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 December, 2010

Happy New Year!

2011 glasses

Yeah that's awkward.

No New Years’ compares to 2009. A party at my house in Los Angeles with some of my closest friends, right after we had spent two nights camping. It was such an exciting thought that we were all going to stay in touch after college. Of course we haven’t continued to stay in touch as well as I had hoped on that December 31. But I am overjoyed that we have remained friends and that I have made so many new ones in the time since.

EDIT: So what do I think about those sentiments two years later? I just got back from a beautiful safari, which I went on alone, joining a group. It wasn’t with 10 of my closest friends as I would have hoped. I’m 7,000 miles from home and had my iPhone stolen. But I’m at an internet cafe planning New Years’ over the internet four hours before 2011, and looking forward to hop in a taxi and connect with friends on my shiny new black and white Nokia phone. And I’m so thrilled to see the people with whom I have spent so little time yet grown so fond of. It’s not a picture perfect New Years’ but it is an awesome one.

I don’t practice New Years’ resolutions, because I think any promise made in response to a stupid holiday is not a promise likely to be kept. But I think it’s a great time to be thankful for the people around us and the ability we have been given to spend some time on this planet.

I’ll take the stupid snow off soon, I promise.

Planning on traveling to Mogadishu?

The awful war in Somalia is no laughing matter, but wikitravel’s attempt to describe Mogadishu, the capital city, is comical. It’s an earnest attempt to function as a travel guide and at the same time inform readers that they would have to be clinically insane to want to go to Mogadishu. Almost everything they recommend is, in the same sentence, described as another chance to get shot.

My favorite line:

Mogadishu has had no effective government since 1991, which has left the transport network that was in place in disrepair. Roads are a muddy mess during rain, traffic lights do not work, and there are no enforced traffic laws or public transport. Roads may be blocked or closed with no notice by militiamen. Traffic drives on the right. Some reports say that to get through intersections near markets crowded with people, those wealthy enough to have vehicles fire machine guns into the air to clear a path.

Oh, they drive on the RIGHT…how interesting.

Astonishingly dumb luck in Arusha

Merry Christmas to all! I had my own Christmas miracle yesterday. I normally use the same taxi company to get around Nairobi, for safety, but occasionally I hop into a random one or use one that a friend recommends. This was one of those times, and I was carrying a bag. I bounded out of the cab, and the sketchy guy I’d seen eying me (who I was trying to avoid) called out for me. I reluctantly turned, and there was the driver holding it up for me. Thank you!! In a city nicknamed Nai-robbery, that is a miracle.

The rest of the story I will chalk up to astonishingly dumb luck – I keep waiting for karma to swing the other way..

Turbo-prop. Not my photo or my plane (my plane was smaller)

This morning at 8:15am I flew out to Arusha, Tanzania for the start of my safari. I arrived at the airport mad early, around 6:15am, and the flight gate is not yet posted on the screens (every other gate is posted.) I go to gate 4, which is listed on the ticket, and they tell me that the flight is not leaving there. I call Mikey, and halfway through the call it occurs to me that they might never put up the gate and leave anyway, puzzled but not unsurprised that nobody’s shown up for the flight. Sure enough, the lady at the ?Info? desk tells me to rush to gate 4 – “don’t worry about the monitors,” she chides, “just get to the gate or you’ll miss the flight!”

The flight was a teeny-tiny turbo-prop; we had to crouch just to get inside. It was flying to Kilimanjaro airport, about an hour from Arusha, and most of the 15 people on it were going to climb the mountain. I’d thought about doing it – it’s supposed to be a relatively easy eight day climb, but when I saw what the damn thing looked like I had a hard time imagining it to be easy. A huge craggy mountain with a shock of snow towered waaay above the clouds. “That’s an easy eight day climb?” I said. The others didn’t seem fazed at all. At the moment I was very happy that my vacation was going to be spent in a jeep.

kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro from the airplane. They call this an easy climb... (Also not my photo.)

Just then, a loud blaring sound began to come from the cockpit. You know the sound – you’ve heard it if you have ever seen a movie where something goes wrong. It is the “something is very wrong” sound. Bah, bah, bah, bah…you know? I looked around terrified and said the shemah. (The shemah is a Jewish prayer recognizing god as the one and only. I don’t think I could really say that I believe in god in that sense, but when I was in elementary school it was hammered into my head that it should be the last words to leave a Jew’s lips. If you ever see me mumbling something while you are driving a car, please slow down.) But then ten seconds later it stopped and ten minutes later we landed. Again, nobody else seemed fazed.

I hadn’t planned for the $100 entry fee into the country, but not to worry – they had ATMs set up for that! But the ATM said “ATM closed.” Not “ATM out of money” but “closed”…as if it was observing the Christmas holiday. Luckily – again, blind, dumb, astonishing, how-do-I-deserve-this luck, I had just last night found a bunch of Kenyan Shillings in the bottom of my bag that just equaled $101. I am not kidding. I changed the money, paid it, and left.

Today is a hotel day, and since I’m alone there is not much to do. I walked around town for a while but got tired of the calls of “Mzungu caribu!” (white man, welcome!) I set out to buy some fruit at the local market, and when I asked a woman how much for a mango and was quoted a price, I realized I had literally no idea what the exchange rate was. Thinking on my feet, I responded “that’s crazy! I won’t pay a white man’s price” and offered less than half of what I was quoted. She readily accepted.

I sat down in a restaurant and two men immediately sat next to me. I was quite pleasant and then asked them “you’re sitting down next to me because you want to sell me something, right? What do you want to sell me?” and one of them said “nothing.” He paused for a few seconds and continued: “Unless you’re looking for something…like weed, you like weed? I mean I don’t smoke it, but sometimes, just on the holidays, sometimes special yes? But no, it’s not for me. But as a holiday treat, you know?” He laughed. I finished my food and returned to the hotel.

Tonight I will try some Indian food; tomorrow we head to Tarangire National Park and the adventure continues…

Gone fishin'

Big 5

Not *that* Big Five!

Tomorrow morning I leave for a little break to Tanzania, where I will visit Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, and hopefully see the big five animals (which is not a list of the coolest animals because it doesn’t include giraffes.)

giraffes

?

After I get back, two short weeks until a return to the USA. During that time I have to capture 100+ hours of video to bring back to the USA. And write the 10+ blog posts sitting on the back burner.

Happy holidays and New Year to all!

Thoughts on us existing as a computer simulation

computer simulation?

No, not like this!

Many a scientist has hypothesized that we are living in a computer simulation (especially Nick Bostrom who says it’s almost definite.) If a computer were simulating the rules of physics, our molecules would be virtualized bits of data. There’d be no way to tell. It’s hard to wrap our minds around what this reality would really entail, because we don’t know enough about the nature of our universe’s physics, or about what kind of computing is possible in the future. I would argue that we are not capable of comprehending both of these things fully.

But even with our tinny tiny understanding of the nature of reality, the concept reveals an interesting take on the nature of data. If we can be represented by a complex model, then in a sense we are the complex model, encoded in matter. Data means any form of organization whatsoever, and what we call matter is the medium of storage of the data. It could be bits and bytes, it could be an idea in somebody’s head, it could be a chaotic and unorganized mesh.

But what of the medium that encodes the data? No matter what you put on a hard disk, it is still a hard disk. If it is simulating a universe, doing math, or booting up and then sitting idle, its fabric and basic structure is the same. And — and this is what interests me now — it exists in a world where entropy is steadily decreasing. We believe that the world always tends towards less entropy, less organization. A pile of sand will eventually scatter, a concentrated drop of liquid will eventually disperse, unless external energy is used to keep it together (the physics definition of entropy is more exacting, but it’s a phenomenon that works on any level.) So, too, the “entropy” of a hard drive is always decreasing – it requires electricity and repair to remain in the same clean baseline state.

SO…if we have a computer simulating our universe, it takes a significant amount of energy just to keep the laws of physics going, irrespective of what is happening in the universe. This entropy could be tied in some way to the physics of our own universe.

The alternative I see is if scientists were able to construct a computer whose very structure did the computation. One example is a non-mechanized coin sorter – the rules of the system are built into its structure and it does not require a continual amount of energy just to continue to enforce them. I think this is an important distinction to make between different kinds of computing systems, and we may very well begin to see more advanced structural computers come about one day.

This analysis will seem woefully simplistic to future generations – probably even our own. I saw Fassbinder’s “World on a Wire” at MoMA last year, which was a result of deep and serious thinking but, because it was made in 1973 before most computers, now looks almost idiotic. Who knows? I just like to think about things in taxicabs.

They sent out links to my blog hilarious

A few weeks ago I DJ’d at the Pumzika club – it was an epic failure of international music that I blogged about here. I thought it was pretty hilarious, if a bit frustrating at the time. I was pretty sure that the clientele would not appreciate my non-reggae&pop mix.

But hilariously, someone who read my blog at work forwarded it to someone, who forwarded it to someone, who sent it to the entire list of their organization (about 150 people.) This is called going viral, but it usually doesn’t happen in a UN compound…

A few days after the post people started coming up to me and telling me they’d read it. “Oh shit” was my typical first reaction, but it seems that for the most part people enjoyed it or found it amusing. A few thought I was legitimately upset, some agreed vehemently that people ought to open their minds to all forms of music, and the majority just thought I was dumb for not playing to the crowd.

All in all it was a good experiment, a bit awkward but also fun to have so many people read the blog. From the post:

Right around “House of Klezmer” and some David Guetta, the enthusiastic dancing gave way to manic discontent. The Kenyans, acting as a hive mind, came up with one way after another to get me to stop DJing. I had people running up to me asking for more reggae, more rap, requests which quickly gave way to demands that I give up the music. At the same time, I attracted every American in the club, one of whom outright asked for the whole mix on flash drive.

Dubstep was the tipping point, and my Tek-One track brought a flurry of discussion and an intervention from the bartender. Before I knew what was happening, another laptop was opened next to mine and a woman was playing with the audio cable that was attached to my computer. The cable I brought!

Would you fight in the US Army?

I had a fascinating conversation with a Somali refugee – let’s call him Mohamed. I suggest you first watch the video below, which was blurred for his security:

Mohamed first discusses his issues with the Somali and Kenyan governments, both of which are indifferent to the plight of the refugee. While it is true that Kenya accepts refugees and allows for support infrastructure as it is required to do by treaty, the refugees here have very few rights. Mohamed tells me that he wants to go to the US and be a doctor, and that he would fight in a war for the United States.

It shocked me at first that a refugee would support war, though at this point it should not come as such a revelation. In history it’s hard to anybody reacting to violence with a massive call to peace. Violence is not as shocking if you’ve been through violence.

More shocking, though, was his allegiance to the United States, a country he has never lived in but hopes to move to soon. Love for the US is very common in the camps – as Mohamed says, the country gives almost everything there. It is seen as a land of paradise with opportunity for all.

Mohamed, I respect your views. I disagree very, very strongly – and it makes me sad to see that someone in your situation could hold these views. But I can’t judge…and it also seems that you are not the only one.

Watch the video and let us know what your thoughts are.

It's snowing!

I put snow on my blog. It’s really festive and pretty. Well no, it’s really garish and annoying. I love it.

Watch out – I might bring back the blink tag!

Do it on your site..

Ferg6cious

FerG6cious (Fergie vs. Far East Movement) by mjmfilms

When I first heard Like a G6, I thought for a second they were the same song. Perhaps this mashup gives you a clue why.

Music video coming soon. WATCH THIS SPACE.

I took what Fergie did best and what Far East Movement did best

We learn on PRO APPS

When working with a beginner, it’s not better to go simple. It’s worse–far worse.

Awesome PVP students learning Final Cut Pro

I’m on lunch break from teaching a PVP class how to edit. Some of them have barely used computers before, and none have touched an editing program.

Conventional wisdom would be to start them off slow and simple – first a program like iMovie, designed for beginners. It’s got less scary buttons, less choices. You could give the mouse to a monkey and have her throw it at a wall, and somehow you’d come out with a decent birthday video of your kids.

But in limiting options, we’re doing just that – limiting options. Proficiency in a baby application with no flexibility is not nearly as useful as 1/10 proficiency in a pro application. In striving to understand the complexity of the whole thing, even as students master basic tasks they are paving the way to a comprehensive understanding.

It’s very similar to learning a language – people pick up the subtleties of a language best when they are immersed in it – a period of intense frustration gives way to spurts of understanding. Those who are spoon-fed a language in class, however, never really seem to get this complexity. Math education is a great analogy as well – as alluded to in Lockhart’s Lament, there is no point in having somebody memorize arbitrary things like cosine and arctangent if they aren’t slowly gaining a fundamental understanding of how the subject works.

Is it as smooth a ride? No, not at all. My students constantly click a button they didn’t know about, use the right mouse button instead of the left, or drag when they should click. For now I correct the mistakes without explaining – too much information would be overwhelming. If I were teaching for months, I’d slowly begin to explain these more advanced features. Also, when I say that everyone understands I exaggerate. Everyone is at a different level.

But the greatest challenge here is not intellectual – it is emotional. Working trough a steep learning curve is difficult, and it’s most of all important to train people to attempt things they do not understand – that’s how computer learning works.

So keep your iMovie at home. Don’t download apps using the new Mac App Store. Don’t settle for software and solutions that rob you of power by promising simplicity. Support software that offers choice and embraces complexity. There is a difference between simple software and dumb software, and Apple provides good examples of both: Mac OS X is simple, but it’s fantastically complex. iMovie is a one-trick donkey. I don’t like the glass ceilings these applications perpetuate..not at all.

Students learning

Yeah, we learn on PRO APPS.