Saturday, September 27, 2008

RIP, Buddy

Thanks for everything, Mr. Newman.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The VP who says "Ni"

WOW! What a headline!! "McCain picks Palin for VP" I didn't think that anything in the universe could make me vote Republican this year, but McCain, you crafty old Muppet-lookin' buzzard, you've sold me. Michael Palin for VP? Are you kidding me? One of the Python boys a heartbeat away from the presidency? Sure, the Dems will hit you hard on the constitutionality of a UK citizen as VP, but stand your ground- this is the coolest thing ever! The debates this year will be about African vs. European swallows. Foreign policy will be determined by not expecting the Spanish Inquisition. Hey, maybe you could show up to your inauguration clapping coconut halves together and riding imaginary horses! That would be so aweso....what? SARAH?!?!? Um..... nevermind.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'm a dork

I'm no diehard political junkie, but I've always enjoyed checking out the party conventions every four years. I don't have the patience or interest for watching every minute or listening to every speech, but I'm really glad that today I got to see my favorite part of any convention: the roll call of state votes. Yes, I know it's weird that I'm into that, but I've loved it all my life. It's so damn silly and hilarious that it just fills me with glee. Giddy delegates who just came from the bar across the street, having a big party on the convention floor, delivering self-conscious soliloquies like, "Madame Secretary, the great state of Podunkia, home of the world's largest hairball, birthplace of Paul Lynde, realm of the richest deposits of sandy loam in the Western Hemisphere, where the sky hits the horizon and the horizon likes it, home of the only state capitol built entirely underground, creators of the swivel chair, the long-handled duster, and the creamiest of creamy nougats, proudly casts its votes...." God, I love that crap. I want to be a delegate someday just so I can do that.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I lived in Bruce Wayne's penthouse

Okay, not exactly. Here's the deal:

I finally got around to seeing "The Dark Knight" a couple days ago. Good movie, but that's not what this is about. Chicago again plays the role of Gotham City, but it seems to be more prominent in this one. More locations that are obviously Chicago, except they mostly avoid lingering shots of the Sears Tower or John Hancock Building or whatever that would make it REALLY obvious (though they do linger on the twin cylindrical towers of Marina City, which I thought was kind of odd since it's a pretty famous Chicago landmark).

I'm no Chicago expert, but I've spent several years going to tradeshows there and getting very familiar with the hookers and drug dealersI MEAN familiar with a, say, six-block area in the heart of downtown. It seems about half of the location shooting for the movie was exactly in that area, so I was intrigued (and kind of distracted) by seeing something I recognized in every other shot. They even shot some stuff at McCormick Place, the bigass convention center I've been to about a shflagillion times.

They're building a new Trump Tower (because there aren't enough of THOSE in the world) right on the Chicago River, and this past April I stayed in a place called Hotel 71- okay, it's not just a "place", it is in fact a hotel- that is directly across the river from it. I had a terrific view from my room, which was on, I think, the second floor from the top. I saw this in one direction (sorry, the white balance went all blue on these shots):

And the Trump building directly ahead:

And some other cool stuff the other direction, but we're not talking about that right now. Anyway, early on in the movie I realized that some interior scenes had a view that could only be from one of the completed lower floors of the Trump building. A little while later, I realized that another building they were zooming in on was Hotel 71. Then, we were in Bruce Wayne's luxurious penthouse, and from the view, it also had to be Hotel 71, right about where my room was!

Anyway- it turned out that half the movie seems to have been shot in or on the Trump building and Hotel 71. The whole climactic scene with the Joker and the hostages and yadda yadda yadda, that was inside Trump and the cops were spotting it from the top of the hotel. Just to confirm I wasn't crazy or stupid- on this point anyway- I checked Reputable Online Sources and discovered that indeed, both buildings were used, and that yes, Mr. Wayne's penthouse was built on the top floor of the hotel, in what I think is a kind of bar/reception hall. real point to this, except that it was cool to watch a movie and realize it was practically shot in my hotel room!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

How I Became a Film Director

I thought of something today that hasn't crossed my mind in a while. It amused me. So I'm foisting it upon you, dear readers.

Cast your minds back- those who can go back that far- to the long-ago days of the early 80s. Back then, if you wanted to watch a movie on demand in your home, you had to go to something called a "store" and get a magical item known as a "videotape". Bringing anything back yet?

Okay, let that concept digest a bit, and let's go on to something else. In, oh say about 1984-ish, when I was a young buck still full of piss and vinegar and creativity, my dad bought a top-of-the-line Panasonic VCR with attachable camcorder, a real rarity then. The full VCR unit was actually two connected units, the tuner and the recorder. The recorder unit was portable- you just unplugged it from the tuner, put in a battery unit the size of a '67 Impala, attached the shoulder strap and camera, then slung the assembly over your shoulder and went off to shoot, in theory, videos of the grandchildren. Except that I immediately got hold of it and started shooting my own silly video productions, and even a few wedding tapes on the side.

Okay, back to the rental tapes- you know how if you let the tape run to the end of the credits and beyond, eventually there would be some completely blank tape left before it ran out completely? Well, it occurred to me one day that that tape was just going to waste...

So, a bit of Scotch tape on the "no record" hole on the back of the cassette, and presto! Recordable cassette! My friends and I only did this a couple times- we didn't destroy anything already on the tape, just anonymously stuck a little extra surprise onto the end for anybody that let the tape run too long, and dutifully returned it to the store.

The only ones I remember (maybe the only ones we actually did) were on the Tower Video copies of "The Producers" and "Magical Mystery Tour". One was just a clip of us driving around in somebody's car (faces turned away from the camera), but the other had a bit more production value- we actually made signs, wore paper bags over our heads, and ran around the back parking lot of Fresno State.

That's really all there is to the story. Just hadn't thought about it in a long time, and it made me laugh. I wonder if those tapes still exist somewhere, stuck in somebody's closet after being bought out of the bargain used bin at Tower.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Don't skimp on the Foreplay

Twenty years ago this month, I was a student at Fresno State, with a double major in Geography and Radio-TV Broadcasting (no, I was in no hurry to graduate, and no, I've never really done anything with either one, career-wise). I was also having fun as a DJ at KFSR, the campus radio station.

My old high school buddy Don- along with some scary Malaysian friend of his who was one of those morning Jazz DJs that we late night Alternative DJs didn't mingle with much- had an idea to get a group together and do a live weekly sketch comedy show. They managed to get four guys together, so they decided to call it Fourplay. Get it?!?!?

I wasn't a part of the first show. Or the second one. But I listened to them, and thought, "I wish they'd call me. I want to do it too! It sounds like fun!"

The call came before the third show. Ron was going to be out of town- so would I come in and help that week? They let me stick around, and the name spelling got changed to Foreplay.

What started as semi-adlibbed live shows with pre-recorded bits eventually morphed into fully produced recorded shows. The quality of writing, performance, and production could be....inconsistent. Along the way, many talented people- often whoever we could grab in the hallway of the Speech Arts building- contributed to the 13 episodes of tarnished splendor that were Foreplay.

It's not overstating it to say that the experience changed my life. That scary Malaysian is almost solely responsible for getting me into theatre. Everything my life is now, for better or worse, can be directly traced back to that moment in time. And yes, to this day, I still enjoy telling people that I met Marcel while doing foreplay together.

The other night, we had a twenty-year reunion. I think it was Don's idea. Good idea, Don.

Marcel's blog here gives a far better take on this than I ever could. In the meantime, enjoy the dulcet tones of one of our hit songs blaring from my profile page.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Freedom to be Stupid, and Other Stuff

Look! I'm writing a blog! I've barely been paying attention to Cyberland (there's a theme park idea in there somewhere) for a while- been too distracted and just plain tired to pay it much heed. But here it is, Independence Day, and as I have attained a temporary independence from other obligations, here I sit at the computer. Is it really such an improvement over what I would otherwise be doing? That's for a later debate. For now, I have a few topics that have been bubbling in my head and need to be vented. Yes, I'm backed up- I have Blue Blog.

So, herewith just a few tidbits, as it were- starting with the HANDSFREE LAW.

As all of you in California already know- or most of you anyway- as of July 1st, you can get a ticket for driving with a cell phone held up to your ear. If you want to yak on the road, you have to use a handsfree headset. Fine, in theory, that makes sense and I'm in favor of it. Too many idiots driving with one hand and yammering away instead of paying attention to their driving. Getting that phone out of their hand improves the safety of everyone on the road. OR SO IT WOULD SEEM.

I don't know about you, but my experience with my own so-called handsfree device has proven far more distracting than my phone ever was by itself. I bought my Bluetooth thingy a year or so ago, long before the law, so I could use it on long drives and such- but it's such a pain in the ass that I've never bothered with it around town. Maybe I just need a better headset, but in any event, the whole process sucks.

No matter how thoroughly you've checked your phone settings and Bluetooth connection, it seems that each incoming or outgoing call becomes a savage ballet of confusion and failure. What's that noise in the headset? Oh, I'm getting a call. How do I answer with this thing? Oh yeah, it's this button here. Hello? Hello? Dammit- where's the phone? I'll just answer it on there- hello? HELLO? It says "Transfer sound to headset?" Well, YES you piece of shit, I already connected the headset and was just talking to someone five minutes ago. Why the hell would I suddenly NOT want it in the headset? Hello? SHIT! Lost the call. Okay, call back- YES I want to transfer to the headset, you- hello? HELLO? SHIT!!! Five minutes of this kind of crap is far more distracting than the old school ear-holding ever was, and requires spending more time looking away from the road and occasionally a TWO-handed operation- in the old days, somebody called, I answered, held it up to my ear until done, then hung up. If I needed to for safety, I put the phone down during a call. Dangerously distracting at times? Perhaps, which is why in theory I'm in favor of the law. But if they really want us safer, they should force us to wear the nasty old wired headsets that were so much easier to deal with. Or better yet, outlaw phone-driving completely- and while you're at it, outlaw food-driving, makeup-driving, and all the other things we all do from time to time on the road. I've never been much of a phone-driver anyway, so at least in my case the new law is working, in that in most cases I will probably just wait and talk on the phone later, or park somewhere, rather than facing the teardrop-shaped bud of evil that is my Bluetooth headset.

Next topic- although the above rant is nominally about the Freedom to be Stupid, in that our stupidity on the road is being legislated away, I don't have a big problem with laws that restrict the ability of other people's stupidity to affect me- or vice versa. But the title comes from this: the other day I had to set up a new voicemail system at work, and at one point the pleasant cybervoice on the other end asked me to come up with a PIN code for security, RIGHT NOW. I wasn't prepared to do that, and didn't have time to come up with something clever and memorable for everyone to use. I just wanted to finish setting up the voicemail and get on with my life, and then change the PIN later if it was decided that our voicemail was in grave danger of being compromised by the forces of evil. So, I just picked the last four digits of our phone number. But NO. It wouldn't let me do that. It also wouldn't let me do sequential numbers or four of the same number. It didn't just advise against it, it wouldn't allow it, period. Yes, I know it's for security. But whose? Why is it the phone company's business if I want to pick a stupid PIN? And that got me thinking about all the other institutions that do the same thing- "your password MUST contain both letters and numbers", "your password CANNOT be your email", etc. These private companies are telling us, their customers, that we are not allowed to give in to our own stupidity. Listen, Mister Big Moneypants, I pay you enough every month that if I want my password to be "password", you should let it happen.

Next topic- my belated tribute to George Carlin. I was very sad to hear of his death the other day- we've lost a comic genius. Yes, he made much of his early fame out of a reputation being one of "those 'dirty' comedians", and there are still people who pigeonhole him into that category. But he was never just a guy who told dirty jokes, or who used profanity just to get a cheap laugh. He was one of the most intelligent people ever to set foot on a stage, and was the embodiment of the old cliche about "you laugh, and then you think". Sure, not all his material was "deep"- much of the time, he was just plain funny. And that's probably his most remarkable trait- unlike many famous comedians, George Carlin was innately funny! And he got even sharper, and arguably better, as he got older. That graying old brain of his ran rings around younger performers right up until the end- and he was still damn funny.

Next topic- since giving myself a Christmas present of a handheld GPS unit, I've been kinda getting into geocaching. It's fun. Rather than try to explain it here, I'll just let you go to the link if you don't know what it is.

Next topic- the platypus rant. Okay, so what's the deal with me and the platypus? Many of you know I have a thing for platypi (my preferred plural form), but why? Well, the story isn't much. My friend Alan, through a jokey-nicknamey process, became Badger and then was all about badgers. We were sitting around one day a few years ago and I decided I needed an animal too. I always thought the platypus was an odd and interesting beast, rather like myself, so I picked it. The thing is, it was destiny- the more I learn about platypi, the more I realize my oneness with them: a strange mix of various creatures in one, reclusive and solitary, and even a bit venomous. And now people have started to give me platypus items, I've semi-considered getting one inked on me, and I seriously want to go to Australia specifically so I can see one in person. Crazy.

But the point here is that the name for a baby platypus is one of the cutest things ever: a "puggle". OR SO I THOUGHT. It turns out, as I recently read on an official Australian government wildlife site or something like that, that while many people think baby platypi are called puggles, there really is no official name- it's just "baby platypus". Meanwhile, the infant echidna, the platypus' ugly cousin, is called a puggle. I was shocked by this horrible revelation, as I'm sure you are as well. I knew that the term "puggle" had already been appropriated by the purveyors of that perversion of nature that is a Pug/Beagle cross, and if you Google "puggle" (try saying "Google puggle" ten times fast), that's mostly what you get. Damn their canine hides, they stole our name! Which we didn't even have!

Okay, so if the echidna's a puggle, why not the platypus? Who is in charge of the "official" names for these things? Who are these Zoology Nazis? How do we petition them? Power to the Platypi! Platypus=Puggle forever!

That's it for today. Whew! I feel relieved.