Friday, March 31, 2006

The Rebirth of Cynicism

My first day of my first class in film school, the teacher told us, "Today, we begin the process of ruining movies for you."

What happened over the course of the next few years was something considerably different: movies stopped being simple. I stopped being entertained by them, and learned how to read them. I'll call it "reading" because it really was quite a bit like learning how to read words. In particular, once you've learned, there's no going back: you can't look at a word you know, and not read it. Now - well, film school + 10 years in the industry - I'm always aware when I'm watching a movie or a tv show of how things are being done. When the picture editor has been forced to do something a bitt odd, in order to fix a bad performance; how the script has obviously been rewritten, but not quite seamlessly... which explains, for instance, why a certain scene doesn't quite make sense (rats in the garbage can in the tragic romance that must have been a much darker story before they cast Julia Roberts); that the director probably forgot to shoot some vital piece of footage, so they had to cut around it; that the light is coming from the wrong direction, and why it had to be that way...

It's not pathological: I can still get carried away by a good movie; but even when I'm carried away, I'm always aware of what's going on. And... if I get bored - even a little bored - or if I get annoyed by something that doesn't work - then I'm right out of the story, and I start paying attention to the craft. To be honest, even if a movie's good and I'm engaged in the story, I'll notice things about it. And, being me, I'll often mention them. Out loud. While the movie's playing. (I don't do it in theaters, don't worry, and I don't wanna hear about it.) This is why most people who know me don't want to watch movies with me. It's like taking a ride with someone who insists on stopping every once in a while to tell you what's going on with your car. "Your tire pressure's low." "Four wheel drive would be better on this terrain." "You're out of gas."

I'm sorry if the movie you want to watch is out of gas, or if it badly needs a tuneup, or if it's burning oil. But I feel duty bound to report these things. Because what if you break down, miles from nowhere? It can happen, you know. I've been there.

SW and I both went to film school (it was where we met, but not where we started going out), and so we can stand to watch movies together, because we both enjoy analyzing them, even while they're going on. It's what makes an awful lot of movies enjoyable to us, including the awful lot of movies that wouldn't be very enjoyable otherwise. (Must Love Dogs? If you're alone in a hotel in a strange city and the bars are closed and you have some time to kill dead, with a stake through its heart, I guess you could do worse than to watch Must Love Dogs. But you should have brought a book, shouldn't you?)

We have discovered a new category of movies, worse even than "movies that are so bad you can't watch them." It's "movies that are so bad you have to watch them all the way through because you can't believe it."

Examples: Constantine was so bad we couldn't watch it - we turned it off after about half an hour. Kingdom of Heaven turned out to be even worse, so boring that we stopped watching about twenty minutes from the end. AI started all right, then got bad, then got steadily worse, eventually becoming so incredibly awful that we couldn't turn it off - because every time we thought it had finally bottomed out, it managed to find a new level of badness. And, finally A Beautiful Mind was so mind-bogglingly bad, so early on, that we kept watching and watching because we literally could not believe the filmmakers had been so inept. Because we understood all of the decisions that had been made, we could see them going past, being made exactly wrong - and while it's (more or less) true that it only takes one person to wreck your film, it's truly awesome to see what happens when there's a conspiracy among three people - and they happen to be the writer, the director, and the producer. Um... Steven Soderbergh's The Underneath was another such movie. Had to watch the whole. Dismal. Relentless. Thing. Wow.

It's like an engineer watching the movie of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster all the way through. You know what's going to happen, and you keep on watching, even though, really, you're not even going to learn anything from the experience.

So did film school ruin movies for me? If anything, it did the opposite. I know Dorothy was awfully let down to find the man behind the curtain, but honestly, don't you think she was just kind of... well... shallow?
"I think you are a very bad man," said Dorothy.

"Oh, no, my dear; I'm really a very good man, but I'm a very bad Wizard, I must admit."
I think the opposite: he was a bad man, but a good Wizard. In fact, I wish someone (besides Gregory Maguire) would write an Oz book from the Wizard's point of view. Even a technical manual (heavily illustrated, please) would be interesting. To me, anyway.

Oh, go check out this page about the Wizard of Oz technique. Why not. Thanks, Google.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

... And the Student Was Enlightened

Boy was watching one of the behind-the-scenes features on his Scooby Doo DVD - mainly, I suspect, because SW was there and sick and tired of watching the cartoon over and over and over again - Boy hasn't been this obsessive about a video since Monsters, Inc. - anyway, he saw a bit where the voice actors were on an ADR stage recording their lines - and the realization hit him. Those actors were making the voices! And (I wasn't there, I was at work, darn the luck, but SW is a reliable witness) his jaw dropped. Yes, literally dropped.

I miss a lot.

A Few Rules of Thumb

Here's a rule of dialogue editing: They wrote the scene, they shot the scene, they have to live with the scene.

Can I clean up the pinball game noise that runs through the entire scene? Put it this way: I can probably make it a little less worse. But they're playing pinball. Or they're bowling. Or whatever they're doing. It's been written and shot. I can't fix it, I can only try to make it so nobody realizes how bad it is. But if it can't be done... I can't do it.

They can always replace all the dialogue. But here's another rule: the performance the actor gave when he was on the set is going to be better than the performance he gives when you ask him to drive to Burbank a month later, stand in front of a mic in an empty room, watch himself on a video monitor, and repeat his original performance. So it behooves you - I'm talking to you, yes - to make sure that original performance is usable. That mean no grips dropping C stands, no extras banging their props, wait till the airplane noise goes away, and for God's sake, don't use a radio mic unless you Abso. Lutely. Have. To.

Which brings us to another rule. Hire somebody who knows what he's doing to record your sound in the first place. And let him hire somebody who knows what he's doing to hold the microphone boom. The less money you have, the more important it is to hire a good production sound recordist. Why spend money when you don't have any money? Because it saves you money, duh. The better recorded the sound, the less time someone like me has to spend fixing it.

And remember, a lot of the time when I'm fixing something, I'm not making it more better, I'm only making it less worse. So... don't make me have to fix it in the first place, that's your best bet. Why are you making this movie, in the first place? So people can sit down and watch it and go "What'd he say?" Recording the sound is the one job you pay for, even if everyone else on your crew is working for peanut butter sandwiches and their names in the credits. You can often find a good cameraman who'll work for free, just to get a credit; it is nearly impossible to find a good location sound recordist who'll work for free. Unless it's a really good friend. And you don't have any friends that good. I know I don't. (My wife does, though.)

So let's say you screw up the recording, or somebody screws it up for you (it only takes one person, they say, to wreck your movie.) If you do have to replace the dialogue, can I match the original sync so it looks like he's really saying the original words? Yes, I can - unless somebody managed to screw up this recording, too. Can I make the actor's new performance better by editing it? No. No, I can't. (Well, sometimes I can. But don't count on it.)

Anyway, who the hell plays pinball anymore? No wonder people say Hollywood is out of touch.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Why Do Today...

Another neat little superficial NPR story, this one about brain development, suggesting that brains that develop later may actually be the smarter for it. Yes! There's still hope for me!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Good Lord

Patrick Goldstein's LA Times article today talks about the new Samuel Jackson movie, "Snakes on a Plane." Goldstein admonishes Hollywood for not "embracing the future" - meaning, they should be getting on the digital train. He's obviously right... unless that train has already left the station. But I think his article tells only half the story. Yes, Hollywood fears the future; yes, the entertainment industry should be looking for ways to embrace that future instead of fighting pointless, doomed holding actions.

But really: "Snakes on a Plane?" Hollywood should fear the present. It's conceivable that "Snakes on a Plane" might make a lot of money for somebody other than the director, the producers, and Samuel K. Jackson; nevertheless, precisely because this is the sort of opening-weekend-oriented drivel that has replaced smart storytelling in Hollywood* (and it will be drivel: we all know that, right?), an awful lot of people are no longer ... well, very interested in going to the movies. I know I'm not. I used to love movies. Now I just kind of like them. Once in a while. On DVD. And only if I don't have to pay late fees.

In fact, I might just wait till some enterprising assistant editor re-cuts "Snakes on a Plane" into a trailer for a movie about... doomed Hollywood producers.

* There did used to be smart storytelling in Hollywood, right? Some? A little?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Spectrum? What Spectrum?

Why is it that everyone talks about "liberal" and "conservative" as if they explained things anymore? For that matter, as if they were "opposites"? Just because the American political system is debased and simplified to the point of being retarded, doesn't mean it makes sense.

I actually don't know anymore what the defining characteristics are of so-called "conservatives." Clearly what is meant currently is something very different from what was meant only a few decades ago, when Reagan was king. - President, I mean. Back then the rhetoric - and seemingly the intent - was for small government, individual and states's rights, aim for the head when the jackbooted government thugs come to take you away. (Well, maybe not that last. I mean, conservative and nutbar didn't used to be synonymous. Not that I'm saying they are now, but... well, I'm just not saying it, is all.)

I'm told that oh, so many of the "founders" of the "neoconservative" "movement" - the "thinkers," as it were - used to be leftists - whatever that means... socialists, probably - who were disillusioned by the excesses of the Soviet "left" (whatever that meant) and so embraced "conservative" ideals.

Apparently this continues to surprise people, when left-wing ideologues become right-wing ideologues. It's only surprising if you think there's a spectrum, and only one spectrum, and that left and right are really the extreme sides of the spectrum - in short, that it's a long, long way from one extreme to the other. But obviously it isn't a long way. And obviously "left" and "right" aren't all there is. Probably - in today's political climate - a more useful gauge of someone's political ideology is to consider whether they're pro-authority or anti-authority.

Also, it would be nice if we could all agree to stop thinking that people should behave consistently! They don't. They won't. And only numbskull economics-style thinking will lead you to believe that they do, will, or that they even should. (They're not "rational actors" in the economic sense either, and it strikes me as neither particularly useful nor very bright to structure legal and policy arguments as if they were, or ought to be.)

So here's a thought: maybe the shift from top-down, authority-controlled left-wing political ideology to top-down, authority-controlled right-wing ideology was - not a large - but a very small step to take. Maybe David Horowitz (to shoot a fish in a barrel) was a loony even when he was a leftist! And maybe the natural allies of the so-called liberals - the ones who are supposed to believe in civil rights, due process, a free press, separation of powers, small family farms, and public transportation - will turn out, actually, to be the real conservatives. If there are any left, that is.

How about this for a political metaphor: think of politics as a circus, not a spectrum. Because clowns can't run a spectrum - but they may, when things go awry, end up running the circus.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Usage Question

Is "confession" the opposite of "profession," the way that "congress" is the opposite of "progress?"

Professions, Antifessions

Turns out that originally...
one's "profession" was the occupation one declared to a tax collector under oath.
(Go, follow the link, it's an interesting article. I'll be here when you get back.)

Once the "medical profession" was defined in terms of the Hippocratic oath, "profession" came gradually to refer to an occupation whose members had special obligations to those they served. Thus the "professions" were - I suppose they still are, technically, since it's in the dictionary and all - such things as doctor, lawyer, and basketball player.

Oh, wait, there are more. Let's just take a look at the first interesting sample I came across, shall we? Yes, let's. (Go do your own research, if you don't like my methods.) The New York State Education Department has an "Office of the Professions" that regulates 47 professions... and, let's see, they seem to be mainly in the field of health: useful fields such as audiology, midwifery, veterinary medicine, interior design... hmm.

(Leaving aside obvious comments about the dubious usefulness of licensing interior designers, why are architects on the list? And where are the lawyers, you might ask? Why, they have their own department, of course: because they're so important... or maybe just because there are so damned many of them... or because they're not willing to be regulated by anybody but themselves.)

So is a "profession" then, properly speaking, just any job that requires one to be licensed and regulated? Or is there such a thing as "properly speaking" in this case?

I rather hope there isn't - namely because I've just found a list of professions I can really get behind.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Traffic Man!

I left work at 6:10 and got home at 7:20. This is typical.

How does he do it, you might ask?

Near-lethal doses of NPR.

Professional Oaths

Don't ask me why the subject came to mind. I mean, I remember, but it's one of those stream-of-consciousness things that's too silly to explain, and that nobody would really care about, anyway, except the sort of person who likes to hear other people talk about their dreams at length. And I don't know any of those people.

Silly me, I thought the Hippocratic Oath began, "First, do no harm." Turns out that's a common misconception, but the Oath doesn't actually contain those words, anywhere in it. It starts (after the requisite summoning to witness of the gods) with an agreement - reckon him who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required...
And so on. This is partly the usual loyalty oath (see the first several of the Ten Commandments, for instance), partly a measure to ensure the continuance of the art of medicine. Then there's a longer bit, addressing proper practice - "... for the benefit of my patients..." - and ethics -
I... will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and, further, from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves.
Easier said than done, I'm sure.

And then, interestingly, there's a clause about maintaining patient privacy.

Let's look into the history of privacy sometime. I think I hold with those who advocate a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to privacy. Things are clearly out of hand. (I have no idea, of course, what such an amendment would look like, but I'm sure someone out there has published their notions. I'll get around to research later... maybe... if these production sound recordists would get out of their comfy chairs and do their jobs, then I'd have some free time...)

Relevance to what you were looking for, if you were referred to this page by a search engine: 0.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Ultimate Law School Criterion

Maybe I'll just choose the law school with the best spring musical. Any suggestions? Anyone?

Grievously Behind the Times - I Mean, the Post

Me, yes, grievously behind, in that I'm just now getting around to reading Judge Posner's essay on why it's okay for the NSA to be spying on its citizens. Turns out it's simple: spying by computer isn't really spying! And then, of course, we gotta catch those terrorists, so that makes it really okay.

Much as it pains me to characterize the opinions of so distinguished a figure in such terms, I can only call Judge Posner's reasoning idiotic. Invasion of privacy? Nonsense, he says.
... machine collection and processing of data cannot, as such, invade privacy. Because of their volume, the data are first sifted by computers, which search for names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., that may have intelligence value. This initial sifting, far from invading privacy (a computer is not a sentient being), keeps most private data from being read by any intelligence officer.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Posner doesn't have a gmail account, and hasn't been subjected to any of Google's eerie and annoying on-topic ad placements. Anyway, observe how adroitly Posner changes the subject: he mentions "collection and processing" of data, but then proceeds to argue his case only about the "processing" part.

It's not the processing that's an invasion of privacy, duh. The invasion has already happened with the collection of the data in the first place. If collecting personal data isn't per se an invasion of privacy - most especially when it contravenes the law - then I would very much like to know what, in Judge Posner's world, meets the standard.

Incidentally, I'm sure once that private data is determined to have no value, it is of course deleted to prevent any possible future misuse, right? Sure it is. But not to worry:
No secrets concerning matters that would interest the public can be kept for long. And the public would be far more interested to learn that public officials were using private information about American citizens for base political ends than to learn that we have been rough with terrorist suspects -- a matter that was quickly exposed despite efforts at concealment.
In other words, "they wouldn't dare." This is an absurd argument even on its own terms - in fact these two sentences contain their own contradiction. Data will not be misused nor privacy really invaded, because scandal would inevitably result. Look how well that worked in preventing the United States Army from torturing prisoners in Iraq! Um... oops.

A few more howlers:
The only valid ground for forbidding human inspection of such data is fear that they might be used to blackmail or otherwise intimidate the administration's political enemies.
This, from a man versed in both the law and economics, is almost breathtakingly naive. I can think of several other, not unreasonable fears, off the top of my head. And I'm not even very clever at that sort of thing.
Innocent people, such as unwitting neighbors of terrorists, may, without knowing it, have valuable counterterrorist information.
Such as...? Wait - let me just guess that the government won't tell, because that's sensitive information. Might cause a scandal, you know.

Okay, and last of all - and this is in no way Judge Posner's fault -

The Pentagon has a department called the Information Dominance Center? And the "data-mining" program they've developed is called "Able Danger"? Somebody needs to stop reading Tom Clancy novels. Somebody - most likely a frighteningly large number of somebodies - has developed a serious, possibly terminal, case of romance with espionage.

Friday, March 17, 2006

W for ... what, again?

This Is Only the Beginning.

Given the presence in the starring roles of trilogy go-to actors Hugo Weaving (The Matrix parts 1, 2 and 3; Lord of the Rings parts 1, 2 and 3) and Natalie Portman (Star Wars parts 1, 2 and 3), it was inevitable that Warner Bros. would announce they're making two sequels to V for Vendetta, to be entitled W for Vendetta and X for Vendetta.

Hollywood is nothing if not thrifty... at least when it comes to ideas.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

How to Become a Law Professor

Last week I attended a panel discussion at a notable law school on "How to Become a Law Professor." Yes, "a Law Professor." Since you weren't there, let me recapitulate.

Write, publish, specialize, network, get good grades. Oh, and be interested in the law. And write, did I mention you should really write? Write a lot. But good stuff.

A bit more detail, please:

Professor #1 has been teaching 12 years and loves it, in part because his job allows him to express any viewpoint on any subject matter. He followed the traditional path to teaching: got excellent grades, clerked for a prestigious court, and so on. But the times, they are a'changing, if slowly, and now his list of recommended things to do in order to prepare for teaching law are, in order:
  1. Write. He recommends that one try to publish four articles - one per semester of the second and third years of school.
  2. Be flexible about where you're willing to live.
  3. Get really good grades.
  4. Make and keep contacts with professors.
And of course a prestigious clerkship couldn't hurt, but isn't quite the royal road to teaching that it once was. Of course, he's one to talk.

Professor #1 went so far as to write his points on the chalkboard. He really did seem to love teaching, and all its accessories - the necktie, the chalk, the rapt attention of students.

Professor #2 had pursued a much different path, having been in practice for a long, long time, and having been more or less persuaded into teaching because, she was told, she really seemed to have things she wanted to say. She emphasized that one ought, first of all, to find one's passion - that would lead one to mentors, to find the places where one could generate good ideas. And then, of course, one would write write write about those good ideas.

Professor #3 disagreed with Professor #1 about the quantity of writing one ought to do; she felt that quality was the paramount consideration, and that one top-notch paper (and perhaps a few well-developed drafts, suitable for showing to search committees) would count for much more than four pretty good papers. She pointed out as well that there are other types of law teaching - clinical teaching, for example, or teaching legal writing - which have somewhat different requirements.

She, too, emphasized that getting to know the faculty, and other legal scholars as well, is extremely important; that one ought to attend talks by visiting scholars; that serving as a research assistant for a professor might be helpful, not only in getting a feeling for academia, but in building a rapport with a potential mentor. She encouraged students, once they had graduated, to keep in touch with professors and let them know how things were going - not only do professors like to hear from their former students, but, of course, it helps them remember them... which helps them recommend them... and so on.

Oh, and a PhD is a nice thing to have. (She has a PhD.)

At this point there was not a lot of new ground to cover, so poor Professor #4 didn't get much coverage in my notes. But he did relate that he didn't like law school at all as a student, but that he really liked teaching law. And that he got to practice some, too, as well as thinking and writing about important legal issues, so it was really the best of all possible worlds.

And there you are. Go on out and become a law professor. And stay in touch.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Rare Treat, Plus Reflections on Osteotomy

Date night, lovely date night. A very common steak and salad, and a little more than enough Chianti ("for thirst is a dangerous thing") at the restaurant around the corner, and no children anywhere in sight. And the babysitter was wonderful with the kids and they were asleep when we got home. And may they remain so until tomorrow, amen.

But tomorrow I work, and Sunday I work too, and all next week I work. It's feast or famine in Hollywood - a great business to exit. And now that I'm leaving for real... I must confess, I'm losing my happy thoughts about my job. I guess I can take another four months of this tedium, but it really is tedium at this point. I mean, I know law school will be a lot of work and all, but it sounds like a vacation to me. A very grueling vacation, to be sure, but... reading and writing and more reading and more reading and writing? And taking classes, and writing?

I gather that law professors undertake something very much like what doctors do, when they intentionally break and re-set a bone so that it can heal into a proper shape; during 1L, one's brain is broken into pieces, in hopes that when it heals, it will work like a lawyer's brain. Well, the state my brain is in, that sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Sign me up, I'm ready.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Weird Science

Boy stretches a rubber worm between his hands and wriggles it wildly in waves and waves. "This inch worm is so good, Mom, he doesn't even need anything to inch on.... just air."

SW, Boy and Girl spent most of the day at the Science Museum, where Boy rededicated himself to a career as a scientist. (Paleontologist, herpetologist, or whatever.) This evening we spent some time making a terrarium for the stretchy rubber lizards and snakes, then he made a blanket-and-pillow structure for his ceramic gecko. (Which ordinarily would belong in the garden, but that's the kind of parents we are. "Can I...?" "Yeah, sure, why not." Carefree, also tired, that's the kind of parents we are.)

"This is the lizard's lair," he told me. "I wish I had a lair," I said; and he said, conspiratorially: "You know what your lair is?" and leaning in to whisper: "Law school."


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Oh, Yeah, the Oscars...

The Oscars were Sunday, weren't they? Weren't the costumes to die for? Wasn't what's-his-name a riot? Didn't you love the songs? And didn't the movies just have so much cultural resonance?

Did you even watch them? The Oscars, I mean. I know no one watched the movies.

As for ourselves, we had forgotten the Oscars were even on that night, till we dropped off one of Boy's friends at his house, after a day at beautiful Charmlee Park.

So we stayed for pizza and wine and, oh yeah, the Academy Awards. And this time I really, really realized why people aren't watching the telecast. Not because it doesn't matter; not because nobody saw the movies; not because people are tired of gay cowboys. People aren't watching the Oscars... because the show is boring. It's as simple as that. Four hours of tedium, cut up into neat segments, none of them connected to any of the others. The Oscars have no structure, no thematic coherence, no reason to stay tuned. You can leave at any point and when you come back, it's not so much that you haven't missed anything worth seeing - though you haven't - but that what you've missed has no relevance to anything you're about to see.

Ironically, there is no story in this celebration of storytelling; and a celebration of an art form that is all about pulling emotional strings... has, ever since I can remember, been hosted by glib comedians, produced by clock-watchers. As if "keeping things moving" were the problem. That the Academy Awards runs too long - it has been ever thus - is a mere accident. If the show were only interesting, no one would care how long it ran. They could run it on consecutive nights, like a miniseries, or the Olympics. They could give it some shape, some context, some insight. Why these films, this year? What the hell does a sound mixer do, anyway? (That would be fodder for a fascinating experimental short film - and they could show it to us. What the hell, we're already bored, how bad could it be?) Why not show one of the short films in its entirety? Why not commission three-minute silent Lumiere-style films by each of the Best Director nominees, instead of subjecting us to interminable montages of meaningless film clips? How about showing a little imagination for a change?

Let me tell you, things would be different if I ran the zoo.

Monday, March 06, 2006

What Makes You Happy?

Vernazza makes me happy.

Late Adopter

I recently read yet another reference to so-called "early adopters." Those are the saints of new technology, the ones who buy iPods before there's an Apple store. They're the reason the Internet is around today. (Actually, it's because of porn, but you get the point.)

It may come as a surprise to those of you who aren't reading this because you don't use the Internet and haven't heard of blogging... but I am not an early adopter. My wife, dear SW, periodically accuses me of being a Luddite. And, while I've never smashed a power loom, I must confess I have some sympathy for the cause. I do not adopt. I lag. I even lollygag. I distrust. I may be a little lazy, too.

Part of it is that I'm sick and tired of the endless coping that goes along with the new. I have enough trouble finding time to sleep; do I really need to waste energy slogging up another learning curve? I'm old; my knees aren't up to the hike. And really, why do today what, perhaps, needn't be done at all? Emerson warned us against enterprises that required new clothes; what would he have thought of enterprises that required (for instance) new phone lines, new power adapters, new pieces of outboard gear, and frequent checks for upgrades and bug fixes?

I realize I'm holding the rest of society back in its headlong rush toward perfection, and I will acknowledge, in hindsight, that I've often been wrong in my thinking. After all, if it had been up to people like me, we'd all still be driving around in cars. If it had been up to people like me, there'd be no permanent base on the moon. If it had been up to people like me, George W. Bush would still be President. So maybe the optimists, the re-toolers, are right. They'll win in the end; they always do. Still... what can I say. I miss cars.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Top Line

We need some new corporate slogans. Catchy, pithy, sum-up-your-business-model slogans. Slogans like "We deliver for you," or "The few, the proud, the Marines," or "Parens Binubus."

In that spirit, here are a few suggestions for a few large companies. (You'll know who you are, mainly because I used your names.)

Google: easier than knowing.
because you have to send something

Prozac. (So what?)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Why Is It?

I've read a lot of scripts by beginning screenwriters. (The reason why is not important, but let's just say that it would not be inappropriate to feel pity for me.) And now I'm working on a movie by (I think he is) a first-time writer/director, and the movie has the failings one might expect from a person who, perhaps - I'm just guessing - has never written a screenplay before. And so I have one question: why is it that, almost without fail, the main character in a beginner's script is the least interesting person in the whole movie?

I'm not kidding. I'm not even exaggerating to make a point. It's ridiculously common. First-time screenwriter? First draft of a screenplay? Dull lead character. Deadly dull. Things may happen to him or her, but to no effect. The main character is almost invariably passive, practically inert, lackadaisical to the point of pathology. And, as a result, so is the script. Or, in the instant case, the movie.

I wonder if anyone else in a position to read way too much first-draft, amateur fiction has noticed this phenomenon.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Now This Is Cool

A mailing from University of Michigan Law School - we're so fabulous, come to our school! - that particularly mentions
William Ian Miller, who teaches a legendary course in bloodfeuds and has been offering seminars on his ongong work on unsavory emotions...
Now that could get me to UMich.

Here's the relevant section of Miller's curriculum vitae:
Courses: Property, Negotiations, Bloodfeuds. Seminars: Violence; Humiliation; Disgust; Cowardice; Earliest English Laws, Faking It.
That's what I'm talking about. Yes.

Tired and Irritable

... and I just heard somebody on NPR say "... the ship literally limped into San Francisco Bay..."

Since when did "literally" come to mean its opposite? I know, I know, it's been this way for a while, I'm just out of touch. And tired. And irritable. But come on, people.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Google and Authority

Murky Thoughts objects - or points out - as follows:

I'll take Google over PubMed and Lexis any day. I guess it's my messy mind. I have zero trouble finding stuff with Google.


Or let's say I am much happier to while my time away with Google and so experience it as no trouble, while with bona fide bibliographic tools I feel like tearing my hair out and come away far from confident that I haven't missed the richest vein.

I like Google, too. In fact, I think Google is wonderful, and I use it all the time. I rarely have trouble finding stuff, either.

But for real research, "finding stuff" isn't nearly good enough - you need to be sure you've found the right stuff, and all of it. I don't want my doctor using Google in the course of making a diagnosis, for instance. And when I start law school, if my legal research instructor recommends Google as the first research option... well, rest assured, that won't happen. (The part about possibly missing the richest veins... that's what reference librarians are for.)

Accessibility aside, a facility's usefulness for reference and research is largely a question of having trustworthy authorities, and lots of them, and useful ways of keeping track and cross-referencing them. Libraries do these things very well. They should - they've had hundreds of years of experience doing exactly that: managing information. The Internet... not so great, yet. Google, for example, is fine for casual browsing, but it's barely useful at all for in-depth research. (Part of the problem is the paucity of information available online. If I want to do real research - say, to pick an example out of thin air, I was interested in exploring how Ezra Pound's poetry developed over the course of his life - I'd be much better off in my living room than online - and my living room is pretty small. Google's library initiative will change that, one hopes... if it survives legal challenges... )

Here's an authority control parable, a story I heard from a librarian friend: a high school teacher assigned her class a paper, in order to teach them how to do Internet research. Afterwards, one of her students remarked on how much she had learned - before doing the assignment, she'd had no idea that the Holocaust was just a hoax! You see the problem: on the Internet, everyone's voice is equally loud; but (pace Wikipedia) it's not necessarily useful for reference material to be democratized in this wise. Usually quite the opposite, in fact.

The Internet's potential as a research and reference tool is huge - in fact, revolutionary - but it won't come about simply because the Internet supplants traditional library and cataloguing techniques, but because it inherits them and builds on them.

Behind the Curtain

Why is a Google search such a crapshoot? Bad authority control!
Keywords, combined with Boolean operators, offer powerful supplemental search capabilities, but they are no substitute for authority control.
(Click on the link and read the URL - it made me laugh.)

Why do librarians appear so smart? Authority control! (Also, they're smart. You know who you are.)

Librarians establish authority control so that they know what they're referring to - for example, so nobody thinks Edward Hamilton Waldo and Theodore Sturgeon are different people, or so people can tell that Francis Bacon and Francis Bacon are not the same person, or so T.S. Eliot and Thomas Stearns Eliot don't show up on different lists.

These are the people who make it all happen. I guess. I think they need a new name, though: "AUTHORITY CONTROL" sounds so unfriendly. Suggestions?

Anyway, I'm off to poke around and find out the state of the art in automated authority control. Why? Yes, it's my tag clouds hobbyhorse. Come to find out, there's some interest in tag clouds as user-generated (and therefore user-useful) reference systems. There are drawbacks - in particular, relating to the lack of authority control. But it should be feasible to write some sort of expert system that would automatically generate at least a tentative list of subject authorities, especially for reference collections in specific areas, such as law, or medicine, or library science, where people tend to talk about the same things in similar terms.

Library Thing apparently dabbles in cross-referencing; and as hobbyware goes, so go the professions. On with the revolution.