Monday, March 31, 2008

BCC: = Blind Carbon Copy

If you and I know each other—not very well, but well enough to talk once every six to eight weeks—and I randomly asked you to hand over the email addresses of every important contact in your address book, would you do it? Of course not.

Yet I see this happen all the time. For the second time this week, I've received an email from an aquaintance with their entire address book in the CC: field!

This totally blows my mind.

I understand why people do it, I guess, but it seems common sense to me that some people on the list may not want their email divulged to everyone else on the list... and doubly so if they've never met any of the other people.

Here's a tip you can tag as "all around good business etiquette"—before you click "send" on a mass forwarded email, consider for a moment that some of your email's recipients might have given their email to you with the implicit agreement you wouldn't bandy their email about so thoughtlessly. So extend your friends and business associates the simple courtesy of removing their email from the publicly viewable CC: field and instead pasting it into the invisible BCC: field. And don't forget to add money to the karma bank by deleting any emails in the body of the email, too.

Because, you know... haven't you ever wondered where spammers get your email from?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Iron Mac

I tell you, I'm a man obsessed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fans of Lost: Meet Kevin Johnson

Tracie and I saw this sign the day after we saw last week's Lost episode, "Meet Kevin Johnson". We gave each other that look that says, "No effing way!"

Monday, March 24, 2008

It's not what you lied about, it's that you lied

We've seen this before, right?

1. Guy in office has sex with an aide.
2. Guy in office is asked about it under oath.
3. Guy in office lies about it under oath.

If we have a law that nobody can lie under oath, a law which applies to us all, then it must as illegal for a government official to commit perjury as it is for some guy off the street. Because government officials ought to know better, they might even be held to a higher standard.

It's one thing to lie private to friends, family, whomever because your motivations are embarrassment or shame, but when you're under oath, you either plead the fifth, or you tell the bloody truth. End of story.

DETROIT - Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, a one-time rising star and Detroit's youngest elected leader, was charged Monday with perjury and other counts after sexually explicit text messages contradicted his sworn denials of an affair with a top aide.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy also charged the popular yet polarizing 37-year-old mayor with obstruction of justice and misconduct in office.

Former Chief of Staff Christine Beatty, 37, who also denied under oath that she and Kilpatrick had a romantic relationship in 2002 and 2003, was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.

"Some have suggested that the issues in this case are personal or private," Worthy said. "Our investigation has clearly shown that public dollars were used, people's lives were ruined, the justice system severely mocked and the public trust trampled on. ... This case is about as far from being a private matter as one can get."

The charges could signal the end of Kilpatrick's six-year career as mayor of one of America's largest cities.

Perjury is a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. A felony conviction would mean Kilpatrick's immediate expulsion from office under the Detroit City Charter. Calls for his resignation have surfaced since late January and the Detroit City Council asked him to step down last week.

Kilpatrick was to hold a noon news conference but had not yet appeared and his office and lawyers were not commenting. A message seeking comment from Beatty's attorney, Jeffrey Morganroth, was not returned.

Kilpatrick has said he would not resign and last week said he expects to be vindicated when all aspects of the scandal are made public.

Worthy said she expected the mayor and Beatty to turn themselves in by 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Worthy began her investigation the day after the Free Press published excerpts of the embarrassing text messages in late January. The messages called into question testimony Kilpatrick and Beatty gave in a lawsuit filed by two police officers who alleged they were fired for investigating claims that the mayor used his security unit to cover up extramarital affairs.

In court, Kilpatrick and Beatty denied having an intimate relationship, but the text messages reveal that they carried on a flirty, sometimes sexually explicit dialogue about where to meet and how to conceal their trysts.

Kilpatrick is married with three children. Beatty was married at the time and has two children.

The city agreed to pay $8.4 million to the two officers and a third former officer who filed a separate lawsuit. Documents released last month showed Kilpatrick agreed to the settlement in an effort to keep the text messages from becoming public.

The text messages published by the Free Press revealed a romantic discourse.

"I'm madly in love with you," Kilpatrick wrote on Oct. 3, 2002.

"I hope you feel that way for a long time," Beatty replied. "In case you haven't noticed, I am madly in love with you, too!"

Worthy filed eight counts against Kilpatrick and seven against Beatty.

Kilpatrick faces charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, misconduct in office, perjury in a court proceeding and two counts of perjury other than in a court proceeding.

Beatty is charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury in a court proceeding and two counts of perjury other than in a court proceeding.

For Beatty, who attended high school with Kilpatrick and managed his campaigns for Michigan's state House and the mayor's office, the scandal forced her to resign.

City lawyers and Kilpatrick's attorneys waged a futile legal battle to keep documents related to the lawsuit settlement and text messages from public eyes.

Calls for his resignation surfaced in late January from some city union leaders and Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox repeated that call.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Door in the Mind

I have two seminal reading experiences in my lifetime. The first was sitting on my father's lap at age 5 and reading a book aloud. He asked me to read the same sentence without moving my lips... and I did. I knew I was doing something different but might not have sensed its true import had my father not shouted out with glee.

The other experence came about a decade later. I was an awkward teenager and hadn't yet found a rudder to steer toward my interests. My school had given me a long list of books to read over the summer, but those book lists were always a chore to be done. I simply didn't get reading. It wasn't fun.

And then my older cousin Chris threw me a book. "You might enjoy reading this." It was Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama. As I turned the pages, I felt myself completely transported into a world unknown, full of surprises and bizarre mysteries. The word "awestruck" probably best typifies my experience reading that book. (I understand why now—that book won the Campbell, Hugo, Jupiter, and Nebula Awards!)

Not long after I had finished Rama, I found myself constantly skulking around bookstores for my next fix. Clarke's Rama led to Issac Asimov's Foundation trilogy and robot short stories, which led to Piers Anthony's XANTH fantasy novels, which led to Whitley Striber's The Wolfen, and so on. By my early 20s, I had finally migrated to Heinlein's Future History stories and novels.

And none of that would have happened without Clarke's marvelous story about a massive ship in space whose inhabitants are inexplicably missing.

Thank you, Mr. Clarke. Thank you for opening a door in my mind.

Arthur C. Clarke

Monday, March 17, 2008

Portman goes from "E" to "B"

I've always said so—if you really want control over your life, you have to start thinking and acting like a business owner, and not like an employee.

It's not enough to be a well-paid employee... since your career is still run by others' decisions, which can frequently become frustrating. Evidently, Natalie Portman has learned that lesson the hard way:

Impatient Portman Turns Producer
Actress Natalie Portman formed her own production company after growing tired of waiting around for movie offers to land in her mail box. The 26-year-old actress found the process frustrating and that scripts being offered to her were inconsistent—so she decided to take her career into her own hands and form HandsomeCharlie Films. Portman says, "It is proactive. It gives you more control over creating things, as opposed to having to get hired every single time. After you've worked for so long, it's kind of annoying to have to be dependent in that way. I've been working 15 years and I know some years I get everything first and some years I read only uninteresting parts. I didn't want to be at the mercy of whoever is making those decisions. Having your own company is a nice way to concentrate your ideas and make the kinds of movies you want to see."

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Your film needs color correction

Common indie filmmaker mistakes #43—not doing a color correction!

If you want your footage to have that extra edge—especially if you're shooting on video, and doubly so if you're shooting on miniDV—you must color correct. With today's editing software and a little book learning, anyone can do a simple color correction (anyone except the colorblind!).

Alternatively, you can get your editor to color correct—they're probably already familiar with their editing program's color correction tools and if they have a design background, they'll be well attuned to how contrast and RGB levels harmoniously interact. But be warned! Color correction can be a nasty time sponge, so if someone else is coaxing out your baby's best color tones, make sure that person is really committed to getting the best results. That means you either pay them handsomely, barter with a work exchange, or give them a credit like Executive Producer so they take ownership over the project... or perhaps all three. The results of a good color correction, especially on video, can be like someone peeled off a foggy grey layer from your footage—in some cases, the results are so impressive that you'll be in awe that it's actually your footage. Seriously consider color correction as a factor when choosing an editor and/or color correction service.

Here are some good color correction samples I found online.

Before color correction:

After color correction:



And here's a short video with a description of each color correction pass used, and a slow wipe to show the before and after. Judging from the film's uncorrected footage, it must have been filmed on miniDV although the three color passes make it look like its budget was $5,000, rather than $100:

If you want to see a jaw-dropper of color correction, watch the bonus features on Wolf Creek.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Pursuit of Superhappiness

Recently, I've been a little obsessed about Iron Man.

The trailer for the Iron Man movie got me really stoked to see it... and it took some weeks to figure out why. Finally, I got it: Iron Man is the perfect superhero.

Iron Man's alter ego, Tony Stark, is an hideously wealthy and unscrupulous weapons dealer... and he's an alcoholic. Hardly superhero material, wouldn't you agree? That is, until he's kidnapped and has a life-changing epiphany to right the wrongs he's spent a lifetime building a career on.

Superheroes are appealing to modern audiences because superheroes emulate god-like powers, but also because they typify the epic struggle of one vs. many. As mere individuals in an increasingly globalized society, we all yearn to be the one person fighting against overwhelming odds to make a substantial difference in the world. We all want to be a superhero, and that doesn't always mean wearing a cape—perhaps it means being a gifted young wizard, or jedi, or an average guy who can bend the Matrix... or maybe it can mean being an exceptionally observant detective, or even a teenager with a funny name and a yapping dog.

Superman has dominated American pop culture, and it's easy to see why. He's got all the tricks in his bag, right? He can fly, he's got X-ray vision, freezing breath, he's incredibly strong... who can deny him the best table in the house?

The problem with Superman is that he's royalty—he was born with all his powers. Sure, maybe not on his home planet, but he's thrust onto our planet (bearing a striking resemblance to humans!) where he's suddenly this mega-being. If we're talking about swallowing a Convenient Plot Development pill, that's about the biggest one there is. And also, almost nothing ever kills this guy! It's a little ridiculous.

And then there's Batman, exactly the opposite from Superman in that he's a self-made hero. Which is like saying that with enough money and muscle tone, anyone could be Batman. Obviously, that's far more democratic than Superman's coronated noble blood, but Batman also has some noteworthy flaws...

First, Batman is too provincial. His stomping ground is Metropolis Gotham City. What about all the other thousands of cities without their own mega-rich and mega-powerful concerned citizens? Sucks to be them! Second, Batman is too vulnerable—one well-timed bomb and Pfttt!—game over. Thirdly, like Superman, you can tell Batman is a cracker. Meaning, with some good guesswork, you could figure out his secret identity, especially in this world of DNA testing. Finally, Batman's drive to fight crime is motivated by a vendetta, which can end rather abruptly once he vanquishes his parents' killer.

Iron Man, though, carries many Superman attributes: he's strong, he can fly, he's impervious, has a global reach. Unlike Superman, his identity is 100% protected (i.e., no part of his face is shown)... and he's a guy just like any of us. A guy with flaws. Sure, he has some innate talents, like intelligence and insight, so he's not totally equal to everyone else, but that's as close as you're likely to get for a superhero. Furthermore, he has derived enormous wealth from his talents, and because his wealth was generated by designing weaponry, that initiated a sequence of events leading to his own epiphany...

This last bit is particularly interesting. Most superheroes are victims of unfortunate circumstance, like Spiderman (bit by a radioactive spider), Batman (parents were murdered), Daredevil (doused by a truck's radioactive spill), The Fantastic Four (caught in a weird space radioactivity), The Incredible Hulk (an unintentional overdose of Gamma rays), etc. It's refreshing, then, to see Iron Man change that pattern: Stark is kidnapped and forced to make a weapon... which causes him to re-evaluate his life. So his epiphany is the result of his kidnapping, and the kidnapping is the result of his talents as an arms-builder. Thus, his own talents and life's earlier achievements set in motion a series of events leading to his revelations later in life. Stark then chooses to become Iron Man not because he was coincidentally in the wrong place at the wrong time, but because his talents led to his own incarceration. If character is plot, or who you are determines what happens to you, then Stark was always destined to become Iron Man. It was only a matter of time.

So now we see Stark as a man forever guilt-stricken, eternally repentant. Unlike Batman, he will never succeed in definitively righting the wrongs he's made and his quest to fight evil-doers will have no end in sight. On top of all that, he must struggle with his own alcoholic demons. Bruce Wayne, this guy is not—and we relate to him for it.

A final note... the difference between a fantasy genre and sci-fi genre involves the "Black Box": in a fantasy genre, the Black Box does something amazing—e.g., levitation, teleportation, telepathy, whatever—and nobody can open it up to see how or why it does what it does; its abilities are called "magic" and that's that. Yet in a sci-fi genre, you can open up the Black Box at any moment and list the scientific reasons why it does what it does. For this reason, the X-Men are closer cousins to the fantasy genre than sci-fi, as is Superman (hell, Superman is closer to supernatural!), while Iron Man and Batman are closer to the sci-fi genre.

And Iron Man could kick Batman's ass any day of the week, yo!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Death of a President

Below is a fictional documentary made in 2006 about the assassination of President George W. Bush, and its ugly aftermath. I post this now because the race to the White House has been so prominent in the news, but also because Bush is still in office and that lends more impact to the documentary. Warning: this faux documentary clocks in at 90 minutes, so set aside some time to download it and watch it in full—it's worth watching.

I remember when Reagan was shot and how it affected the country, but I've never considered how an assassination of an American President would be reported in today's world, and what implications such an event would have on civil liberties and racial profiling. One can only hope nothing like this will ever happen... nevertheless, this documentary is an exquisite imitation of a British documentary should a nightmare scenario such as this ever come to pass.

After you watch it, you can read the wiki about it here.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Why I hated, but now love, the iPhone

I'm one of those people you might label a Mac Fanatic. I love my Mac OS and have been faithful to Apple for years, even when they were futzing with Mac clones.

Admittedly, I've used PCs in recent years and they've gotten much better, but... they're still not flashy like Macs are. Macs have an "X" factor which Mac people have difficulty explaining to PC people... Macs are just fun to use. They shimmer.

I know. Sounds hokey.

About the best way I can describe it is a quip I read in an Apple programming manual published in the late 80s, and I'm paraphrasing: "A Mac program must function well, but its design must function well, too. The user must enjoy looking at the program as much as they enjoy using the program." This simple design philosophy is the jewel of love sewn into every computing product made at Apple. The software, the hard case, the cables, the accessories... hell, even the packaging. Macs look cool.

Thus, when Apple ramped up their advertising for the iPhone, I was shocked to hear my lack of excitement. At $400, I thought, it was too pricey for a phone—I was happy with my simple $50 Razor.

And then...

A hard-core PC friend of mine started raving to me about the iPhone. (Around the same time, another hard-core PC programmer had opted to buy a Mac as his next comptuer... because it was better for progamming!) What, I thought, was the big deal about an iPhone? And why wasn't I raving to him about an iPhone?

Apple has been gradually exposing PC users to the Mac OS through the iPod and the iPhone, which I mentioned last January in my post, The Company in The White Suit. Just take a closer look at this chart (click to enlarge):

Flash forward to this last Superbowl Sunday. My friend passes me his iPhone. "Here, Dude. Check it out."

After 5 minutes, I was in love.

With constant internet access, you can get dynamic traffic news reports overlaid on a map—and the map is zoomable by using your fingers. You can surf the web and see actual pages. You can watch You Tube videos with two keystrokes. But best of all—you can view all your contacts' information on Apple's slick OS. This is a big selling point for me because if there's one thing that drives me batty about cell phones, it's their disposability. With my current phone, I always know that within a year or two, I'm going to probably upgrade to a newer phone... which will probably not be made by the same brand... which means I'll have to learn a new OS, and that's another learning curve I'm not likely to enjoy because the whole time I'll be dreading about having to learn the next phone's OS. Grrrrrrrr.

* I'm already familiar with Apple's OS.
* I can upload my contacts once and never have to worry about dealing with a SIM card ever again!
* I know the phone will sync seamlessly with my home system.

But come on, $400? For a phone?

It still sounds like a lot, but only if you're buying a phone. And this is not just any phone—it's a small telecommunications computer designed to sync to your main computer. I can live with spending $400 if it buys me the peace of mind that I'll never have to upgrade to another phone for at least 3 to 5 years.

As my friend Jena told me a few weeks ago, "My Blackberry broke and AT&T said they'd mail me a replacement within five to seven business days. I don't have five to seven business days! So I walked to the Apple store, and 5 minutes later I walked back out with an iPhone. 17 minutes after I got home, all my phone numbers and addresses were synched up and I was back up and running."

So I'm buying an iPhone this year, probably next month sometime. The next generation has broadband internet speed, but it's still in development and probably won't come out until September or early next year. And that's too. damned. long.

Ross <3 iPhones.

Iron Man!

I haven't been as excited to see a superhero film since Batman Begins!!

Iron Man Exclusive Trailer

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