Director of narrative, commercial, and virtual reality

Film Portfolio

Project Greenlight finalist | Short about sex, death, existence, time

Lily in the Grinder

Shabbat Dinner

Comedy short about coming out | Featured in 55+ festivals

Search is Back

Featured on TechCrunch | 7k users per day

Global event handing out nametags on first Sat in June

Nametag Day

Uber Forecast

Tracking Uber's surge pricing to guess what the weather might be

Archive for September, 2010

A Douglas Adams moment

This afternoon I was alone in the office working when a page flew out of the printer and onto the ground. I walked over to inspect. It said:

testing

Ha! Somewhere in the bowels of one of the computers, a request from long ago had been hatched, crawled to the surface, and lived out its intended duty. The curious and likely frazzled tester was not present – away, perhaps. Long dead, even.

About two minutes later another page flew out. I crossed the room and bent over to look.

testing

Ha – I wish there were a stop print button, I thought. But might as well let it get out of whatever conputer’s system.

A few minutes later, another email.

help me

testing

Then a second one like that. A plaintive sob set in Courier New.

Ten minutes later, a frazzled and very confused-looking woman entered the room and politely asked if I had gotten her test prints. In a
flurry of apology, she mumbled something about USB and “default settings” and whizzed out, stressing the point that if I ever needed anything, she was just down the hall.

I wonder how she got our wifi password…

Prognosis not so good

I want to have children, because I want to be a father. I think life can be beautiful and awesome, and the pain I experience does not compare to its beauty. But I am young, and have been fortunate to live a sheltered life.

To me it seems likely that the next 100 years will be very, very difficult. Not from great global financial reckonings or the decline of the US, but from global environmental disaster, water crises, and potential plagues. I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic (but that’s what pessimists say.) I’ve blogged about this.

Some counter: “it’s always predicted we will run out of food all the time and are always wrong,” or “technology is always getting better,” but that is neither predictive or very convincing.

I’m holding out hope, but it’s hard to trust in the world when *five* articles (some opinion and some news) from the Most Emailed in the New York Times today include these gems:

A Guided Tour of Modern Medicine’s Underbelly:
“Nobody expects American politicians to write their own speeches anymore,” Dr. Elliott reminds us, “and nobody expects celebrities to write their own memoirs.” Apparently doctors have now joined the ranks of the charismatic talking heads, mouthing the words of others.

Water Use in Southwest Heads for a Day of Reckoning:
Adding to water managers’ unease, scientists predict that prolonged droughts will be more frequent in decades to come as the Southwest’s climate warms. As Lake Mead’s level drops, Hoover Dam’s capacity to generate electricity, which, like the Colorado River water, is sent around the Southwest, diminishes with it. If Lake Mead levels fall to 1,050 feet, it may be impossible to use the dam’s turbines, and the flow of electricity could cease.

The New American Normal:
Fragmentation holds sway. The stock market used to be a fair proxy for the state of the economy. Now it’s a market of traders, not investors. They want to know what the spread is today and tomorrow; they can make money on the way up or down; they care far less about U.S.A. Inc. So the market goes where it goes — up of late but largely directionless (which makes it harder on those up-or-down traders) — while out on Main Street the struggle to make family payroll continues. People work longer hours, they juggle how to cover their kids’ needs, how to de-leverage just a little — and they’re still meant to “consume” for the economy’s sake.

The Tea Kettle Movement:
The issues that upset the Tea Kettle movement — debt and bloated government — are actually symptoms of our real problem, not causes. They are symptoms of a country in a state of incremental decline and losing its competitive edge, because our politics has become just another form of sports entertainment, our Congress a forum for legalized bribery and our main lawmaking institutions divided by toxic partisanship to the point of paralysis.

"You people have ruined me. Thank you."

Wow, awesome! @burningman tweeted this post and now burners are coming online. And what’s the first thing they do? Say hi using the chat box that none of my regular visitors have ever used. Keeping the burn alive..

I didn’t write this, it was sent out to the Burning Man NYC listserv. This is my post on Burning Man.. Thank you to John for passing along this note by Ralph. He wanted no more attribution than that. I read this and teared up on the subway platform. How awful it is that we live in a world where eye contact and a genuine word is a revolution. Sometimes I’m despondent about the world, other times I can’t but see how beautiful it is.

Photo credit: Michael Holden

Last night, I went insane for about 10 seconds – untethered from reality, looking right at it but not seeing it.

After a 28-hour marathon drive and a couple of hours of decompression at home, I had been asleep for maybe an hour when something – I don’t know what woke me. I sat up and looked around desperately trying to get my bearings – where the f#[email protected] was I? A person lying next to me in bed asked me if I was alright. Alarmed, I looked her in the eyes and wondered who the f#[email protected] she was. I jumped out of bed and looked around – there was playa sand on the ground, and a driving techno beat coming in through the windows. But there was also furniture, a closet, french doors, a ceiling fan. “This is one pimped out dome,” I thought. Really, I thought that. After a few seconds the hemispheres finally synced and I put the pieces together. I was home. The woman in my bed was my wife. The sand was actually carpeting, and the beat didn’t exist. The playa was a thousand miles away.

That was the worst disconnect I’ve had since I got back, but not the only one: the little ones just keep coming. I was in the grocery store and became alarmed that no one was making eye contact with me. They would steer their carts to avoid collisions, but other than that I might have been invisible. On the rare occasion that I did make eye contact, the other would quickly look away, like they were scared.

I find my eyes are constantly casting around for beauty, light, fire – either big orange tongues of flame or little sparks of connection. Instead I find banal architecture, half-assed landscaping and endless identical cars with little bits of flair slapped on. There’s no spontaneous art, just bland lowest-common-denominator commercial design. Nobody has dressed up to catch my eyes. Nobody is doing something amazing for its own sake.

The change, of course, is all in me. Wolfe was wrong: you can go home again, but you can’t go all the way home, and not all of you makes it there. So
what happened to me? I was a perfectly dysfunctional tech geek keeping my head down and getting all my beauty through a computer screen just two weeks ago, but I made a huge mistake: I experienced a bigger world. I exposed myself to a city full of beautiful people who cracked open my shell and delivered me, gasping, onto the playa sands. I don’t want to keep my head down and live inside myself anymore. I want what I had out there. I want what I finally broke through and reached on that last beautiful night.

But there’s more than one way to get, and one of those ways is to give. So I said hello to the hardware store cashier, and asked her how her day was going. I listened to her answer, and asked follow up questions. Startled, she looked me in the eyes (yes!) and started talking to me about what was going on in her life. We continued our little conversation as we walked to the propane tanks to swap out my empty, and kept talking even after the transaction was complete. I decided not to push my luck and go for a hug, but gave her as big a smile as I thought I could get away with in a hardware store parking lot in suburban Colorado.

So there it was, my high point of the day, my little human connection. I got my fix of whatever it is I got addicted to out there on the playa, and realized that it doesn’t come with the price of a ticket – pumped out of big tanker trucks by DPS from and contained inside the trash fence – but is made everywhere, by everyone. And it has to be made fresh every day, like bread, or we all starve.

You people have ruined me. Thank you.

Ralph

An Education on copy protection

Thanks to Paul Miller for the angry post about the idiocies of copy protection on Engadget.

In copy protection schemes, there are two factors to take into account. The first is the possibility that a film will get out in bit-perfect digital quality, available for download in perfect resolution on bittorrent. Anybody who is striving to attain this possibility at this point is an idiot. HDCP protection is now cracked (and Intel is threatening to sue those who use the crack!) Somebody, somehow, will have the ingenuity to get the video onto bittorrent, and from there it’s becoming more and more easy to crack it.

The second form of copy protection is where all efforts should be focused: making it difficult and clearly unapproved for the casual consumer to copy and share videos if they are not following fair use. Make it hard for consumers to email songs or copy over videos, but only if you can make sure they can use them on their own devices–and we are not there yet.

I won’t buy the Amazon Kindle or any movie I plan to watch more than once with all these gooey DRM’ey strings attached.

Ah Nutella…

FilmAid at Mashable's UN Digital Media Lounge

Check out Caroline! I am getting more excited each day about my trip to Kenya with FilmAid

Watch live streaming video from mashable at livestream.com

Burning Man 1 of ∞

More burning man articles: a great description of the event itself, which this post doesn’t cover,

If you don’t read this whole post, the message is: come with me next year to Burning Man! See photos in the previous post below.

It’s here in New York City on Yom Kippur that I chhose to reflect on my burning man experience. To many Jews it is the holiest and most somber day of the year. To me, it is a chance to find spirituality but also reflect on my personal struggle with Judaism, and how to reconcile its elements of humanism and love with the often mindless observance of custom. Burning Man offered me a spirituality not incompatible with Judaism, but more concentrated, accessible, and pure.

The day to day of our trip was fascinating as well, but I will share it another time as I’d rather discuss what I was thinking than what I was doing.

For those unfamiliar with the event, Burning Man is a temporary city of 50,000 people many miles across, built for a week in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Burners arrive and build structures to live and entertain each other in, sharing things and thoughts. At the end they burn the giant man who sits in the center of the city. The next day they burn the temple, a wooden structure on which people have written losses, hopes, and dreams.

But it’s not about the man; in fact, it is least about the man. The journey to the desert, through the experience, and back, which I took with four friends, was what changes lives.

Radical Self-Expression

One tenet of Burning Man is radical self-expression, which is the most blatantly obvious aspect of the event. People are encouraged to dress and act however they want, wearing fun wacky and innovative clothing throughout the day and lighting up the city with neon at night. We are also encouraged to participate, not merely observe; the art of Burning Man is each of us and there are no real stages. The practice begins with a stunted artificiality as people reach across comfort boundaries to force assertive expression; by midweek, thinking fades into the subconscious and the expression is more natural. It’s absolutely beautiful to watch and marvel at the creativity and originality that people are capable of (search flickr for “art car” if you don’t believe me.) The change in mentality it engenders is profound. All of a sudden nothing is weird, and we begin to say and do things that come to our minds without as much of a self-conscious filter. If everything is acceptable, the parts of ourselves that have previously been covered with embarrassment, shame, or modesty no longer feel so unwelcome.

The experience was also a mental break for me from the rules of sense in society; giant bunnies blasting techno and 30-foot teeter totters gave the kind of mental freedom that daydreaming or dreams do.

(It can be noted that radical acceptance can be a burden, but a fantastic one to bear. We found the need to support and love without restraint to be so welcome and pervasive that there was never a desire to criticize, “Okay fine it’s beautiful,” we joked, but never really did I had an urge to throw negativity into such a positive pool. What we did not like, we respected and moved on from. An unfortunate byproduct of this is the pressure on people to conform to these norms. In an interview with founder Larry Harvey, he says “I see increasing pressure to conform to a ‘participant lifestyle.'” What began as a move to eliminate the restrictions of culture has become its own culture, with its own norms. It is possible to observe the spectrum of people’s dependence on subculture; some love the Burning Man phrases, rituals, etc. and others are in touch with the efforts to eradicate culture. I think this spectrum is a defining characteristic of personality, and I am very much in the latter camp.)

Decommodification

Going further in its goal to remove societal restrictions, Burning Man is a money-free zone. They promote radical self-reliance (anticipating one’s own food, water, shelter, and electrical needs and planning accordingly) and gifting (giving what is needed willingly, without any expectation of return.) Anything given was given for free, and people brought to give generously: food handouts, art installations, supplies, giant stages with celebrity DJs..

The gift economy was the most transformative element of the experience, and it took the most time to adjust to. We take economic transactions for granted in the default world, accepting without question the many brief mindless human relationships we have while buying and selling things. The introduction of money is the surest way to rob an interaction of its humanity and immediacy. I noticed myself taking food from open hands without thought, as if I had paid for it, and then stopping to consider the human handing me the food. The food was not a calculated response to a demand, but instead an incredible expression of generosity. I became much more aware of the individuals around me as they stopped existing for my benefit and all became equals. Similarly, the Burning Man website tells us that our communities in the default world are defined by needs and deficiencies (this community needs one coffee shop and daily trash pickup) and not their ability to contribute (this community has tremendous skill in gardening and painting.)

And giving felt good – I once walked around handing people pretzels and Nutella, getting into conversation after conversation. Gone was the default ethic that casts need as shameful or impolite (for example, in the customs of saying no many times before accepting a gift, asking for “no gifts please,” dressing as nicely as possible and hiding inability to pay for things…the examples are numerous.) Instead, our needs and ability to satisfy them in each others was a beautiful thing, binding us in a common humanity. Most people accepted gifts greedily, with an exclamation not of thanks but of joy – the purpose of the gift was the joy, not the thanks.

I noticed in myself a hyperattentiveness to my own needs and wants, and a desire to meet them as soon as possible. It was shocking how much of my brainspace this took up: I need coffee, I need hot food, I need more comfortable shoes, I need to rest, to sit down, to stand up. In the default world, and especially in New York, we are so accustomed to having our needs met that we forget how transient and silly they can be, and how self-sufficient we are if they are not. Having the money to pay for coffee means that one begins to see the coffee shop, the barista, and the coffee as an extension of oneself and an entitlement. We forget that we are responsible for our own bodies. I worked to focus on the world around me rather than jump from need to need. I spent a day fasting (with water), both to furher decommodify the experience and to better feel the spirituality of it. By the end of the week I was myself without focusing on consumption.

It was a beautiful world of love and peace, and living in it got me angry at the greater world outside. In this default world, why do we limit our connections to small bubbles of comfort? Why do we use the label “weird” to attack things that challenge us, then deny those aspects of ourselves? But to view the city as an oasis from the evil world outside is to eschew blame. *We* – in whatever grouping – are the reason for the world as it exists. The very people who come to Burning Man in green underwear and fire-breathing tubas are the ones who leave it to wear jeans and a t-shirt, bottle up thoughts and dreams that do not fit in, and walk past homeless people as if they were not worth talking to. What worth are these lessons when they remain confined to a time, place, and excuse? We rebel against ourselves in constant struggle and cower before the shadow of our greatness.

So what is the man, and why do we burn it? You might have gathered that I love thinking about that kind of thing. To me on the one hand, he is the usual metaphor, “the man” keeping us down and enforcing the rules, and in burning him we seek to rebel. On the other, he is ourselves; in order to destroy that which we hate so much we would have to destroy ourselves, and he takes the place of that. Similarly, he is Jesus, dying for our sins so we may live as sinners.

Or perhaps the man’s destruction is not negative, but an embrace of transience. After all, every object is destined to be destroyed; what a privilege it is for an artist to conceive of a work’s entire lifespan within the creation process. The man’s short lifespan mirrors our short lifespan, and its importance is in the realm of ideas and mental spaces, only tangentially related to its physicality or ultimate fate.

So too is Burning Man’s ultimate importance: unchained to whether it is a viable way to run the real world, to whether it lasts a week or a month or a year. The point is that it exists with pure majesty, not whether it will grow or shrink. Its massive political ambitions are not to elect someone or push for policies, but on an entirely different wavelength of encouraging the growth and spread of love and humanity. In simply being, Burning Man achieves its goal; in spreading values and attention, all the more so.

By the end of the week, my experience of time had changed. The to-do-list, day-by-day, plan-execute-evaluate attention to time shifted to a moment-by-moment feeling of gratitude and acceptance. The humanity that Burning Man brought out was a rediscovery of childhood wonderhood and hope. I’m not saying I fully achieved this kind of awareness, but I came closer. It’s hard not to be grateful in such a beautiful place.

We all wrote personal messages on the temple, which went up in flames on Sunday. Looking at the reality around me, it felt clear that we will always need to struggle for love, through small battles like the Burning Man bubble and the toleration of Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement; just as swiftly as tolerance takes hold it can lose ground (witness the increased accceptance of gays simultaneous with the growing hatred for Muslims – it’s *not* getting better all the time.) My message on the temple wall was a hope for the future of the human race, that our constitution might change so we can’t bear to endure the suffering or mistreatment of each another and love will flow freely, without stoppages or blocks. We’re allowed to dream, right? 🙂

Burning Man photos

From Facebook:


“Amazing, stunning, beautiful, new. In the moment I took few photos and I wish I had more memories in color. Lots of fun in Photoshop.”

From Burning Man 2010, posted by Michael Morgenstern on 9/09/2010 (53 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher


Face to Face at Grand Central

British Airways’ Face to Face program has been incredibly helpful for our work at FilmAid. They gifted us ten international flights which we used to hold meetings and show donors our operations, a bunch of free cargo shipments which we used to transport donations of equipment, and more.

This week, Tuesday and Wednesday September 14-15 from 7am-7pm (probably,) I will be at Grand Central Terminal in Vanderbilt Hall telling people about the program. You can come, hear about ours and other organizations, meet some “business celebrities,” and get in an actual elevator to record your video elevator pitch. Gimmicky *and* useful!

Hope to see you there.