academy Award-Nominated Shorts: Animated
Not Rated, 1 hr 30 min
Kite Runner, The
Rated PG-13, 2 hr 7 min
3:30, 6:30
No Country for Old Men
Rated R, 2 hr 2 min
Savages, The
Rated R, 1 hr 53 min
4:00, 7:00

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Closest Possible World?

The Wall Street journal poses a counter-factual: about Margaret Seltzer's Love and Consequences.

I’m curious to hear what Juggle readers might do in a similar situation. Not that many people will have a sibling who makes up a memoir, of course, but would you publicly call out a family member involved in unscrupulous doings — even if it meant ruining his or her reputation and career? Or in your family, does loyalty trump all?

According to David Lewis's method of handling counterfactuals (scroll down to Possible World Semantics), the way to analyze this question is to look at the closest possible world where it's true that my sibling wrote a fake memoir and see whether or not I ratted them out.

My intuitive answer is that I wouldn't rat out my siblings. But, thinking about it, that's because my siblings are cool and very nice people.

The kind of sibling who would not only gin up an entire book parasiting on the suffering of others, but also continue the lies through who knows how many meetings and, one would expect, future book tours and such, probably isn't a cool and very nice person. People don't just wake up one day and suddenly break into a massive pattern of deception and manipulation -- they've been practicing it for a long time. That's why they're so good at it. And, while I might not go out of my way to rat out that person, I'd certainly tell the truth if anyone bothered to talk to me.

Which shows one of the weaknesses of Lewis's treatment. Which world is closer: the one where my very cool sister suddenly writes a false memoir, or the world where my sister has serious emotional problems, a lifelong habit of manipulation, and finally gets called out on it after pushing everything too far?

Technically, I think the Lewis account would have to say A -- thus the answer should be "No ratting." But I think my more considered judgment is the correct answer.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Looking for Brilliant, Paying for Crappy

Craigslist provides a nice selection of the sort of thing writer's typically see, for example:

We are starting a new magazine in the style of McSweeney's and are looking for freelance writers who can do up to three humorous and insightful articles a month. Figure the average length is 2500 words and none of us will be disappointed.

Of course, there is pay. We buy all rights.

Send your one best sample. It might be a slice of life thing or it could be a humor thing. No straight news clips, please.

We are looking for brilliant.

A little piece of advice, if they don't tell you the pay, there's a reason. The worst part of the offer though is the line We buy all rights. If you're getting paid microbucks or contributor's copies for your brilliant humorous magazine columns you should at least have the hope of collecting them into a book some day.

One or more people have spent the day posting similar sorts of job offers, From Craigslist.LA:

Need scribe who knows 12 languages and can write in 3D Reply to:
Date: 2008-03-04, 10:25AM PST

Have immediate need of a writer whose mastery of language is so extraordinary it cannot be described in words.

You should be fluent in at least 12 languages and be able to translate Ulysses into each, particularly Mandarin, in which you will adapt Joyce's impenetrable tome into a Hong Kong action film.

We need all this quickly, in under a week. Well-known talent have expressed interest in these projects while heavily intoxicated.

Although we have tremendous piles of cash buffeting our pillow-topped mattresses, we can offer only $10 for this assignment. Your name will be seen, albeit in a dimly lit, smoke-filled room.

Oh, and your work must be written in three dimensions. We can offer an extra $5 if you can write in the fourth dimension.

-- the original post is gone by now. The world cannot endure such honesty.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Voting in Lexington (pop 6000)

Just got back from the polling booths.

A lot of people were voting for that handsome young man, John McCain.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Lou Dobbs Thinks that it's 1811

I think I might have to switch to Fox News so that I don't have to be exposed to crazy, jingoistic nutjobs.

I'm exposed to a mere 2 minutes of Lou Dobbs tonight and the subtitle scrolling across the bottom of the screen is "Mexico's Meddling". They're running a report on Mexico's President Calderon, who is roaming the United States shaking hands and doing whatever politicians normally do.

The Dobbs broadcast calls this OPERATION DUAL SOVEREIGNTY.

Let me specify, because any sane person would normally think that this is worry about undue U.S. influence over Mexico. No. It's Dobbs and crew worried about Calderon trying to, I guess, turn the United States into a puppet regime.

Though, I think I've discovered the train of logic.

  • Barack Obama is surging in the Democratic primary.
  • If Barack wins the primary it's highly likely that he'll become president.
  • Barack is a senator from Illinois.
  • Illinois has a GDP equal to that of Mexico. (but, you know, still lower than three other U.S. states).
  • Thus, Mexico = Illinois.
  • Thus, Barack is a senator from Mexico.
  • Thus, a Mexican will be president of the U.S.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Super-delegates -- A Nightmare in the Making

It looks like this concern is starting to get public notice, but just to spread it a little wider:

ABC has a write-up of the arcane policy of super-delegates.

The upshot, in my understanding, is that in the Democratic primaries, the ordinary voting folk choose 3253 of the 4049 total delegates (a little over 80%). 796 (19%) of those delegates go whatever direction they please. Any reasonably close race and even some unreasonable scenarios would certainly end up being thrown into the hands of those super-delegates.

My feeling is that if the ultimate winner of the primary is also the winner of either the popular vote or the regular delegate vote, there won't be a problem.

But if the voters go one way and the super-delegates make the primary go the other way, it'd be a catastrophe for the Democratic party.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Microbudget Movies: Locations -- the Convenience Store

I thought I'd share some of my experiences writing for microbudget movies -- in this case Marlowe (working title?), where I got to visit the set last November. I believe it came in at 200k. I'm told they target this number because SAG and the DGA have special contract provisions for films made at that budget. Other breakpoints are 600k and 1.7M.

Needless to say, everything is a challenge to fit into that budget. Actors are actually the easier part, since you can get talented but as-yet-unknown people willing to work to add to their reel and build up their credits -- and they'll work HARD.

Locations are the monster! You can't have very many of them and they can't be expensive.

We had several important scenes set in a Quickee Mart. Since they couldn't afford a big chain store like 7-11 or, my personal favorite, Circle K, they worked with a privately owned store (which actually had Quikee as part of the title--how fortuitous). One thing about mom & pop convenience stores -- they make a lot of their money on liquor, pornography, and lottery tickets. The Lotto was fine and the mom & pop had kids, so not much porn out in plain view, but there was a lot of liquor, and this being a kid's movie all that had to be hidden.

Big movies can make money off product placement. Small movies could too -- if they had the time and connections available to clear all the legal hurdles. We of course didn't -- so we had a bunch of the crew inside the store turning all the candy bars and bags of chips upside down or backwards so that their trademarks wouldn't appear on camera. A distressing number of candy bars have their trademarks printed on the back too! At the last minute they got a product placement deal from the Little Debbie people, so we were able to hide a bunch of stuff behind Devil Squares and so on. Debbie has our undying gratitude.

Another issue was that all the refrigeration units had to be turned off whenever they were recording for sound. The microphones are very sensitive and would pick up the hum. Being a convenience store, many of the refrigerators were filled with ice cream -- so you'd unplug them and have to plug them back in right away when they finished shooting. And you'd have to turn off almost all the power since the entire store is wrapped in refrigeration units!

Since that experience I've been a lot more conscious of using locations that don't involve batteries of brand names staring at the camera (for example, I'm now a big fan of the rural road produce stand -- but not on a paved road, because you need special permission to block those off).

ADDENDUM -- also, our Quickee mart apparently was the number one seller of lottery tickets in California!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Heh, heh, spin states, heh, heh

As we all know -- it's a cliche -- new communication technologies catch on for the first time when they are used for the distribution of pornography. -- Charlie Stross

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Neo-Humean Epistemology

Cabinet Flunkie Who Was In Ally McBeal to President Palmer --
I know your history with Mister Bauer runs deep, but don't let that impact your judgment here. 24, Season 6, Episode 2

-- apparently advancing some new critique of inductive reasoning.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Continuous Functions

The one-touch faucet is a marvel -- a long faucet arm grants fine-tuned control and you can simultaneously adjust water flow and temperature across the continuum of the amplitude/temperature state space.

Unless you have our faucet -- which, as you can see in the below photos, goes from unbearably hot on the left (perhaps -1 degree off vertical) to the kind of tepid that feels like it leaves your dishes teeming with bacteria on the right (+.5 degrees off vertical?). I put in the scrub brush to help center the frame of reference.

Somewhere in between those two settings is the comfortably hot point. So, one learns the technique of getting the handle close to right, then tapping it until it gets to a temperature that's acceptable.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008



On Thursday night everyone was talking about how Obama needs to pull out a win in New Hampshire to make Iowa really count -- and that win is very questionable.

Today they're saying he needs a 10 point win otherwise it's as good as a loss.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Structure, The Office, and M*A*S*H

I finally started watching The Office (Americanized), which is conveniently also available in high quality streamed video at the NetFlix website.

After watching several episodes I noticed it's structural similarity to M*A*S*H, and I'm not the first. Matthew Gilbert at said the following:

I'm working on this theory that "The Office" is "M*A*S*H" all over again. Kinda, sorta, maybe.

First of all, Dwight and Angela are updates of Frank Burns and Hot Lips. They are the goody-goody couple who have a not-so-secret but oh-so-freaky passionate life (oh, they'll get back together, just you wait). In that other theory I've been working on -- that "The Office" is a metaphor for American politics -- Dwight and Angela fill the hypocritical conservative category that Frank and Hot Lips practically invented on series TV.

Jim is Hawkeye Pierce, of course, but for a less Groucho-oriented generation. Jim's asides are generally non-verbal, but that slight rising of the eyebrows evokes Marx's cigar and the full-on eyebrows as much as Alan Alda did. Jim's partner in crime is Pam, which makes her his Trapper John McIntyre or his B.J. Hunnicut, and, well, I'm going to go for Trapper John. Jim and Pam's pranks on Dwight are genius.

And then there is Michael Scott, who is unique. Still, he has some of the farcical leadership qualities of Henry Blake, as well as the same need to be friendly with his charges. Michael is easily manipulated by Jim and Pam, just as Henry was totally played by Hawkeye and Trapper. And now that Michael is bucking Ryan, he recalls Henry's resistance to military protocol.

I'm not convinced that the similarity goes much beyond the character roles (and then mainly early M*A*S*H), but I do think that similarity is definitely there. In fact, I think the mix works even better in The Office. Having Pam/Jim as love interests gives the writers more to work with than having them merely as tent-mates and creates less of a situation where the Trapper John role is just a sidekick.

I think it also illustrates how useful it is for a writer to identify and recognize narrative structures that work well. In this case the structure is almost entirely the characters and their relations, but it's clearly a structure that provides fertile ground for comedy. I'm not sure The Office's writers even thought about M*A*S*H when they were doing their thing, which makes the structural similarity even more striking. Convergent evolution only occurs when you have something incredibly useful, like the eye in both octopuses and mammals.

Other structures must work well too, and it makes me think that if I were to try to brew up a comedy TV series I'd look at older programs, maybe the Bob Newhart shows or even back further to Mary Tyler Moore or the Dick Van Dyke show, and see if there's a structure in them that can be given a modern interpretation.

I think this is one of the reasons all those screenwriting books and seminars, all with their own favorite "this will get you sold" formula are so successful. They are selling a strong structure -- one that's been proven in multiple films or stories. However, there are a bunch of structures that work well for different kinds of stories, so each author or speaker can push their own personal one and make a tidy living off it.