On the Set

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Well. It’s really late now — about 4 AM. I spent about five hours today helping Joe move. The last hour of that five came after the AMODA meeting. I came over to his place from the Flightpath at about 10:15 and we did a couple loads of boxes and furniture, taking them from his old place near 50th and Duval just around the corner to Eva’s home, where Joe will be for the next month-or-so as he figures out his next housing arrangement.

Anyway, that’s not the important stuff. That’s just the set-up. The lead in. The more exciting bit came after the move.

Joe’s been volunteering as a PA (production assistant) on a film called “Severance” that’s being filmed here in town. It’s not a major production — nearly everyone involved are in their twenties and (I think) this is the writer-director-star’s first feature-length project. Yup, one guy has decided to take on all of those roles. It’s his project.

My brain’s groggy. I’ll read this tomorrow afternoon and think, “holy crap, I thought I could write kinda…”

So Joe’s volunteering with “Severence.” He’s actually volunteering with another project as well, but I don’t know much about that. “Severence,” though is a black-and-white comedy about a guy who gets laid off from his day job and decides to become a private dick. Alright. We got that.

So — Joe (his car being in the repair shop) had me drive him down to the Hideout, where they would be shooting tonight. I obliged, took him downtown, and decided to poke my head inside for a few minutes just to see what the shoot was like. Ended up being a lot of fun, really. They had about fifteen people in the Hideout — ranging from the core production staff (the director/star, the assistant director, producers, audio guy, camera guy, an actress, makeup girl) and a bunch of PAs to move stuff around, stand in as extras when needed, and just generally help out when needed. All these people are there, and they’re all film people, having studied film at UT (or studying currently) or some other school (one guy, Vira, I talked to had a year left out at USC in LA, from whence came Lucas) and they have some food and sodas to snack on, quite like being at a littel private party in the coffeehouse. Most of the time most of the crew were kind of waiting for someone else to get something done. At first the lighting, camera, and audio had to be put together, and the makeup applied to the actors. This took a couple of hours and didn’t really involve most of the crew, so people hung out, introduced themselves to me (all of them, each and every one, were incredibly friendly — I was astonished). I ended up talking to Vira for a while and talking to Blaine, the audio dude. (I sent the producer an e-mail about a month ago trying to grab that position, but Blaine has much more experience and, um, owns his own portable DAT and so must be quite attractive to the cash-strapped indie film scene. Blaine was a good guy. He explained to me the basic of what he was doing, showed the DAT to me, said that his job wasn’t really all that difficult. He just set up the DAT and had one of the PAs hold a boom mic over the actors.

Sound actually became an interesting problem when the first scenes were being filmed. After each take the place got quieter as we listened in the silence and hear hums coming from various sources such as the fridges and the various lighting. Took an effort to figure out where that last little AC buzz was coming from. Didn’t want noise on the audio track, so we had to find it. Turned out to be the lamps over the bar. That was me, figuring that out — heh. I expect full credit on the movie as “grip.” My union contract would allow no less…

Anyway, I jump ahead. Or maybe not. Anyway, the shot was intended to be night-for-day, a term I’d never heard before (heard of day-for-night plenty). The Hideout is, well, busy during the day. Can’t have a student film crew taking up the place and asking the paying clients to stay quiet on the set. Have to get in there at night and then set up a lighting rig to imply that reflective sunlight is flowing through the wide windows onto the sides of the actors’ faces. Shooting in black-and-white helped here, I guess, since they didn’t have to color balance and pretty much any light would do as long as that light was bright enough to seem dayish. They had maybe four spots and one wide blue-ish light that seemed to be specially designed for night-for-day situations. The light it shown was very much like sunlight filtered through blue atmosphere. Very nice. We had an explosion of light inside this otherwise dim bar along the dark lonely 2AM Congress Avenue. From outside it looked like some really exciting stuff was happening.

My theory is that people just feel very comfortable having a main bright area with some action happening and a fringe, a penumbra, to hang out in, at the edge of the action. That architecture book, “A Design Pattern,” makes a note that lighting in a room should be arranged such that the penumbra of light just encompasses whatever sort of action you wish to happen in that room. Meaning, use small lamps that only light up enough space for two people if you want to facilitate intimate conversations. Use bright space-filling overheads if you wish to have a board meeting with twenty people. Having a bunch of people along the edge of the light, with just a couple actually in the focus, made for a very comfortable time. This is the sleepy paragraph that I write when I have an idea, but not the brainpower to express as anything besides goo. Maybe I’ll go to bed soon.

I don’t know what else to descibe. The scene, I guess. I heard it gone through about eight times, four from a straight shot from the side, of the two (Troy and Jennifer — don’t know the character names) having their conversation. And four just of Jennifer, straight on (with Joe in the background, skillfully acting the part of a random, book-reading coffeeh?user). It, the scene, went something like this: Girl starts bitching about being laid off (“God damn cocksucker assholes…” — lots of swearing). Guy listens to her and cracks a little joke. This eases girl into a better mood, and they joke about some stuff as she looks increasingly ohh-lala googly-eyed at him, he flirts on, and eventually asks her out to dinner, which she accepts (aww). Jennifer is quite cute, in a charming southern sort of way. She had a bubble face and loads of curly dark hair. And she did a very good job acting the role. Before saying anything negative (in case someone from “Severence” ends up reading this), I should say that getting this whole thing together must have been quite a task, and I’ve never done it, so I can’t really take any sort of ground as a higher authority — though I can react naturally to what I see and report those reactions. The script didn’t lunge out at me. It was decent, but not striking. Jennifer had to do some work to get some of the lines sounding natural, especially since the scene included an eight-or-so sentence tirade from her. So good job, Jennifer.

Afterwards Joe and I discussed the evening, and touched on this subject of quality in the script. Again, not bad. I felt it had some problems, though, especially with jokey lines that sounded very cliched (like saying “c’mon, let it all out,” jokingly after the girl nearly has a conniption at the table). I laid out my point ot Joe something like this: in the business world just doing a solid, competent job is enough. If you’re a bank manager, you don’t need to be the most unique bank manager in Texas to be a success and earn a good living. You just have to be solidly competent. In the arts this is not true. Such stiff competition exists for a relatively small number of openings in theaters (Joe says about 3,000 features are made every year — how many play at your local Cineplexes, even in a cool town like Austin?) — and in order to stay in the game, you have to fucking make sure you’ve got something unique — especially (it seems to me who knows very littel, really, about filmmaking) in the script. Why would people pay to hear jokes they’ve heard before?

Let me say again, most of this project went very smoothly, and I know this is a learning experience for all of us. I just tend to gravitate towards the problems… And I probably had the strongest literary background of anyone in the crew making me the best candidate to be that-snotty-guy-who-just-bitches-about-the-script. Every movie has to have that guy. “What ruined ‘American Beauty’ for me was when the guy’s army-general dad kissed Kevin Spacey and turned out to be an in-the-closet gay guy… How cliche!” (For example.) The criticism is intended to be contributive, anyway.

So that’s probably all I need to write about that. Lots more happened, of course — I was there between 11:30 and 3AM. They’re probably still there — the shoot is scheduled to last until 6:30, to leave time for the Hideout staff to come back and get everything in order for the day.

Goodnight.

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Pissy

Monday, July 22, 2002

Yes. I start writing an exciting journal entry about a lively out-of-town experience — and then I jerk the ending away like an eight year old deciding that he will play with his Optimus Prime Transformer alone now, thank you, and you may please enjoy playing with your crappy Bumblebee. Or something.

Anyway. I just got off the phone with my mom. She’s upset because I’ve been acting “distant” and “upset” lately, like I don’t want them talking to me. Leaft me confused. Living at home with the parents is a confusing experience. Just entering the house makes me feel disjointed and out-of-place — and not because I don’t know the place or the people. It’s because I come from outside Austin-fun-land with people my own age doing interesting things, I come in with my twenty-four-year-old brain churning in the mode of my generation — and I have to switch it into a new gear, a gear that involves me having to explain my entire day to people whom I feel don’t really understand most of what I try to do with myself.

My mom’s parents both taught school. And my mom became a professional educator — getting her doctorate from UT, teaching there for a few years, and now working for the Texas Education Agency. Her parents could understand her vocation, they talk about children, and are — I admit — excellent with kids (I had a pretty good childhood). Beyond just understanding her, they could offer sound advice (I assume), observations, and true understanding of some of the hardships and rewards of the work. Great.

So now here I am. I spend hours daily in front of my little computer, hacking away at my website or writing such as this, create bits of music, and learning new things about how this whole internet gadget works. I put serious effort into entering the arts world — not just fiddling around with writing and music but actually looking forward to eventually publishing (both, hopefully). And I feel I have a rather well-developed structure and plan by which I want to lead my life. I have patterns and ways I like to behave. I hit bumps, like everyone (though more bumps than usual in the past year, it seems), but, well, here I am. A rather different person than either of my parents. And the advice from them that I can’t escape right now is not advice I want, so I close myself off to them sometimes — wishing not to have my ideas confused by my parents’ near-endless “suggestions” about how I should do things:

“What you really need is a sexy lead singer for your music.”

Want to know how to say to me, “Josh, I don’t care to understand your music…” ? Claim to listen to it and enjoy it, then ask “is this your music?” each time I play: Tortoise, Mouse on Mars, Air, or anything remotely electronic and kind of mellow. Then make the above comment a couple times.

Maybe this is a key for anyone out there who might find me confusing: I try to take my various “arts” seriously. I want to do them well. Want to impress me, make me really like you? Try making a serious attempt to listen to my music or read something I’ve written (besides this garbage). Not one of the people I have given instructions to for downloading my thesis project — fiction, intended to be enjoyed by normal people — seems to have done so. If you have, you haven’t mentioned it to me.

My parents certainly don’t seme to have — and they have a nice bound copy sitting in their living room.

And this is probably the crux of the parental communication issue: They value happy behavior in their interactions. Smiling. High-pitched voices. I value learning things, figuring things out, and building ideas — what I consider to be real communication. Superficial happy-behavior doesn’t matter one way or the other.

Anyway. I’m just trying to figure it out by putting it into words. Probably made no sense. Hope you found it somewhat interesting, anyway.

Just trying to figure it out…

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RSS Aggregator

Sunday, July 21, 2002

So I’ve been toying with the idea of building a small RSS aggregating page. My page would allow you to create an account and then give a bunch of links to RSS feeds of blogs, news sources, etc. It would then pull all of the posts of the day from these sources and lump them together onto one page for you, saving you the hassle of having to go through twenty different sites to get your daily weblog updates.

Great plan. The catch seems to be that the RSS XML standard does not include the date and time an item is posted! I don’t understand this omission at all. Maybe you could enlighten me. So, organizing posts from several different blogs is, as far as I know, impossible right now.

And, of course, this project is further aggravated by the myriad different RSS implementations out there.

But — to shine the good light on this again — I am happy that so many RSS feeds have been appearing out there. Problems obviously exist, but this is a good development for the web.

(“Real Simple Syndication” (RSS) is an XML specification that aims to allow someone to publish their news log for syndication in other sources. In the big world of people paying for things, this system could allow a news site to purchase AP or Reuters newsfeeds and insert them into their existing content using existing code — though I presume the big agencies already have their own more trusted proprietary systems that work for them. In our smaller for-free world, it would allow folks a better way to skim through the increasing load of daily content out there to find what they really want to look further into. Etc.)

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Santa Fe Journal - Day 1

Monday, July 8, 2002

Originally written July 4, 2002.

It’s too bad I can’t blog from out here. How awesome if this town had a wireless network spanning it, allowing geeks from all over to read Metafilter from the comfort of their backyards…

Actually, Santa Fe isn’t a Metafilter kind of town. Santa Fe works like a giant municipal meditation center, with nothing but low-level, adobe building scattered about, some curvy roads, and a slew of art galleries offering various forms of airy, southwestern art. Like summer camp, with bungalows tucked between the trees around a central mess hall that happens to have a state capitol building built into it. It’s about 7,200 feet high (according to our host Kathy) and is intensely quiet. I sit outside right now — it’s about 7:30 mountain standard time — looking out from the grounds right in front of our adobe home, up into the cloudy grey sky with premonitions of rain hovering along the ridge of the mountains on the horizon — and it’s almost perfectly quiet. I hear the faint pulse of a Method Man CD coming from Loveless’ part of the house, and a tinny DJ Shadow CD echoes faintly from Kathy’s side, but even those down quiet break the peace out here. I understand why this seems to be both a meditation/yoga mecca and a popular spot for vacation homes for the weathly and fabulous. Val Kilmer lives here (according to Joe), Woody Harrelson has a home here (according to Kathy), and Julia Robert has something big going on just north of town that could be a wedding or might just be a large party but either way involves a bunch of big white tents (according to the newspaper, The New Mexican — “The Oldest Newspaper in the West”).

You probably don’t know who any of these people are — Kathy, Joe, and Loveless. Let’s start from the top.

A couple weeks ago Joe started planning to come out the Santa Fe to visit his old friend Kathy, who has been beggin him to come visit her again. He invited me along to provide a little balance, and at the last minute invited another friend, Julietta (hoo-lee-etta), to come out with us as well. Joe’s a young would-be filmmaker who has his fingers all throughout Austin’s indy film scene, volunteering with the Austin Film Society, working on small film project with local folks, and just generally schmoozing the hell out of anyone tied to the film scene starting in Austin and spreading across the southwest to Hollywood. Joe also brought me along with him to an AFS party out at Richard “Slacker/Dazed et Confused/Waking Life” Linklater a couple(? — yeah, I guess it’s been just two) weeks ago out at Rick’s Bastrop property. If you’d like to know more about that, let me know — I just haven’t had the chance to write anything up about it. So, that’s Joe, I guess. Hate to sum up a person by their work, but — well — we’ll just have to make do for now. Julietta is a friend of his who came from Medallin, Columbia to study Public Relations at the U of T. She’s a cute girl with a thickly slurred south-american accent — I don’t remember how they came to be friends.

So Joe got these plans together and we agreed on it. Originally we would have left Austin at about 10AM Wednesday — yesterday — morning. Then I decided to be two hours late getting ready (had to clean the truck, clean the house, pack some clothes…). Then we had to hunt down a shower curtain to act as a waterproof tarp to hold our luggage down in the bed of my pickup as we drove through currently rainy west Texas. Then we got Julietta at about 1:30 from her condo down on Riverside and as we were driving up the ramp connecting I-35 to 183, going to Kim Phung to pick up the order we made — the clutch snapped on my truck and I found myself totally unable to get the truck into gear. Crap.

Two minutes after this happened, as we’re sitting cramped up in my truck, while I’m on the phone with AAA, a white pickup truck slows down and stops ahead of us. I looks kind of like mine, but larger. So it stops and starts backing up towards us. What the hell’s this? If you don’t know where we are, exactly, I can be more precise: If you are dirving north on I-35 and are interested in continuing your journey north on 183, you exit and take that ramp that goes waaay up into the air and deposits you into 183. We broke down right at the top of that, like six stories up. And now this guy backs up in his pickup, and unfolds a towing rig out of the bed in which it had been hidden. We figure out that he’s a repo man, on his way to pay his rent for the month (three days late), and he’ll tow us off the ramp for $10. Cool. We do it. He takes us to some service station on the 183 frontage road. Would he be willing to tow us all the way back to my parent’s house for $20 (I ask Joe to ask him)? Yeah, sure. But we have to ride in the cab of his truck with him (all three of us). Fine. This gives the guy and Joe a chance to talk. The dude repossessed cars for a living. $100 per vehicle. He did three or four per night. Was missing a tooth. Said he’d been threatened with guns and all sorts of violence from guys not willing to return the cars they’d stopped making payments on. Had all sorts of stories. Fascinated Joe who decided he’d like to write a script about a repo man dad showing his son the repo ropes.

So — I don’t really know how much more detail about our misadventures getting out of Ausitn you need to hear, but we got to my house (where I showed them around), Joe rollerbladed to his place to get his car to transport us to Julietta’s to get her car while I called AAA (again), got the truck towed to the Casis Texaco, got that all worked out, and waited in conversation with Julietta while Joe came back. Then Julietta and I got her car, repacked, got dinner at Kim Phung, and got out of town at about 7 — nine hours after our original scheduled departure. Thanks to good Jeebus that clutch didn’t bust an hour outside of Abeline…

So anyway. We hit the road.

What can you really say about roadtripping? The pattern’s the same: you rotate CDs, rotate drivers, act all giddy about the first stage of your trip, and just go. Stop at a few gas stations. Take a few pisses when you need to. Sleep when you can (if you’re travelling overnight like we did), and before you know it you’re waking up to your destination. Easy as pie. We didn’t have many difficulties getting to Santa Fe (once we left Austin). We did stop at the last Borders before leaving Austin to pick “Road to Perdition,” the graphic novel soon to be presented on the silver screen as a feature starring Tom Hanks, up for Joe — while waiting at my house he started flipping through my dad’s copy and discovered that it takes place in the Quad Cities (which I forget, but two are in Iowa and tow in Illinois, on opposite banks of the Mississippi river) since Joe grew up in a couple of the Quad Cities and hadn’t ever heard of a movie taking place in those towns.

So — in my own medandering narrative style — I’ve worked us up to Santa Fe. We got into town at about 7AM (mountain standard), tried to follow Kathy’s directions to get to her place, failed to find her place, and instead ended up at the town square where July 4th festivities we going strong. A marching band played Battle Hymn fo the Republic, God Bless America, and other festival favorites while we worked our way through the tight crowds, eventually finding our way into three free tickets good for a plateful of pancakes, juice, milk, ham (or veggie sausage), and syrupy apple wedges. A $5 value. Ours for free. Good good. Saved some money on that; I’m trying to keep my budget at about $15 a day.

So we ate sitting down and walked around that part of town for a few minutes before wandering back to Julietta’s car and trying our luck finding Kathy’s plaec a second time. And we did. I’ll spare you the details of that, too, because they’re complex. But they do involve Joe and Julietta somehow misspelling egregiously almost every street name in Kathy’s directions. Pafeo street? No, Paseo del Pasado. Oh. Bollento road? No, Barrento. Oh. I found it funny. That’s what matters.

So we got to Kathy’s at, like 10AM this morning (though it’s been a super-long day and that almost feels like yesterday already). We got here just in time to meet Loveless cooking some bacon and eggs of Kathy and Claire. Apprently, Loveless (yeah — that’s his first name) is a movie producter of some variety. Joe claims he works with the Farrelly brothers (who made “About a Boy” and “American PIe,” amongst other flicks) but now he’s working on getting some new dating show on television. Don’t really know the details. Loveless doesn’t talk a whole lot. He enjoys playing hip-hop on his pumpin’ stereo (he had it going during breakfast, and has had it going since he got back a few hours ago). And he plays a mean NBA 2K1 on his Dreamcast and wide television set. He looks to be about thirty-five and is a stocky-ish black guy. He owns the property and is letting Kathy rent out one of the guest buildings from him. Claire’s a gorgeous blond girl who seems kind of mellow-halfway-stoned all the time. Doesn’t say much, either, but sort of hovers around talking quietly and reading magazines. Not clear what the relationship is, but Joe and I have decided that — whatever else he may be — Loveless is a player. He plays the game. And with the fat house in Santa Fe stocked with cute girl, he’s playing a good game.

So anyway. We three weary travellers figured our shit out in Kathy’s part of the house while Kathy and Claire at their food and Loveless did whatever. Having travelled overnight, we were all experiencing varying degrees of exhaustion, but we managed to get up the energy to let Kathy drive us around town a bit —

Kathy had been asleep when I started writing this, but now she’s back up and about, wandering around in varying degrees of dress. She’s cute.

So. I’m having a difficult time remember what all we did today. We went to the Aztec coffeeshop first. Seems like a sort of smaller, adobe Mojo’s Daily Grind, with punk-rock servers, and a small sunny outside area full with people chattering — all of whom seemed to know each other or at least be cool with talking to new people about stuff and stuff. Joe and I had Yerba MatÚs — a drink I describe as a lightly caffeinated tea-sort-of drink that tastes like grass clippings, but in a good way. Yerba MatÚ (or just “matÚ,” as seems to be the vernacular) has made it’s way out to Austin from the west coast (and there from central america — the exact origin being Guatamala or Venezuela or Ecuador depending on who you’re talking to) within the past year and is pretty good drinking. Like I said, it tastes like grass clippings. Most people have a “yuk” reaction on first sip. If you stick with it, it’s actually quite good. I daresay it’s a totally new realm of taste. It’s not sweet. Not bitter. Not sour. Not salty… Grassy. But in a good way.

Enough of that. We had matÚ. Wanted: Young writer capable of generating hundreds of words on any of the four million minute experiences of his life. $10K/mo + benefits. So… Had our drinks, talked about film stuff with Joe while Kathy chattered along with nearly everyone there. Someone brought their kid and she played with him. Talk talk talk all of us and then off to drop Joe and I off at some bookstore-coffeeshop combo while the girls went shopping.

Right now, it’s getting darker. Some girl just arrived for the party we’re having tonight. The darly textured grey clouds loom close overhead. It’s a mix of gloomy and cozy out here. It’s like summer camp.

Sounds like there’s a total ban on fireworks this year due to the overwhelming fire hazards that obviously exist. So it goes.

So Joe and I poked around this arty bookshop and flipped through some magazines at the coffeeshop (which had a —

Starting to rain! More later…

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World Cup - US vs. Mexico

Thursday, June 20, 2002

The hobby of watching sports on television confuses me, mostly. I enjoy physical activity and I guess I respect these (mostly) men who play these games well. But I get bored quickly, I guess, and footbal, basketball, and baseball just don’t offer enough to keep me attached to the screen. I probably also associate people who watch a lot of these sports with a sort of culture I don’t really want to be a part of. I’m not interested in becoming a guy who hangs around Sundays with beer and chips watching the game.

Soccer has always been a different matter. I like to watch soccer. Maybe it’s because I usually only see it played when the World Cup is on so I never get sick of it. Maybe it’s because I have played soccer off-and-on since kindergarten for various teams and just in pick-up games here and there. I’m not good, but having first-hand experience trying to develop game strategy and understand ball skills might make me more appreciative of those who do these things well.

So I’ve been watching as many World Cup games as I can. Unfortunately, the games are broadcast here in Austin between 1:30 and 6:30 in the morning so, well, I can’t really catch that many. (And only the US games seem to be broadcast the next afternoon or evening during reasonable-people hours.) Still, I try. Not having a job helps.

One game that does seem worthwhile paying attention to is the game between the United States and Mexico that is starting just right this second on ESPN.

I haven’t seen either of these teams play yet, so I don’t really know what to expect. They seem evenly matched, though, and regardless of who wins, a North American team will go on the final eight along with possibly one other North American team (Costa Rica) and definitely one other African team (Senegal — who slid past Sweden by the narrowest of margins about fifteen minutes into the first overtime last night).

Really, I don’t know that much about soccer. Compared to old world hooligans, that is. Like I said, I play an alright game when I just play with people at the Intramural Field, but I only have a beginners skill-set. And playing with different people every time makes creating team cohesion and strategy rather impossible. (Not that such the thing really existed the last I played on a team in high school.) I have found that I have the ability to judge good playing and get excited about the events of the game. Knowing the details of the technical aspects of the game is one thing — a very important thing — but, really, to get into it and have fun with it, a person just needs to be able to pay attention to key players and enjoy the complicated sort of physical chess that is required to progress the ball in towards the goal. Scoring points requires a sort of unified cleverness — working around problems, finding holes, creating strengths. Basketball (especially) and football seem to me to be more about rapid-fire scoring (in the case of basketball) or celebrity-ism (football — with a quartback and wide-receiver, for example, being the celebs, causing most of the action, while the other players just do support duty). Everyone touches the ball in soccer.

IBM has quite cleverly been using the basketball team metaphor to sell their ebusiness solutions. Soccer might be a better metaphor if it were more appreciated in the US. Basketball is about the rapid-fire. Soccer is about the team effort in accomplishing the very difficult task.

While I consider writing the ad guys at IBM, I’ll watch the game.

Mexico, four minutes in, just crossed the ball very close to the net, but an American headed the ball away.

Hot damn. In the eighth minute the US just pounded in a goal. A perfect set-up. The ball rolled right to a US player standing alone in the box, Mexican players not prepared. Very nice kick. Sco-o-o-ore. (Well, I’m watching ESPN2 and not Univision.)

I would be excited to see the US win this game. Usually I favor the team that would lead to the most interesting result if they won. Hence my appreciation for Senegal reaching this far into the competition. And I think if the US were to win this game and, in an incredibly unlikely event, the whole World Cup, the soccer dynamic in this country would change. Might get more press for Major League Soccer — although I suspect the fact of that matter is that the MLS just isn’t a very good league. Maybe someone would start broadcasting European football. I could get into Manchester United and go on occasional rants about those bloody Liverpudlian arseholes. Of course, those games would also be broadcast three in the morning…

As I understand it, only teams from Europe and South America have ever won the World Cup. So, having the US, Mexico, Costa Rica, or Senegal come out on top would be pretty damned exciting.

13 minutes in.

15 minutes in. Good shot from Mexico. Deflected by the goalie.

Damn. 66 minutes in the United States gets another goal. That’s 2-0 with 24 minutes remaining on the clock — a practically insurmountable lead in soccer terms. The announcer is really happy about that, screaming into the mic. It’s quite exciting. Mexico, though, got fucked on a hand-ball in the box earlier, though (meaning, a US player punched the ball out of the goal box, defending, without the ref seeing), and Mexico has had possession of the ball for more of the game and more shots (I beleive). Scoring goals is what matters, though. Good to see that the US will probably go on. Unless someone on the American side starts fucking up seriously.

I’ve seen short promo spots for Brian BcBride twice, now. He scored the first goal of this game and is, apparently, a big name scorer in the MLS circuit. Good player. Seems to be all over the place — scoring goals, the works…

So Mexico. The problem seems to be, essentially, that they can’t shoot straight. They move the ball into the US box — and someone kicks the crap out of it and it flies twenty feet over the goal. (Well, 73 minutes in the just got a nice shot in.)

The downside of low-scoring games like soccer is that in situations like this, with one team up two points with fifteen minutes to go, they aren’t so exciting. Sure, Mexico might swing a goal, but the odds of them making up two points is so low as to be nearly impossible.

I guess these elimination games are called “knock-out games.” That’s what the announcer keeps calling it… “The US has never won a World Cup knock-out game.” This is probably the second-most used sentence by the announcer. The first: “Mexico has had three days to rest for this game, while the US has only had two.”

Mexico has had the ball 67% of the game. US 33% (obviously).

I like Blanco, the Mexican player. He looks so humble, with slightly slumped shoulders and melacholic face, but he seems to be a hard-ass, playing a powerful game and riling the US players, trying to get one of them to freak and get a red card, giving Mexico a one-man advantage on the field.

Now I want Mexico to score a few. The more exciting outcome would be for Mexico to come back and beat the US. Or at least take it through two overtimes and into penalty kicks, which, I think, are the most harrowing way to win a soccer game.

The United States team is about to be super-happy. Maybe I should go riot.

The US goalie got a yellow card. He looks like a Scottish soccer hooligan — bald, thick forehead, cold eyes.

Well, Rafael Marquez just got a red card for ramming his head into an US player’s head. Mexico gets to finish the game with only ten players. D’oh. “I wonder if Jones remembers what day of the week it is or what his name is,” says the announcer of the American player.

See, Blanco just ran over another guy, and screamed shit at him horribly while they were on the ground. And he looks so harmless. That’s why they’re the most dangerous. Really, Mexico is playing a dirty game right now, pounding US players mercilessly and grabbing about five yellows and one red since half-time (while the US has receieved none).

5 minutes of stoppage time. The clock in soccer never stops. So, when ninety minutes are up, the ref adds some extra time on to make up for lost time due to penalties, injuries, etc. 5 minutes is very high.

US almost got a goal 94 minutes into a 95 minute game.

Last US World Cup shut-out? 1950. Against England. Related fact: England and Scotland field different teams. I don’t exactly understand the political construction of Great Britain, but that sounds sort of like the US fielding teams from Texas, Cali, and Alaska…

And the US wins… “The land of the free, the home of the brave!” the announcer hollers. Whoo.

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Everything I Really Need to Know About Life I Learned in the Past Two Weeks

Thursday, May 30, 2002

While completely untrue, it makes a great title. The quirky off-Broadway play about four angsty Manhattan twenty-somethings almost writes itself…

Anyway. The past couple weeks have been exciting. When compared to the two months preceding them, at least. I turned in my thesis, attended one friend’s wedding and another’s bachelor party, attended another Digital Showcase, and worked for seven days back at the Region XIII Educatoin Services Center as a temp.

Nice job. Nice place to temp. The building is perched on the side of a hill in east Austin, overlooking a wide stretch of undeveloped land between Springdale and Manor road. I worked with the group that accepted applications for an accelerated teacher certification program, located in a glassy office right up against the back wall of the building, with a huge view out of the landscape. Best view of any office I’ve ever worked in. By a long shot. Down near the bottom of the hill lived a small lake with a rickety wooden pier on one end.

Never saw anyone spend much time outside, though. For all the exciting break-time possibilities, most of my workmates seemed content hovering around each other in their offices having their little conversations to going outside (to have the same conversations). Maybe after a few years the excitement about the outdoor area wears off.

Not that I, say, took a walk down to the lake during every five minute break. But I took the chance to walk around outside and look at stuff, loosen my eyeballs by focussing on objects more than five feet away from my face.

I did, though, one numerous occasions take trips down to the aviary alongside the building. Apparently the Service Center supplies central Texas schools with birds for whatever reasons. I remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, called “the chicken lady” behind her back because she forced her students to learn to take care of the pan of chickens she kept right outside the classroom. I also remember there being an aviary at my elementary school (Casis, on Exposition Boulevard here in Austin) — but I’d assumed that Mrs. Crowe, our principal, was responsible for that. She owned a ranch out west of town (“Crowe’s Nest Farm,” or something like that) and turned our school into a complex zoo with cages of snakes and chinchillas lining the hallways.

Anyway — that’s my experience with binds in schools. And I figured my elementary school experience was unique. (Though at the time, as a seven year old, I thought it normal — setting me up for an entire lifetime of mistaking the abnormal and absurd as normal and surd. (The surd surd surd. The surd’s not a word.)) Apparently, though, central Texas school need a constant fresh supply of pigeons, parakeets, and chickadees — and the Region XIII ESC is from where they come.

I benefitted from that relationship by having a half-dozen large caged of birds to look at while sipping coffee and taking a break. I could get right up and stare at the pigeons. Or the big, ugly goose-like creature that lived in their pen. And remember the Pixar animation that preceded “Monsters Inc.” — the one with the bunch of little birds sitting along a telephone wire chattering, upset when a big goofy bird comes and disrupts them? Chickadees. The little boogers just sat in a line along a metal cable that had been strung across their cage, chattering up a goddamn storm. Insane. But fun.

So working at Region XII had been relatively painless and had certain benefits. Had lots of time to poke around at the web while sitting around answering phones, for one thing. Didn’t pay so swell, but hey — it’s temp work. I called the agency Friday and got work Monday.

The more interesting work prospect has been developing through the Liberal Arts Career Services. The funny thing, though, is that I came looking for advice about making my resume look better, and I ended up being asked to talk to the director of the program, Glen Payne, about sprucing up the LACS website. In my life, web development jobs *always* come about this way — sort of randomly based on something else that I’m doing. But cool. It’s exciting. I talked with Glen for a while on Tuesday about the site, offered my suggestions and insights, and impressed him suitably enough, I guess, for him to want to talk with me some more tomorrow (Friday) morning. Great!

I don’t think any real competitors will be reading this page (unless Cote’ or Brenna have become competitors), so I feel secure revealing my little web developer secret:

Organizations running serious sites, such as the University of Texas, don’t really give a shit about cutting-edge design. They want their sites to look good and up-to-date and compatible with all the new cool technologies and what have you, but only insofar as it makes the content of thieir site easier to get to and use. And this is where designers who come from the web from print and media design have difficulties. (Yes — that’s wild conjecture. But it seems right based on my limited experience.) People don’t come to print ads or television spots looking for information. Organizations send out print ads or television spots hoping to entice viewers into looking for more information about the product or service or whatever. They’re supposed to be enticing.

And the web doesn’t exactly work like that. It’s very difficult to “push” (remember that word?) content onto users on the web. Spam and pop-up advertising — the two most ubiquitous forms of “push” advertising these days, I think — are nearly universally reviled. I hate ‘em both.

One the web, users (generally) come ot website on their own accord, looking for something. It might be entertainment, in which case designers can cut loose, go fucking crazy with the design wackiness. That’s fine. But usually it’s information of some sort or to perform an action of some sort, and web design, unlike advertising, exists in order to smooth that process, in order to make the process of getting that information or doing that action as simple and transparent as possible.

An amount of egolessness must exist in the designer. A good web designer’s job is to remain transparent. A good web developer make the user thing so little about the design or process that they don’t even pay attention to it. They do what they need to do and carry on with life.

So, I’m comparing advertising designers to web designers — and I realize I’m comparing apples and oranges, to a certain extent. The old-media equivalent of me would more likely be someone who, say, lays out text in books. How much do you think about the guy who decides the typeface, the margins, the weight and kind of paper stock, the sort of binding, and the way chapter heads look in the most recent novel you read? You probably didn’t think much about that guy at all unless you happen to have just read House of Leaves or some other such lit-experiment. And that’s the point. The text, the actual writing — the content — comes through while the ropes and pulleys are nearly transparent.

And I know — the web isn’t as pure as either of these old-media extremes. I understand that a website is part content presentation and, in most cases, part advertisement of some sort. Most website as like informational pamplets rather than television ads or novels. But these feel like important distinctions to understand. And, in my experience, again, most web designers / developers / whatever don’t understand these distinctions. Or, at least, don’t act like they do.

That’s a fucking long lead up to the secret… Here it is: Pitch usability. And then pitch your understanding of disabled accessibilty. And then make sure to pitch that you, as the sugar and a cherry on top of those things, have a good eye for making design attractive. That’s the order. Usability. Accessibility. Attractiveness. Because anyone who has a website that actually needs to work, needs things done in that order. LACS have a website that thousands of students and employers look at in order to get jobs and fill positions. They won’t care about how trendy the images used in the menus are. And any institution not designing accessibility (for blind users, primarily) may very well be breaking the law.

I remind you that I’m available to speak at conferences, seminars, and weddings. My speaking rate is $200 + airfare.

So, I am looking forward to talking with Dr. Payne tomorrow morning. I just like the guy, and I think he understands me when I talk about all this stuff — refreshing after several months of banging my head against the wall over the design of the AMODA site.

Which leads me to:

We had another Digital Showcase on Tuesday — that’s two night ago. Went well. I just kind of milled around the entire time. Had a couple gin and tonics (the blank white paper of alcoholic drinks, as I’ve taken to calling it) and played with the lighting for a while. Nothing terribly exciting happened. The music was good. The visual art was good. What can you say? I still haven’t figured out how to have good conversations with people at these things. I enjoy talking to people at dinner or over drinks or while driving in the car, but I still feel like a dork wandering around Texture looking for people to say hello to — simply because the conversations come off sounding (to me) so fucking shallow. It’s not the people — probably more just me acting nervous nad being a wierdo. Never been a big fan of large groups of people. Never even been a big fan of small talk, though I seem to participate in it thee days with increasing regularity. Ugh.

Don’t mind me. Just concentrating on the negative for a bit.

Anyway. Steve of Stars as Eyes (“is he the ‘stars’ or the ‘eyes,’ Cote’ asked) told me he’d have a track for the AMODA comp soon. And I talked to Ryan (“Suffix”). And got e-mails from Proem and Jacob Green. Which happily means we’ll have about eight tracks for the AMODA anniversay compliation CD soon — enough to get to work on the next steps. I find that exciting. Maybe it’s really not. so hard to tell anymore…

So what’s left? The wedding and the bachelor party?

I’ve got a headache and I’m hungry. So. Not now. Soon enough. Chris Graf got married and Jaylon Loyd had the bachelor party. Jaylon will get married this weekend (which means, I need to get a gift for him).

Until next time, America…

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The Coker Coler Corperation

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

The Coca-Cola Corporation has been kind enough to include a page on their website that lists all of the different brand names they own. Summarize in just two words, Josh. Okay: Sweet Jesus.

Many of the names we instantly recognize from our years of commercial bombardment: starting with Sprite, Tab, Mr. Pibb, Dasani, and Fanta. And little thanks does Coca-Cola receive for such contributions to Global Culture™-brand global culture. (Where, for example, would your skinny image-conscious aunt be without diet Fresca? On the roof, wailing at the moon — that’s where.) No thanks, that’s what. No love. You buy that diet Coke from the Texaco while you fill up your tank with cool, refreshing CleanSystem3 gasoline — fought for and won by your freedom-loving tax dollars, God Bless America! — but do you tell the cashier to thank the owner for providing you such crisp, caffeinated refreshment? No you don’t. You ungrateful sonuvabitch. What is wrong with you? You peed on the sofa when you you were eight. You copied your friends paper in high school. And you were out having drinks last night with that slut Carla when you told me specifically that you had to stay late and work and here I am at home raising our children while you cavort about. How you justify your continuing participating in our “civil”-ization is beyond me.

Stop crying. Josh is here to help.

Not every brand can be a superstar like Sprite, living in the large house in the Hollywood hills, throwing fabulously expensive parties. Some brands have to go out there and pound the pavement each and every day, ensuring their survival only with the sweat on their brows. To give these little guys the extra help they need, I will go through and select some of the Coca-Cola Corporation’s lesser known brands and tell you about them — give them some of the recognition they so sorely deserve.

In no particular order:

Almdudler. Coca-Cola developed this brand of soda pop to appeal to the children of the English working-class poor. Thick and dark brown, with the unique taste of flat cheap beer and sewage, this product appeals to the deeper belief that hopelessly flopping around in your own sooty filth for a lifetime has a certain undeniably cool cultural cache. How, y’know, “working class.” In 1998 Coca-Cola introduced new Comfort-Grit™ waste particles to the beverage for extra texture. Early marketing campaigns involved characters from Dicken’s novels, but these have since been abandoned since most people don’t read.

Bimbo Break. Here’s the scenerio: It’s Sunday morning. You’re a bit washed out, hung over, and you’ve got to figure out a way to get that guy out of your bed before your roommate comes back home. After cajoling him back into his clothes and out the door — you need a moment to relax. Introducing Bimbo Break. It’s the energy drink that tastes like a cheap wine cooler, but actually gives your body back those salts and electrolytes it so sorely needs after a hard night, with an extra kick of gingko and guarana to get you rolling again.

Drim. This fascinating product, introduced during the mid-50s heyday of space-age consumer product development, can be used as a tiling caulk, stirred into water as a refreshing sugary beverage, or rolled into a ball that can bounce over buildings! Just perfect, I’d say, for the handy man around the house who would like to like to fix tub, enjoy a drink, and keep the kids entertained — but doesn’t want to have to carry a bulky tube of caulk, heavy can of lemonade, and a full assortment of jacks and dice with him at all times.

Eight O’Clock. For years the potentially lucrative early late-evening drink market had been a mystery to marketers. Between the after-dinner cup of coffee and cup of water before bed lay a beverage-free wasteland. Coca-Cola introduced Eight O’Clock into select markets in the late 80s as a flavored drink designed to give the drinker the energy they needed to get through the early late-evening slump. No American alive at the time can forget the television ads featuring James Garner: “I find just a sip of Eight O’Clock gives me the perk I need to get through to bedtime. Mm. Tastes like cigars and rare steak.” Seriously, though. I don’t need to repeat it all to you!

Jesus. I wouldn’t dare make up the fact that Coca-Cola owns a brand called Jesus. Look at the webpage above. Come up with your own joke. Just keep in mind the controversial ad campaign slogans: “Had a tough day at work? Try Jesus!” “Got those weekend blues? Remember: Jesus loves you!” And then, the television campaigns in the late-90s that tried to bolster the waning Jesus sales with a youth-oriented “Extreme Jesus!” line. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. “Now you can save Jesus! Clip the Jesus coupons on each package of Extreme Jesus! candy, and redeem them for fun Jesus merchandise!”

Lactia. Several weeks ago I went outside for a walk at about midnight. Just trying to get some air before going to bed. Ran across armadilloes rooting around in the garden. Turns out we had a small armadillo infestation at the house: every morning dozens of fresh new holes would be waiting for us amidst the flowers and bushes. Our gray shelled friends were having a field-day digging grubs out of the garden. Sprinkling poison on the dirt fixed that. Drink Lactia!

Nihon Alps Mori No Mizudayori. A couple nights ago I had this dream of an elderly gentleman, dressed in a nice, gray, double-breasted suit and cowboy boots, chewing on a cigar, and fanning himself with his wide Stetson hat. As I looked closer, though, I noticed the unusual African tribal patterns painted onto his face in deep brown ink. Lines. Flowers. Points. He chanted: “Nihon alps mori no mizudayori. Nihon alps mori no mizudayori. Nihon alps mori no mizudayori.” When I saw this beverage on sale at the local Tigermart, I realized my brutal destiny.

And that’s all I got.

Play along at home with these other fun Cola-Cola-brand brands:

Juggy
Love Body
Master Chill
Namthip Water
Pepe Rico
Pump
Qoo
Ripe N Ready
Spur
Tuborg Squash
Wannabe
Water Salad

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Bongwater by Michael Hornburg

Tuesday, May 7, 2002

I was skeptical at first. I read through the first eighty-or-so pages of Bongwater with my eyebrow raised, wondering why the hell I should give a shit. The event that sets the action moving is good enough: one character accidentally (or not?) burns down the house she shares with the narrator. But until I started to get sucked into the characters’ lives around the middle of the book, I thought I might be reading a fluff piece about precocious gen-xers — sleeping around, doing bunches of drugs, and generally not giving a shit while living in Portland. Nothing wrong with sleeping around, doing bunches of drugs, and generally not giving a shit while living in Portland — but it doesn’t make for a very engaging read, unless the sex scenes are especially graphic. Let’s just say that writing a book about the general shollowness of those around you is fine — but at least one character needs to be bright enough to give the reader someone to identify with. The narrator, David, turns out to be that voice, but it takes a long time to get him to puffed out into three dimensions. And a few other characters end up being interesting beyond their slackitude once well into the book.

But once some of the characters get into a road trip out to the Oregonian backwoods to pick up some weed, and one of the girls (Courtney — see below) starts behaving less like a simple apathetic whinger and more like an audacious bitch thief, I started really getting into the book. And by the end it saved itself. I know because I felt sorry when it ended — I wanted to keep reading, I wanted to know more about what happened next. Whatever thoughtful judgments one might make about a book — “oh, the characters were real but the plot contrived,” or “why would anyone want to read about the battalion of midget Nazis that defended Dimpeldorf during WWII?” — that’s the trump. Did you not want it to end? Did you want to get right back into that world and stay there longer? Then, regardless of its intellectual or cultural failings, the book was probably a good piece of fiction for you.

So that’s how I felt. I could criticize Bongwater for many things. The prose plodded sometimes, for example, in strings of same-length sentences all starting with a subject. (As in: “He walked across the room to the table. She picked up the gun and shot a hole in the wall. He ran outside into the hallway. She ran after him, screaming.”) And the dialogue sometimes felt clumsy. You know how it can be hard trying to figure a way to weasel out of a dull conversation with that guy from class that you just ran into at the coffeeshop? Same problem in fiction trying to get characters out of scenes and on with their plots. Hense, clumsy (or kludgey) dialogue. But that’s all mechanics. In the end I wanted to keep reading. I wanted to stay with the main character and continue living his life. That’s the key.

After finishing Bongwater I went right into reading The Sun Also Rises (by Muriel Hemingway’s grandfather, the writer guy). The language felt so stuffy and dry in comparison with Bongwater’s — surprised me at first, as I went into TSAR thinking, “ah, now to return to the master.” Highlighted that, regardless of the flaws, Bongwater really is written in a language I’m tuned to understand, being roughly the same age as the characters in the book, understanding most of the cultural references, living in a similar sort of liberal, college-aged world. Also brings into question, again, the whole concept of a “classic” or “great work” of art — which, if you know me, you know I don’t believe in at all. That’s another essay, though. As Jake Barnes, the Hemingway stand-in in TSAR, knows — if you want to live the luxurious life of an artist, you gotta hang with the rich kids. (Or be one.)

Now here’s some interesting stuff: Apparently — according to several USENET posts — Michael Hornburg participated in the 80s Portland art scene which included artists Katherine Dunn, Gus van Sant, and Courtney Love… Apparently he dated Courtney Love. And some think that the Courtney in Bongwater is Courtney Love in a very thin disguise. Hm. Casts the whole book in a different light, I think.

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