Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Important Information for Today about the Computer Virus [UPDATE]

Hey, a good friend of mine who works in the computer industry advises me that today you should avoid checking your email, Twitter or Facebook entirely, as that is a platform that this virus that people are concerned about is going to spread and begin to cause some serious trouble. I guess some of the email companies and Facebook have been suppressing the information out of commercial concerns, and have been able to convince government officials that any sort of warning is needless. But my friend, who works with viruses and computer security and is very familiar with the Conficker virus as well as the Wallam bug and Zoinks, says this is a huge mistake. People who spend any time on social networking software or on email will find their hard drives slowly wiped and any personal information stored either on the networking site or on their hard drive stolen. People on the other side of the international date line are already complaining about bank accounts being wiped clean, credit cards having lots of charges, and even houses where people have posted that they're on vacation or away being broken into. Bottom line, this thing is very serious.

When I spoke to my friend today he actually said, if you can avoid being on your computer today, it would actually be the best thing you could do. The virus is going to sweep through things really fast, and by tomorrow (Thursday) everything is going to be safe as houses.

Just wanted to pass that along. Be safe.

[UPDATE, 11pm 4/1]: APRIL FOOL'S!

Monday, March 30, 2009

My April Fools, 2009

If the shot is not funny enough for you, consider the shot that it is a parody of (both by Annie Leibowitz).

Earth Hour Times Square: You're So Lame

So I did Earth Hour last Saturday. Actually, I turned off a whole bunch of lights here, then rushed down to Times Square to see all the lights go off.

A lot of people had the same idea; there were tons in Times Square, counting it down, cameras ready.

Here's what happened all over the world: (For each photo, click on the photo to see the lights go out -- very cool.)

Here's what we saw in Times Square:



On the side streets, the Broadway theaters went dark. Because they have souls. But corporate America -- which you would think could use any excuse possible to save a little money and show a little good will -- well, not so much.

And to them, I say:

Stupid Earth Hour Facts: Edward Norton was the official ambassador of Earth Hour 2009. And the BBC reported that Cate Blanchett and Desmond Tutu had "promised support" for the event. They also agreed to sing an intercontinental satellite duet of "I Got You, Babe" in the dark.

I hope you turned off your lights, that's all I can say.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Earth Hour Reminder

Tomorrow, March 28th, at 8:30pm is Earth Hour. If you didn't see my other post: for one hour, people all over the world are going to turn off their lights, etc., as a way of making a statement about our concern for the environment and our commitment to help make things better for the future.

Let's do this!

Have a good weekend...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stories, True and Otherwise

Two Stories of the USC Film School:

Many people I talked to in California seem to think USC is Steven Spielberg’s alma mater. In fact, he got turned down from USC, but seems to have done OK for himself after getting his degree instead at Long Beach State.

That’s not to say Steven hasn’t given USC money. In fact, there’s a sound stage named after him. Which you built for USC after losing a bet to George Lucas, who is probably the biggest single donor to the film school. We’ll get to him in a minute.

So, 1980s: Lucas and Spielberg are on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Indy!) And Lucas smells a huge hit, but Spielberg thinks it’s going to bomb. So they make a bet; the winner has to put up a building at the others’ alma mater.

Hence, the Spielberg Sound Stage.

George Lucas just gave USC $175 million dollars. I was told on tour that that is the single largest gift ever gift as a lump sum to any university. Suck on that, Ivy! $100 is for endowment and $75 million for buildings; USC just opened, in fact, a four story office and classroom building designed in the style of an old 30s movie set.

A U shaped building with a courtyard, at its very center stands a statue of Douglas Fairbanks holding a fencing sword. As with everything Lucas, there’s a story behind the decision. Fairbanks used to fence with the guy who was the president of USC. And after one such duel, Fairbanks noted that there were no schools in the entire country that studied motion pictures. This was in the 20s, and Fairbanks had the prescience to suggest USC start a department, saying film was going to be the art form of the 20th century.

The USC president listened, and today USC has one of the preeminent film production programs in the world.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chicago from On High

My dad sent me this link a while ago to some amazing photos of Chicago from on high. Check it out. Very cool stuff.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ripped Off

Did you catch American Idol last week? How about Survivor? Actually, let me ask you this – did you watch any reality TV show last week?

If so, here’s an interesting fact for you. The show you watched – and I don’t care how successful it is, it’s pretty much true across the board – did not pay its writers a union salary.

Their explanation: they don’t have writers. It’s a reality show, dummy.

But who wrote Ryan Seacrest’s little piece about the life and times of Michael Jackson? Ryan? Me thinks not. Who crafts the video montage bios that have become a staple of so many reality TV shows? Writers, that’s who – Screen Actors’ Guild writers. The shows call them “producers” and pay them below SAG standards.

Even a show like Survivor has off-air storytelling going on, as highlighted recently by the debacle on The Bachelor, where Bachelor Jason Mesnick has pretty much said he was being heavily pushed into informing first love Melissa about new love Molly on the air. (Even so – DUDE.)

40% of television programming, in fact, does not pay its people union wages. Some of it is on the cable stations that probably can’t afford union fees. But what about American Idol? It’s a billion dollar industry. The money is chump change. What’s up with that?

Something to think about the next time this guy opens his mouth…

I am making over 12 million dollars this year.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mind Blower

Sr. Betty Smith sent this to me. Check it out: some amazing statistics.

Earth Hour 2009

On March 28, at 8:30pm, for one hour, people all over the world are going to turn off their lights, etc., as a way of making a statement about our concern for the environment and our commitment to help make things better for the future. It's a small thing on a Friday night, but it also means being united with millions of people. Last year they had 32 million people participate.

The video for the project is below. I hope everyone will give it a shot.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Pope's Comments about AIDS in Africa

There's been a lot of stir the last few days about comments the Pope might have made about condoms in Africa. While we in the church pride ourselves on our ability to stick our feet firmly down our throat -- we are as dextrous as Chinese gymnasts -- in this case I think the Pope's been quoted out of context.

If you're interested in this stuff, here is the passage in question:

I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness - even through personal sacrifice - to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress.

Certainly on other occasions the Church has spoken out in a way similar to the current press coverage. But in this instance, it would seem an important message is getting lost.

Here is the full interview.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Explaining the World of Film

Part of my research in Los Angeles amounted to trying to understand the responsibilities of some of the different people on a film set. The director is pretty clear -- she's the one with the big picture, artistically, and the one who calls the shots (literally and figuratively).

The actors... the make up artists... costume design... all good.

But here's a few roles you've undoubtedly seen on credit lists, but probably don't know.

"Gaffer" -- what does a gaffer do? Actually, a gaffer is on set to help when mistakes happen. He (generally a he) has no preassigned job, other than to be around and keep an eye out. When a camera's still got its lens cap on, or someone's slip is showing, or a huge fixture is about to fall from the ceiling and kill the star -- that's when the gaffer steps in. Part utility infielder, part secret service. Very well paid.

"Grip" -- on a movie set, a grip is someone who holds things. The lights, the camera, a reflection board -- anything. If someone goes to get you a coffee, when they come back with it, they're a grip. If an actor has to hold something in a shot, for the portion of the film they are also credited as a grip, and receive extra wages accordingly. (That's actually how Will Smith and Tom Cruise make so much money on their films. They have big base salaries, of course, but nothing like the millions you read about. No, instead, they have in their contracts that they must be holding something for a certain number of minutes in the film.)
In certain circumstances, grips are paid not only by how much they hold but by how tightly. The more force a grip exerts, the higher the salary.

"Key Grip" -- it's just as obvious as it sounds. The key grip is the grip who holds keys. Not their house keys, of course; that would be just silly. But any keys related to the shoot itself.

Lastly, "Best Boy". The best boy is probably the most misunderstood job of all; people think it's a child, or it's someone who is especially favored for their performance past and present. Actually, it's a term of derision. The best boy is the person on set who is being most difficult. The best boy is made to stand in one corner of the room for the entire day, and everyone else on set is allowed to rub leftover food all over them. It's a throwback actually to the days of Our Gang; the children on the set were so notoriously difficult, they set up the best boy role to discipline them. (Alfalfa's hair was an earlier technique used; it was tossed out when the kid ended up becoming so popular as a result of it.)
Everyone on set except the biggest stars have it in their contracts that if they are designated best boy, they will sit and take it until they are left off the hook. (And if you're on a set, and a big star wigs out, you can see the crew nod at each other and mumble "BB".

Tip: If you're an actor and a crew member comes up to you and says "You are the best!" they don't actually mean they like working with you.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Happy Thoughts

Went to the St. Patrick's Day Parade today. I didn't see this guy, but I'm sure he's available for parties tonight, if you're interested.

Walking away afterwards, two things struck me -- a bottle and a fist.

Just kidding. No, what struck me first was the sounds. When you're nearing a parade in New York City, but you're not quite there yet, the sound is quite striking. Random drum beats, whistles -- and a high, soft generalized sort of screaming. It's really strange -- when you actually get there, the drums, etc., get louder, but that screaming vanishes (unless lots of people are actually screaming, in which case, well, there you have it. ). But walk away, and there it is again, this soft wailing, like a whole lot of people in pain. It always reminds me of Dante's Inferno, people being blown about uncontrollably.

And second, relativity. New York is so large and busy, if you walk just a block or two away from the action -- even massive, loud parade action, the city completely swallows it up. Truly, if it weren't for a few barricades and all the green you'd never even know there was a St. Patrick's Day Parade from my office here, one block away.

It just goes to show, with the exception of the Big Bang, every big event really is small, relatively speaking. (Come to think of it, maybe that goes for the Big Bang, too.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

St. Patrick: The Real Story

3 Things You Might Not Know About St. Patrick

1. Not Irish -- Patrick was actually a Welshman who was abducted as a child by Irish brigands. Actually escaped, had a conversion experience, and decided to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish.

2. Did not Banish the Snakes -- There were no snakes in Ireland post-Ice Age. Perhaps it is a metaphor?

3. Has never been formally canonized as a saint. (In the first 1000 years of Christianity, these matters were decided locally. So, no Pope has ever declared Patrick a Saint.)

3 Rumors I'm Starting

1. Swam the English Channel.

2. Only 3' tall and always asking after "the whereabouts of the gold."

3. Hated Waterford crystal.

A New Long Retreat

Today -- well, this evening, actually -- the next crew of Jesuits in Australia will begin their long retreat. You remember, 30 days of silence. (I know I do. ARGH.)

I've posted a photo of the crew this year above. If you're still looking for a Lenten project -- or a Lenten project -- think of praying for them. I can say with certainty -- when you're having a bad day and wondering what in the world is going on, it really helps to know people are praying for you. (And I always think it's cool to pray for people who will never know you ever knew them or cared about them. Don't you?)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

And We're Back!

LA: A very interesting two weeks that feels like a weekend and 3 months all at the same time. And some great stories, which I thought I would share over the next few days.

Today's: Herbie the Love Bug.

Yes, that's right, Herbie the Love Bug. You know you loved him. And not that cheap imitation from a couple years ago, "Fully Loaded", with what's her name. We're talking Herbie Old School here, the original gangsta.

While I was in Los Angeles I had the opportunity to meet the inspiration for Herbie the Love Bug. (It's just like they say, go to Hollywood and you'll run into celebrities.) It’s not a car, actually – or not only a car. It’s a person, Herbert Hughes, who works today as the specialized equipment manager at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Before coming to USC in the 90s, he worked for over 30 years at Walt Disney, rising all the way to the position of head of lighting on all the Disney Studio films. He knew Walt himself, in fact.

Back when he was working as Disney, the studio had sort of inside joke going with its crew. When designing store front sets for various movies, the last names of various crew members would be used as title. So if you watch a movie like Parent Trap or Freaky Friday, and you see a store called “Rabinowitz’s Dry Goods”, it’s safe to say Saul Rabinowitz was probably one of the guys behind the camera.

On one occasion before he died, Disney and Hughes were talking, and Hughes asked Disney, when are you going to name something after me? Disney assured him, it would happen.

Flash forward a couple years, the movie Herbie the Love Bug comes out. Disney himself has actually died, so who knows whether there’s anything to it, right? Except … it turns out there had been this guy on the lot who had this little VW bug that he had really amped up. People were always stopping him, asking how he got it to go so fast.

And that man – was Herbert Hughes.

And that’s the rest of the story.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Adventures in Air Travel

Have you ever gotten to the airport to catch a flight and been told they don't have you registered as on a flight? That was me, yesterday. I was in Minneapolis, sitting in on a preached retreat for men, and was headed to Los Angeles, where I am looking at film schools for the next couple weeks. And when I got to the airport at 2pm, having no bags to check and the flight at 2:50, the computer terminals wouldn't let me check in. And the attendant, coming over, at first started to process my ticket, but then told me wait, it appeared that I didn't have a seat on any plane. Then it was that I had had a flight, but according to their records a number of exchanges had occurred, and now I didn't have a flight. Then it was that no, I did have a flight, but it was from Laguardia to Los Angeles, not from Minneapolis. Which was pretty much the same as not having a flight. And they couldn't help me, because I'd bought the ticket through Orbitz, so I'd need to call them.

Orbitz: ten minutes on hold without speaking to anyone. Then, I tried another number: spoke to someone right away, who then put me on hold to get someone more advanced to help me. 25 minutes on hold, never spoke to anyone. At some point I got my computer out and tried to Skype Northwest Airlines while I waited on hold with Orbitz. 7 minutes in, I spoke to a very nice agent. She saw my record, couldn't understand why I had been refused the 2:50 flight, and was set to advocate for me. I hung up on Orbitz. But after she put me on hold to get help, the line cut out. I tried calling back immediately and was told, I kid you not, our lines are too busy, we can't take your call. The same when I tried it again.

All told I sat on the floor of the airport, just waiting to talk to someone who could explain to me what was going on, for about an hour. My flight came and went. And I went back to the Northwest agents at the airport, looking for help.

Now, two little insights I'm taking with me from the whole experience. First, getting all stressed and panicked doesn't really help. I missed my flight; but in the big scheme of things, so what? No one was sitting at LAX wondering where the heck I was. Eventually things were probably going to work out. It was just an unexpected interruption -- which is usually how not only airport travel but God works. So, why not consider it as an adventure? (It's the grace of the Chinese con artist. In BeiJing, Chinese men and women wander the streets looking for Anglos to fool into giving up their money. Within days of my arrival I ended up with this guy who said he was a Buddhist very interested in Christianity, shelling out dough at a "tea service". The whole thing was a scam, the guy had been leading me on all along to get me to overpay big time for the tea. When I realized what was happening, part of me wanted to be upset. But hey, because I went with it I got to hang out with this guy and also witness a tea service of sorts. They might have been fooling me, but it was a great experience, too, so who cares?)

So, that's lesson #1: interruptions make life more interesting.

Lesson #2: Being on hold is an astonishing experience of powerlessness. What can you do? You can't talk them into taking your call faster. You can't hang up and call back -- or you can, but maybe you lose your place in line. You have absolutely no power at all. Even having multiple phones is not likely to do you any good. All you can do is sit there and listen to Pachelbel's Canon in D cutting in and out, interrupted by a recording that you hope each time is actually a service agent coming to help you.
If you've never been on hold for 25 minutes, I really recommend it. It's not hanging on the cross, mind you, but it sure does give you a sense of your own limitedness. Really, it's brutal.