Monday, July 31, 2006

My Animated World

Some Euro dude put together this very clever stop motion film based on how he sees the world as a series of games. Reminds me of a film I saw in the 70s done using stop motion about a man who gets a note to come into a building where all he sees is celluloid film and a person's clothing... only to be eaten by the celluloid film!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Arousal, Draft #1: 19% complete

Another 7 pages today. Not bad for only the third day of writing...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Arousal, Draft #1: 14% complete

[Bad news: Myspace is down, or appears to have deleted my profile or some rubbish... so I'm posting here exclusively until further notice.]

Day 2 of writing has been also very productive... I'm aiming for 110 page final draft, so finishing at 15.5 pages this morning (in only 90 minutes!) leaves me at 14% of the entire script. The term "happy" doesn't even cover it.

What's crucial for me to keep in mind as I write first drafts is to constantly remember that the first draft won't be perfect. Nor should it be. First drafts are about quantity, not quality. Broad strokes. Details will come much later.

For now, however, I must say that I think this first draft reads quite well and is even—dare I say it?—compelling. I'm unashamed to say I'm basing my screenwriting tone on Walter Hill and David Giler's excellent screenplay for Alien. I mean, just look at the economy of exposition in Alien's first few scenes:

Empty, cavernous.

Circular, jammed with instruments.

All of them idle.

Console chairs for two.


Long, dark.


Turbos throbbing.

No other movement.

Long, empty.

Distressed ivory walls.

All instrumentation at rest.

Black, empty.


Two space helmets resting on chairs.

Electrical hum.

It's all straight to the point, no nonsense—not even a "DAY" or "NIGHT" reference because it's in space. The sparseness of words, and the topic it describes, establishes its spookiness. Perhaps most importantly, it's a fast read.

As a screenwriter, I've come to learn that screenplays are not novels, but intermediary steps which need not carry a novel's level of detail because screenplays aren't meant to be published—instead, they are only a guide for production. Unless you know the script is absolutely going to be produced, in which case it doesn't matter how florid your prose is, you need to ration out words as if your life depended upon it. This sounds like common sense, and honestly, I learned this lesson years ago when I first started writing scripts, but some lessons take years to sink in.

My intent with this script is produce it myself (or with my own investors, to be exact), so if I really wanted to, I could get very detailed and it wouldn't matter. However, I would like to enter this script in a few choice contests to give it some publicity should it get to the quarterfinals, or even win. That might lead to more funding, which ain't bad. So if it's contest-bound, it needs to be a good read, a fast read, compelling. Entertaining.

Writing Day 3 will be putting the campers into the woods at last... I'm already salivating.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

REVIEW: Spam Sieve for Max OS X

For the sake of posterity only, here is my mini-review of a cool little Mac app that kills Spam dead:

I usually don't write reviews unless I am on the extreme end of the spectrum about a product, but Spam Sieve is so exceptional in every way that it deserves to have a review which says so.

My feelings about spam are something close to obsessive compulsive; we shouldn't have to pay extra money to weed out unnecessary clatter. And yet, it appears we must. Thus, if I am forced to find a good spam filter, I want the best one for the least amount of money and not a product I'll have to upgrade two years from now when the company goes out of business. When I commit to an application, I'm monogamous for life, so I make my decisions very carefully.

I am a Eudora 6 user and its junk mail filter is not 100% reliable. More importantly, its spam-labeling process, while it allows you to label some email as junk (and some email as not junk), is not transparent which makes it very hard to improve the filters. It's a "cross your fingers" type of approach and that doesn't work for me.

Spam Sieve, however, has already blocked 99% of all my spam in only three days of "training". This is enough to make me buy the program; I mean, come on -- if it's this good in only 3 days, then how good will it be in 3 months? Since it learns over time, I feel confident that $25 is a small price to pay to know I won't have to look at spam in my In Box ever again.

Bonus tracks: Spam Sieve is transparent by showing you how its "corpus" of words is judged: "$40 million" might be used 4 times for spam emails and 1 time for good emails—so you can delete the term (or not) if you think that's a bad word to use to judge spam. Also, its dock icon closes automatically when you close down Eudora. Oh, and you choose between photo-realistic and cartoon dock icons. Super swanky!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Big Russian Hole

These pictures are just too amazing not to post about. This is a Russian mining hole, the largest on earth, presumably (click to enlarge).

The natural suction of air from this hole was causing helicopter crashes. Creepy.

Arousal, Draft #1: Divine Will

Any writer must know what I'm talking about—you live with your story 24/7, you get to know all the characters, you go to sleep dreaming about each different scenario, you spend months plotting the story... and then one day you decide it's time to start writing even if you haven't completed the intermediary steps and it comes pouring out like quicksilver.

Tonight I wrote 8.5 pages of the first draft of Arousal in less than an hour. For an anal-retentive uber-perfectionist OCD freakazoid like me, that's practically divine will.

Fortunately, the first draft isn't scheduled to be completed until my birthday, August 21st, but at this rate, I'll have finished it in under a week. Good thing I have friends in town to distract me.


Monday, July 24, 2006


If you're...

1) a Star Trek fan (the old generation) and
2) a Monty Python Fan

then you are going to love this:

Courtesy of Steven.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

114° (in the shade)

I didn't think to take a snapshot of it with my camera, but our car thermostat actually read 114° when we got back inside... and we'd parked it in a parking building to keep it cool.

Highest we saw it today was 116°. Crazy.

Friday, July 21, 2006

"Holy F-"

This happened to me today:

Be happy you're all alive and in good health. This kind of shit isn't funny. (Click to enlarge.)

Don't be Lost

On October 4th...

...the best series on TV* will be premiering in its third season. I am speaking about J.J. Abrams' magnificent Lost. If you haven't yet seen the first and second seasons, you're in for a treat. Watch them now. No, I'm serious. Stop reading and rent them.**

I am also happy to say that I wrote this email to friends, September 23rd, 2004—nearly two years ago, immediately after viewing Lost's pilot episode:

I'll tell ya, it's going to be a great series—I would wager a crisp $100 bill that this time next year everyone on that show will be famous and it will be ABC's flagship show. J.J. Abrams really knows how to write 'em.

In that tradition, I'll go on the record now: Season 3 promises to be even better and Seasons 4 and 5 will fucking kick ASS. Abrams is still smarting from the lessons he learned on Alias, so I guarantee he'll hammer it all home now. You watch.

October 4th, baby. Yeah.***

* excluding the Sci-Fi remake of Battlestar Gallactica, of course.

** Come on, dude. Stop reading this and go rent it! Jeez.

*** The only sucky thing is that Lost will go off the air from November 15th until mid-Februrary to let Taye Diggs' new show Day Break take Lost's timeslot. The silver lining, however, is that while Lost is on the air, there will be zero repeats. Still, two and a half months off the air? As Mutley used to say, "Raffle ruffle raffle..."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Because Scott is just that cool

I snapped this pic of my dashboard today:

I love advertising Price of The Pacific not just because I was a Story Consultant on it, but because Scott has worked on almost every film I've worked on, sometimes by complete coincidence. He's also written seven full-length feature scripts. And he likes chess.

So here he is, Scott Chema, writer/director:

He's so mellow.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

No scrub for you

When I was 9, Saturday Night Fever exploded into theatres and it was so popular that everyone was talking about it. I couldn't go because it was rated R. While unprecedented, it wasn't long before the studio recut a PG version, and I finally got to see it, even if it wasn't "pure".

This court ruling doesn't pertain to children, but to adults—Christian adults. It's sad, in a way... now Christians won't be able to see even an edited version of something like Titanic. Still, they can always leave the theatre to get popcorn if the sex or violence gets too intense. Or maybe they can choose not to buy a ticket at all?

Axing sex, swearing from films violates copyright: court
Last Updated Sun, 09 Jul 2006 10:47:31 EDT
CBC Arts

Deleting swearing, sex and violence from films on DVD or VHS violates copyright laws, a U.S. judge has ruled in a decision that could end controversial sanitizing done for some video-rental chains, cable services and the internet.

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by 16 U.S. directors — including Steven Spielberg, Robert Redford and Martin Scorsese — against three Utah-based companies that "scrub" films.

Judge Richard P. Matsch decreed on Thursday in Denver, Colo., that sanitizing movies to delete content that may offend some people is an "illegitimate business."

The judge also praised the motives of the Hollywood studios and directors behind the suit, ordering the companies that provide the service to hand over their inventories.

"Their objective ... is to stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies," the judge wrote. "There is a public interest in providing such protection."

The act of sanitizing films began in 1998 when one company, Sunrise Family Video, started deleting the scenes showing a nude Kate Winslet from the blockbuster Titanic.

Several other companies, mostly in Utah, quickly sprang up to follow its lead and there are currently an estimated 90 film scrubbing companies in the United States.

Directors applaud ruling against 'unauthorized editing'
Michael Apted, the president of the Directors Guild of America, said directors could feel vindicated by the decision. "These films carry our name and reflect our reputations. So we have great passion about protecting our work... against unauthorized editing," said Apted in a statement on the guild's website.

"Audiences can now be assured that the films they buy or rent are the vision of the filmmakers who made them and not the arbitrary choices of a third-party editor."

Scrubbing companies vow to continue fight
Matsch ordered the companies named in the suit — CleanFlicks, Play It clean Video and CleanFilms — to immediately stop producing, creating and renting out the scrubbed films.

"We're disappointed," said Ray Lines, the head of CleanFlicks. "This is a typical case of David vs. Goliath, but in this case, Hollywood rewrote the ending. We're going to continue to fight."

Monday, July 10, 2006

2 Buildings Down From my School!

Today I got this email from my mom:

Ross, huge gas explosion demolished/totalled 20' townhouse @ 32 East 62nd. BROWNING is @ 52 E. 62nd. 2nd Bldg away is Browning. I called Browning. No students expected 2day. Browning is OK & students expected to return 2morrow

Browning is my old high school.

So you can imagine my shock when I look at the CNN home page and find this:

And look at this satellite image—you can see the building totally demolished (click to enlarge it):

Count 2 buildings down and to your right (Southeast) and that's my high school. It appears only 1 person perished, and it may have been someone trying to commit suicide. No students at Browning were harmed, though I'm sure some of the Kindergarteners soiled their pants.

Homes For The New Century

Having grown up in an ambulatory city like Manhattan where you can walk for 5 or 6 blocks and actually be somewhere interesting, I really loathe the suburbs. Sure, I've gotten used to the burbs, but feeling constantly chained to my wheels to get anywhere is... well, idiotic. It's simply bad city planning.

There's an undeveloped lot right to where my wife and I bought our swanky new condos. (Yes, condos—neither of us cares for yard work, and in a condo we actually feel like we're part of a community, even if we don't talk to our neighbors that much.) Every day we drive past this dry stretch of land, and every day we cross our fingers that it will soon host a coffee shop or a produce market or a bookstore—whatever. Anything useful which we can walk to. As much as we love our cars, we love walking around more... and not just to see the park, but to buy things. Like milk. Or croissants. Or half-caf/half-decaf non-fat iced lattes.

Cities evolve naturally according to its inhabitants' needs. My old real estate mentor once described how the center of a major city is the business node into which everyone commutes. As that center grows, housing nearest those core businesses becomes more in demand and prices go up. As prices go up, people move farther away to buy cheaper housing. This cycle continues until the commuting distance becomes too far and they choose to look for other work... closer work. This is how newer, smaller cities are born on the outskirts of a big city. And how large cities "die" and become reborn: fewer people commuting to the center of town means lower demand on housing nearest that business hub and its smaller businesses going under, which is why housing in the center of town and old businesses become renovated into residential "lofts".

Now it appears there is a growing trend towards high density living away from big city centers, and not based around cars. And while it sounds a little too Utopic, I can't deny that it does have a distinctly more amiable approach than sprawling suburban housing. Which I'm okay with. But, like Tom Skerritt said to Campbell Scott in Singles, "People love their cars." It will be tough to ween people onto public transit. Suq.

Here's an entire article about these "New Villages". Look for my boldface:

The next real estate boom
Dense settlements, not sprawling ranch houses, are the future of housing - and could make for a smart real-estate investment.

By Chris Taylor, Business 2.0 Magazine senior editor
July 7 2006: 2:50 PM EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Picture the scene: it's 2025, and you and your family are living in a beautiful, leafy-green village that seems more 19th century than 21st, even though it has only been in existence for ten years and is just 20 miles from a major American city.

You know all of the 150 or so souls in the village; you see them at the market where you pick up a box of locally-grown produce once a week. You see half of them in the morning as they board the commuter train for school or work in the city; the other half are the network warriors who work from home or, on warm days, use the free Wi-Fi in the village square.

It all seems a world away from the crumbling old 20th-century suburbs people used to live in, if you could call it living. You shudder to think you could still be living there. Oh, and you see that really nice house just down the bicycle lane? That's yours, the fruits of your smart move to plunk down a payment on a piece of the hottest new trend in real estate.

Streetcar stops desired
Sounds like a far-off future? You can already see such a development opening up in Hercules, Calif., 20 miles northeast of San Francisco. And you can bet on seeing many more across the country if changing consumer desires and economic trends dictate the direction of the housing market.

"New Villages," as community planner Robert McIntyre dubs them in the latest issue of The Futurist magazine, are compact, pleasantly urban settlements located well away from city centers. They share some of the charms and amenities of cities, thanks to their density, but have the mostly rural surroundings that originally drew people out to the suburbs, as well as the friendly feel of a small town where you know your neighbors.

The concept of New Villages shares some similarities with the so-called "transit villages" you can already see around the country. Starting in the mid-'90s, when architects and local planners became more interested in more pedestrian-friendly, urban developments, transit villages started to spring up outside cities along revitalized rail lines, from Mission Valley near San Diego, to Ballston and Bethesda outside Washington, D.C.

They were very attractive to young city workers and empty-nest parents. Their defining characteristics: They were eminently walkable, densely constructed without feeling overcrowded, and offered a real community feeling with plenty of common spaces.

The difference between transit villages and New Villages is location: While transit villages mostly reinvented older suburbs that are close to cities, New Villages promise to reinvent the sprawl further out.

The demand for such developments is real, and it's only going to get greater as consumer preferences rapidly shift away from the McMansions preferred by boomers. According to a study by the nonprofit Congress for New Urbanism, while less than 25 percent of middle-aged Americans are interested in living in dense areas, 53 percent of 24-34 year olds would choose to live in transit-rich, walkable neighborhoods, if they had the choice.

Demand for housing within walking distance of transit will more than double by 2025, according to another nonprofit, the Center for Transit-Oriented Development. Even now, properties within a 5- or 10-minute walk to a train stop are selling for 20 to 25 percent more than comparable properties further away - a price premium that's likely to increase as traffic jams worsen.

And as the effects of the Internet continue to kick in, it won't be so necessary to be in the big city - you'll just want access to it every once in a while, for the occasional business meeting or nightclub outing. But as social animals we'll still want to cluster together for face-to-face contact, local food and local culture.

The payoff
All of these consumer trends suggest that New Villages just may be the future. But there are also compelling economic arguments for developers to build and sell such properties, as well as for consumers to buy them.

Rising oil prices notwithstanding, sprawling car-culture cities and vast suburbs simply do not make economic sense in the long run. As much as 50 percent of the land surface area in any given city or subdivision - we're talking prime real estate - is taken up by roadways. For developers, less space given over to roads means more space for housing.

Not only are roads a drain on landlords' potential income, they're a turnoff for residents -- and are only going to become more so as gridlock, road repairs and air pollution increase.

While you might assume that a higher density community would have more traffic, you'd be wrong. When neighborhoods are dense and walkable, studies show, people make fewer car trips. And some may even forgo owning a second car, especially as families realize that living with one less car can save them $6,000 a year on average (and again, that's not counting price rises at the pump).

And then there's simple math. While standard subdivisions have five units per acre, transit villages tend to pack in 20 to 25 per acre - still mostly single-family dwellings or townhomes, but without the vast lawns and backyards of suburbia. And with transit village homes selling for more than similar houses in traditional, sprawling suburbs, developers will make considerably more per acre, while fostering community and being kinder to the environment.

Pocketing a nice real-estate gain while saving the planet? That should help you sleep very well at night in your nice, safe, quiet, neighborly New Village home.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Okay, now what?

I recently saw these pics from NASA visualizing their revised designs for space exploration. (The pic at left is one of them. Go ahead and click it see the hi-res version.) I love all things about space... I'm a severe Trek fan, after all. Still, as I'm looking at this picture, I'm thinking—okay, cool, but... so what? Haven't we already been to the moon?

There are arguments, I'm sure, why we should go back to the moon. Technology is better, we're just starting to understand things with science that we never have before... I get all that. I simply haven't heard any of the reasons why we would spend billions of dollars to go back, when we can redirect some of that moola to, say, reducing global warming on our own planet. The space station, at least, is a good testing ground for scientific experiments. The moon is just a big rock, in my view.

Maybe I'm getting old, but I feel like there are certain things I can visualize well enough that I won't have to do them in real life. I'm not counting my visit to the Mayan pyramids—it's far too humid to not experience that for yourself. It's simple things like, I wonder what it would be like to stand up there? and I've done enough similar things that I can close my eyes and imagine it to my satisfaction.

Egads, just listen to me today! Most of the dramatic discoveries happened amidst directionless exploration. When the Europeans discovered the American continent, for instance. Maybe there are rock samples on the moon that will help us gain a better understanding of Earth's geology. I hope so. What we should really be doing is terraforming Mars to colonize it. And pronto.

In other news, Dave and Nancy had their baby:

I guess children are the greatest exploration of all, huh?