Friday, December 21, 2012

Define "politics"

Politics (noun) as used in public statements: petty preoccupation of people likely to disagree with your politics.

"There'll be time for talk and debate later. This is the time, this is the day for decisive action. We can't wait for the next unspeakable crime to happen before we act. We can't lose precious time debating legislation that won't work. We mustn't allow politics or personal prejudice to divide us. We must act now."

- Wayne LaPierre, NRA Press Conference

"...we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."

- Barack Obama, Statement by the President on the School Shooting in Newtown, CT

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Define "meaningful"

Meaningful: (adj.) Term used in public relations statements to provide comfort to a critical audience while being vague about the means that will be used to achieve the stated end.

The circumstances are vastly different in gravity, but the usage is similar.
"...we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time."

- Kevin Systrom, Instagram blog post in response to public outcry over terms of service changes.

"We believe that having a meaningful dialogue with our community through our notice and comment process is core to that effort moving forward."

- Elliot Schrage, Our Site Governance Vote post re: Facebook Site Governance Vote that allowed removal of the 30% binding vote system.
"The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."

- Wayne LaPierre, Wayne's Commentary NRA Statement. First public statement from NRA since Newton, CT massacre.

Forgot about this one:
"...we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
 - Barack Obama, Statement by the President on the School Shooting in Newtown, CT.

Mike Bloomberg took him to task on it.

The thing is, if you use "meaningful" to make your intended action sound different from what you're doing the rest of the time, just what exactly are you doing the rest of the time?

Friday, August 10, 2012

On the Star Wars Machete Order

How can you ensure that a viewing keeps the Vader reveal a surprise, while introducing young Anakin before the end of Return of the Jedi?

Simple, watch them in this order: IV, V, I, II, III, VI.

George Lucas believes that Star Wars is the story of Anakin Skywalker, but it is not. The prequels, which establish his character, are so poor at being character-driven that, if the series is about Anakin, the entire series is a failure. Anakin is not a relatable character, Luke is.

The Star Wars Saga: Introducing Machete Order, by Rod Hilton

The thought recently occurred to me that my nephew (now 10 months old) has never seen Star Wars, and at some point he probably will. I remembered hearing somewhere (probably on Back to Work) that there was some loopy recommended viewing order for watching all of the Star Wars movies. Like- not in release order, and not by Episode number.

There are probably others out there, but this had the virtue of coming up high on Google, as well as being a really thought out and thorough post.

Click through and read the entirely of his original post to get all the details. He does a great job arguing his point not only from the perspective of a Star Wars fan, but what makes more sense dramatically for the whole series.

The things I thought particularly interesting were these:

1. That Episode I isn't just bad, but irrelevant

Hilton makes a strong case that you can simply chop Episode I off, and not have missed a thing. I can't help but think he's right. But what gets me is that it's not just that it's bad. Those criticisms have been around since pretty much when the movie came out. But it's that they don't add anything substantial to the bigger picture.

2. You can change the order of the thing and change the thing itself.

I'm not sure if there's another set of movies that you can do something like this. But the claim here is that by watching them in "Machete order" the story gets tighter- the parallels between Anakin and Luke, stronger, and the emotional and dramatic impact in different parts of the movies are actually heightened.

It's kind of funny, because it's not unlike film editing at a more microscopic level. If you move a scene, or even a shot, from one point in time to another, you can change the impact of that moment. The only example that's off the top of my head right now is the experiment where someone had a shot of an actor looking straight at the camera, and then cut in between it with shots of different events or supposed things he was looking at, and then the audience had different comments or takeaways about his performance after each alternating shot (not knowing that it was actually the same shot of the actor the whole time).

(I'm sure I'm butchering this or missing a better example, admittedly).

But it's funny how, if he is correct, with this series, it's possible to just flip the movies around a little bit, and because the context is changed, you can end up walking away with more a greater whole than the original artist intended.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It all comes back to index cards.

At one point I managed my projects and tasks using a day planner stuffed with index cards. Since then, by way of a Treo 680 and later an iPhone, I've transitioned to digital, web/app based tools, such as Remember the Milk, gMail and Google Calendar.

Still, though, there always seem to be circumstances where the best solution is none other than a plain old stack of index cards, Hipster PDA style.

When I was stage managing an off-off broadway show, in the midst of tech or running around before the show, punching an item into a Remember the Milk list on the Treo just wasn't fast enough, but throwing a note on an index card was.

Similarly, I'm traveling abroad and have only a few hours before I need to leave on the airport.

It does me little good to put an item on a task list with a tickler alert reminder. There's just stuff that I have to do between now and then, so once again, back to the index cards.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

24-Hour Film Race and resulting zombie mockumentary

One of a Kind: a Zorg story is a short film that myself and a team of folks worked on as part of the 24-Hour Film Race.

The short plug is- if you'd like to come see it, it will be playing with 26 other of the NY 24-Hour Film Festival films (all 4 minutes or less) at the Loews on Third Avenue at 11th Street on Thursday, June 28th. Tickets can be bought in advance, all the info is linked here.

If you want to know more about what our team did and how the whole thing worked, read on!


The 24-Hour Film Race is pretty much exactly what it says it is.

On Friday at 10:00 p.m., your team receives an e-mail with a list of things that you have to include in your movie. This is to help make sure that you didn't just write, shoot and edit the film ahead of time, and it helps get the ideas flowing, too. Then, you have to write, shoot, edit and start uploading your film by 10:00 p.m. the following evening.

So- 24 hours. And it's a race against the clock pretty much the whole way.

If I remember correctly, the stuff we needed to include were:

(1) Action: listening to music
(2) Theme: one
(3) Prop: something with the numeral "1" or word "one" on it.

So you had to have all three, though some to varying degrees of centrality to the film. So the theme had to be definitely there throughout, but listening to music didn't have to be the focus of the story.

Coming into it, everyone on our team had a lot of projects going on at the same time, but when it came down to it, it was a great excuse to get together and shoot a film. After all, the time commitment required has a very hard line on it- 24 hours or bust. You knew you would be completely done by 10:00 p.m. Saturday, no ifs/ands/buts about it.

Probably one of the funnest parts of the experience for me was seeing how it's possible to make decent creative decisions when driven under the force of a time crunch. I never had the experience of writing in a room together with other folks, or trying to "break" a story, and the time constraint made it a lot easier to take conversations that would have otherwise gone like this:

"How about, if you guys are cool with this and just tell me if you aren't- there are two guys in an apartment, and one of them has to go get something from the outside. I'm just brainstorming here, if you like it, cool, if not, we can try something else."

Into something like this:

"Two guys in an apartment, one has to go get something outside, could be whatever, someone stops him on the way. Ok, this doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Next?"

I'm kind of exaggerating, but not unlike the "cut to" on the fly editing in long form improv, the time constraint created an environment in which it was much easier to kill something if it didn't seem like it was going to get anywhere. But at the same time, it also made it easier to just say ideas, without as much of the polite and qualifying language baggage surrounding them as I might otherwise use.

So out of that process, plus sleep deprivation, by probably about 2:30 to 3:00 a.m. we had landed on a central premise that we were pretty happy to move forward on.

What we came up with was:

Mockumentary interview with the last surviving zombie left after the failed zombie apocalypse.

I really dig this premise, but I can't for the life of me outline out the logical processes that led us there.

The execution of this was kind of a grind. We sort of worked and slept in shifts, though some of us just pushed through with minor naps here and there. For my part, I was up through most of the writing process (10:00 p.m. - 5:00 a.m.), slept while the interview shooting was going on (5:00 a.m. - 9:20 a.m.), and then edited from about 10:00 a.m. up until the point where we had to export and upload the film. We of course had food, coffee, etc. in between as needed.

So ultimately we made it. I had most of the interview chunks cut together by the time the team got back, then we downloaded and transcoded what they'd shot, and incorporated those elements into the film.

Anyway, that's the short version of the story. If you are in NYC, I hope we'll see you at the screening, and if not, at some point in the future, we'll probably be putting this online for you to check out.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Some film shots from Saturday

I took the Canon AE-1 Program out for a spin this past Saturday morning. It also happened to be snowing here in NYC, so it was quite a bit chilly, but made for some interesting material to shoot in any case. I picked up the developed slides and a CD with the scanned images on Tuesday evening, and was pretty happy how they turned out.

Admittedly- part happy, part relieved. Part of me expected to open up the files to find at least a handful with completely blown exposures, but thankfully, aside from one or two that had other issues anyway, they came out fine. Missed focus on a few of them, so that may just take practice, or more testing to make sure everything is aligned properly.

Here are a few of the ones that came out without issue:

January 21, 2012

On the High Line

January 21, 2012

Along 23rd Street

Street Crossing
Street Crossing
January 21, 2012

Herald Square area

Street Lamp
Street Lamp
January 21, 2012

From The High Line

January 21, 2012

I didn't love this picture all that much, but probably one of the best examples of how the color came out on this film. In terms of editing, for this one I think I just pulled in the highlights a bit and tried to darken the black levels. I imagine that on a brighter day, I might get a little less of that washed out 70's look.

Initially I was a little hesitant to do any post editing in Aperture, since shooting film was sort of an excuse to have something "straight out of the camera" that had a built-in distinctive look. However, after making a few adjustments on images, I figured it'd be easy enough to hold on to at least a bit of that analogue look, while also pushing and pulling a bit to get the image to my liking.

More experimenting and shooting to go. I'm 1/3 through another film roll, and looking forward to seeing how the next batch comes out.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's not the thermometer.

On Bimetallic-coil Thermometers (i.e. the relatively inexpensive food thermometers with a spike on one end and an analog dial on the other):

This food thermometer senses temperature from its tip and up the stem for 2 to 2 1/2 inches. The resulting temperature is an average...If measuring the temperature of a thin food, such as a hamburger patty or boneless chicken breast, the probe should be inserted through the side of the food so that the entire sensing area is positioned through the center of the food.

- FDA Kitchen Thermometers Fact Sheet

Turns out that I've actually been doing that last part wrong for an entire year.

I'd just stick the tip of the thermometer into the food, and it would tell me a much lower temperature than what was actually going inside of that food. So then I'd cook the food in the oven for a completely unreasonable amount of time.

This mistake would be almost understandable, were it not for the fact that a few months ago I got a different thermometer, used the just-the-tip methodology once again, saw the low reading results, and thus concluded that the entire low-end food thermometer industry was peddling useless junk.

Now going to go eat dinner. I'm having stir fried broccoli, and chicken breasts that have been heated to an internal temperature that I now understand to be a toasty 182 degrees.


See also the clip from The Office (U.K.), in which Gareth calls the manufacturer of his malfunctioning calculator.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I arrived at CRC at 2:20 p.m. Turns out that I was 20 minutes too late to get it in for same-day processing. Even if I had arrived on time, there probably wouldn't have been enough time to get the scans done same day as well, so I guess in the end it didn't make too much difference.

Lessons learned:

  1. Film requires patience
  2. When walking around in the snow, wear boots. Not sneakers.

Thinking about bits of film

The one on the left is a Canon 60D. It came out in 2010, and I purchased this one during the summer of 2011.

On the right is a Canon AE-1 Program. My sister gave this one to me this past Christmas. Canon produced AE-1 Programs from 1981 - 1987.

So at its oldest, it could be two years my senior. And at its youngest, it could be a few years younger than me, though still old enough to buy itself a drink1.

I started college with an Olympus point-and-shoot 35mm film camera, and by the time I had graduated, I had moved on to a Sony Cybershot and stuck with digital all the way. Only recently have I started taking lots of pictures in earnest, so I can't say that I have any special allegiance to film based on experience or nostalgia for some simpler time.

Nonetheless, film's service towards nostalgia has started to strike me as one of its unique traits. Not nostalgia for film in terms of remembering days past when we all shot film and it was so much fun, but nostalgia provided by the physical material of the film itself.

When a digital camera's shutter clicks, light hits the sensor. The information from that light is processed, recorded, and in many cases, compressed, into the files on the camera's memory card (all at speeds more instantaneous than the description, but you get the idea).

After the files have been offloaded to a computer, the memory card is erased for reuse. They could just as well stay on the camera, or on the phone, but once they've been uploaded or downloaded from there, the info on the device may just as well be the info on the computer or photo sharing site. The bits are immaterial.

When a film camera's shutter opens, light hits the film. Particles and chemicals in the film react to the light, and the film is physically changed. After it has been developed, what is given back to you is not only any prints or enlargements that you had ordered, but also the negatives or the slides- the film material itself that had been present, and physically changed by what it had seen.

Of course, it's all for nought if your film got damaged by an x-ray machine, or if you wound up blowing a deadline because you were waiting for prints to come back. So, sure, for any number of reasons, digital wins an overwhelming number of pro/con arguments as far as I can see.

But there is something to the thought that the negatives or slides that you get back are artifacts were physically present with you at the time the photograph was taken. Not unlike a shirt or a pair of shoes that you had with you, that you could point to on your person today and say, "I had this with me when I was at (xyz) and took this photo." The piece of film was there with you, too, inside your camera. And while shirt or shoes may have moved on since, if you're at all like my family, those bits of film that were there on the scene are likely well preserved in a box or envelope, in an attic or the back of a closet. And another plus over the shirt and shoes, they can show someone what the scene looked like.

I have to backpedal again, though. Because I actually just got the AE-1 Program back from the shop tonight, and haven't yet shot with it. So I have yet to make any recent memory of my own that is anchored to physical bits of film.

Fortunately, there's a developing place that I heard about from a post on The Phoblographer, and they'll be open tomorrow. Their turnaround is 3 hours, so if I follow through and wake up early enough, I ought to have something to post back here by the evening.


1Riffed from How I Met Your Mother s1 e1, "I love a Scotch that's old enough to order its own Scotch." - Robin