18 January 2012

You Can Make SOPA and PIPA Irrelevant (But You're Probably Too Lazy)

SOPA and PIPA are bad laws. And Clay Shirky's TED talk about why they're bad laws is great. But he gets the most important point wrong. Right at the end, he says there are two things you can do.

He says you can call your Congresspeeps, and you can "get ready", because more is coming.

But there aren't two things you can do. There are three. And the third thing is much more powerful than the two things Clay suggests.

You can make SOPA, PIPA, Copyright, and the Media moguls of the Hollywood studios, the music labels, the MPAA, and the RIAA irrelevant. You can cut off their air supply.

You can make your own media, and you can make it free.

And why wouldn't you? It's not like the media that's being made for you - for which the RIAA and the MPAA are willing to break the Internet and put you in jail - is any good.

Today's media is SHIT.

Are you dying to see "April of the Penguins" and "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3D"?

Can you NOT FUCKING WAIT for the latest Justin Bieber disc?

(If you said "yes", you are not the target audience, and you are not the future. Please leave.)

I've said it before, but it bears repeating. This stuff is NOT WORTH STEALING. The RIAA and the MPAA want to break the Internet to protect Britney Spears and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked". SRSLY.

You can make your own media, and you can OBVIOUSLY make better media.

My sisters and I made this in 48 hours with one iPhone, one iMac, and software that cost us zero dollars. You can do MUCH MUCH BETTER. (We can too, and we will).

A modern $300 point-and-shoot camera will take hi-def video whose quality would have made Orson Welles cry. A new Mac comes with iMovie and Garage Band FREE. These apps will let you do things a Hollywood studio would have spent millions of dollars on only a decade ago. Robert Rodriguez' 10-minute film schools are on YouTube and will teach you everything you need to know - IF you have a story to tell and a bit of talent.

So why do you pay $12 for a movie ticket to see some hack's cynical sequel to a sequel when you could make movies yourself and share them for free on YouTube or Vimeo?

Because you're lazy and afraid.

If enough of you shake off the fear and lethargy, you can make the Internet a BETTER place to watch movies than the theater: not just a cheaper place, but a BETTER place. Better because the stories are better and better because the viewing experience is better (no DRM, no lawyers, no restrictions on where a movie can be viewed, no need to wait for a movie to be "released" in our towns).

And you know what's even better than that? If you DO make the Internet a better place to watch movies than the theater, you'll also make it a place where the people who MAKE movies get paid. Which would be great, because the current system doesn't pay people who make movies: it pays people who finance movies, distribute movies, and lobby Congress to make sure watching movies stays expensive.

Here's all it would take. You'd get your ass off the couch and write down that story you think really needs to be told. You'd take in a few online tutorials - maybe Dan Allen's short-film and FCPX tutorials (look for iMovie tutorials if you're cheap), and a few GarageBand lessons. You'd read David Mamet's wonderful short book On Directing Film. And then you'd dust off your DSLR or your digital point-and-shoot camera and go out and make a movie.

You'd upload that movie to YouTube or Vimeo, and you'd give it a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license so anybody could embed it, show it, or download it and remix it to create their own works for free.

You might make a really great film. If you do, you might get paid for it - or not, but you'd still have made a really great film. But - and this is the important point - NO MOVIE STUDIO WOULD GET PAID FOR IT. AND NO MOVIE STUDIO LAWYER WOULD BE ABLE TO THREATEN TO TAKE A WEBSITE OFF THE INTERNET FOR HOSTING IT. AND NO MOVIE STUDIO LOBBYIST WOULD BE ABLE TO BREAK THE INTERNET TO PREVENT OTHERS FROM RIFFING ON IT.

If enough of you do this, the movie studios will have less money. Less money to make shit movies, but also less money to pay lobbyists to pay Congressmen to break the Internet.

And if that happens, Clay's fears won't be realized. There won't be another SOPA waiting for us down the road.

But of course, you'd have to get your ass off the couch.

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24 August 2011

What Steve Jobs Built

You've all heard the news by now. Steve Jobs has stepped down as Apple's CEO. I could recite his accomplishments, but you know them. I could link to the videos, but you've seen them. I could tell you to buy a Mac and an iPhone, but you've already got them.

But there is one thing I haven't seen anyone say about Steve, so I'll say it now.

You often hear that we don't build anything in America anymore. And it's true enough that we don't build TVs, and we don't make much steel, and we don't make many textiles, and even Apple doesn't make computers here anymore.

But we still do make ONE thing in America.

We make the future.

And Steve Jobs did that better than anybody, for a long, long time.

Thank you, Steve. I hope you have many happy and healthy years to enjoy the future you've done so much to build. I'm gonna head over to the Mac App Store now and buy Motion as a way-too-tiny token of my profound gratitude.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/home_of_chaos/4645091860 (Creative Commons BY License)

24 July 2011

A Bipartisan Letter From Congress to the American People

Dear America,

We know you're watching the debt ceiling debate with growing alarm, and we just wanted to reassure you that we know exactly what we're doing, and everything is going to be OK.

For us.

You, not so much.

You probably think we don't know your credit card interest rates are going to go up to 30% next week when we refuse to pay the bills we rang up invading Iraq, buying crooked banks, stuffing the pockets of CEOs and Union bosses, and throwing enough nickels at the rest of you to make sure you didn't ask too many questions about what was really going on.

You're wrong. We know.

We just don't care.

You probably think we're anguished about the fact that another million of you are going to have your houses repossessed by the bank when mortgage interest rates shoot up like a rocket in August.

Wrong again. It's not like OUR houses are in any danger.

You might even think we're worried that the dollar is going to inflate like Zimbabwean money until you're begging illegal Mexican immigrants to throw you a Peso or two.

Yeah right.

OUR money is already socked away in overseas gold accounts, and besides, we can always get more by throwing a few scraps to a lobbyist or cranking your tax rate up to 90%.

(If we had half a brain, a whole bunch of us would already have called our brokers and shorted T-Bonds; then we'd make out like BANDITS when we finish pushing US debt to junk-bond status! But that would be unethical. And un-American. Just like shirking our constitutional responsibility to ensure that "The Public Debt of the United States... shall not be questioned". Heh. Heh heh.)

What did you just say?

You're going to vote us out?

You cannot be serious.

We KNOW you don't vote. OK, a few of you vote in the general election. But that's the beauty of it: the general election doesn't matter! By the time the general election rolls around, there's nobody left but idiots, weasels, and nuts (oh my)!

You don't vote in primaries, and you're not going to. Only crazy people vote in primaries. Did you think we were STUPID when we stopped choosing our candidates in smoke-filled rooms? WE knew that the only people who would come out for primaries would be hate-filled lefty and righty extremists too chickenshit to become real terrorists and herds of morons our pollsters and fat cats drive to the polls and pay to vote the party line.

That's why everybody here is a pervert like Anthony Weiner, a crook like Charlie Rangel, or a feeble-minded lunatic like Michelle Bachmann. And it's why the only thing we care about is keeping the money hose pointed at the people who fill OUR trough.

So kiss the dollar goodbye, get used to sleeping in a box, and enjoy the Even Greater Depression, America - you're Boehned!

Oh, and one more thing:

See you in November, suckers!

28 April 2011

Werner Herzog Reads Curious George

When a work finds its truest performer, the magic happens.

:-)

23 April 2011

Symmetry

Radiolab posted this wonderful video to YouTube:

03 April 2011

Improv Everywhere: Triumph of the Human Spirit

Comedy?

25 March 2011

A Beautiful Short Film

How Football came to Panyee. This film is wonderfully made and tells an inspiring story in a little over 5 minutes. It doesn't hurt that the setting, Panyee Thailand, is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

23 March 2011

How Much Do Movies Really Cost?

A while back I wrote about how much it costs Hollywood to make a movie, using Avatar as a (particularly depressing) example. Avatar seems to have cost about $237 million, of which $150 million went to promotion.

Avatar, of course, wasn't just "any old movie" - even by Hollywood standards. It was made by James Cameron, who has a history of making movies that rake in mountains of cash once they're released; Avatar seems to have made North of $2.5 BILLION dollars. It was also made in 3D (ick) using bleeding-edge graphics techniques on a set which was designed from the ground up to make the movie. Avatar won three Oscars, which is evidence that the Oscar should no longer be considered an honor worth having.

You can make a much better movie than Avatar for a lot less money; The Hurt Locker, directed by Cameron's ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow, was a better movie than Avatar even by Hollywood's standards - it won 6 Oscars the same year Avatar won its 3. The Hurt Locker cost less than $20 million to make, and it seems to have earned about $20 million.

You can get production costs down far below $20 million, but total costs are still high if you want a movie released in theaters. The Blair Witch Project cost between $20,000 and $750,000 to make, depending on who you believe and how you define expenses - but it cost $25 million to print, distribute, and advertise.

And of course, Robert Rodriguez famously shot El Mariachi for $7,000 - but again, the total costs of the movie the audience actually saw were much greater. Columbia paid at least another million, and probably more, to print the film, advertise it, and distribute it.

Rodriguez made El Mariachi on 16mm film. Film is expensive, and so is the equipment you need to use to shoot a movie on film. Today you can shoot a movie digitally for even less than Rodriguez spent on El Mariachi. I've done it.

The trick is to do everything yourself (or with a few friends), using consumer equipment, and avoid all the things that make Hollywood films expensive.

I made the movie at the head of this post for last year's Austin 48-Hour Film Project. I wrote the script myself, did all the filming, lighting, editing, and music myself on equipment I already owned, and used friends & family (me, my father, and my former boss) for actors.

Even if I'd had to buy all the equipment new, it would only have cost about $2,000. Here's the complete equipment list:

$1199 13" MacBook Pro

$399 Panasonic DMC-LX3

$43 8GB Class 10 SDHC card

$0: iMovie

$0 Garage Band

$199 8GB iPod Touch

$9.99 BeatMaker app

$14.99 MusicStudio app

$6.99 ThumbJam app

$1.99 Bebot app

$3.99 Bloom app

$0.99 Euphonics app

$1.99 Bowls app

$0.99 Church Organ app

$0 Audacity for Mac

$0 iMovie Tutorials

$0 Garage Band Tutorials

$20 "Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age"

$279 Tripod

$10 "On Directing Film"

$30 Three Home Depot worklights with 100W bulbs

The total comes to $2,220.92.

But $1,598 of that is the laptop and a consumer digicam capable of HD video - and there's a good chance you already have one or both of those.

The most important items - David Mamet's book "On Directing Film", the tripod, and the lights - cost only $319.

By the way, you will be tempted to cheap out on the tripod.

DO NOT CHEAP OUT ON THE TRIPOD.

You want a good solid one with a smooth pan action, a quick-release plate, and a leveling bubble.

The moral of this story is that if you have a decent computer and digital camera, you can make a pretty good movie yourself for free. Next time we'll talk about whether you can get anybody to watch it, and whether you can make money from it.

05 August 2010

Storytelling in 30 seconds

Damn.

(Hat tip to Nancy Duarte for the link.)

13 May 2010

Math Education Sucks the Same Way TV Sitcoms suck

Fascinating observation from Dan Meyer at TED. Bonus: shout-out to the iPhone as a cheap & easy way to produce compelling video to fix the math education problem.

24 April 2010

Great Movie, Cheap Gear

While you're waiting for the New Studio's financials, take a second to watch "Uncle Jack":

It's 5 minutes long, its story is far better than Avatar's and it was shot in three days with equipment you can probably afford.

Here's Jamin Winans (the director) explaining how he did it:

23 April 2010

Not Worth Stealing

This week in movie news, Hitler has reacted badly to the news that Constantin Films, who own the copyright to "Downfall", have issued a DMCA notice resulting in the removal of many "Downfall"-based parodies from YouTube.

The Downfall parodies are a prime example of what Larry Lessig calls Remix. Constantin Film AG calls it "theft".

EFF, the Open Video Alliance, and others will argue til the cows come home about whether remix is theft or fair use.

I say the hell with it.

Forget about remix. Why start with crap?

I haven't seen Downfall; it was made in Germany, not Hollywood, so it might not be total crap. But what arguments over the DMCA are distracting us from is that

MODERN MOVIES AREN'T WORTH STEALING!
Take Avatar. It was released on video this week. It won THREE Oscars, and was nominated for six more including best director and best picture. It's a two hour cartoon with a juvenile story you could tell in one minute. Don't believe me? Here you go:
Evil militaristic corporation lands on pristine planet occupied by noble giant smurfs and priceless ore. Military begins wiping out smurfs but one honorable disabled underling falls in love with a smurf, goes rogue, and leads the resistance. Just as all seems lost, the planet itself rises up and crushes the invaders, and the hero is magically transformed into an able-bodied smurf himself. In 3D. With lots of heart-swelling music.
Avatar is crap; the only good thing about its DVD release is that if you watch it at home, you'll be able to pause it every two hours so you can pee; I saw it in the theater and I was praying for a catheter by the halfway point.

Edward Jay Epstein's recent book "The Hollywood Economist" is depressingly clear about why almost every movie made today is crap. In a nutshell, it's because moviemakers can't get distribution deals for pictures which aren't guaranteed to herd teenage boys into the theaters in droves (read the book for more details). Epstein notes on his blog that crap teenager-magnets like Avatar are squeezing indie movies (which are still occasionally worth seeing) out of the theaters. Epstein's conclusion is this:

With the prospect of American distribution rapidly fading, indie producers are now finding pre-sale financing almost impossible. "It's a dead business model," a former Miramax executive said.

If so how can Indie producers continue to make movies? They might be able to find wealthy individuals entranced enough with a movie fantasy to put up the money, but they still need to devise a new way in this digital age to distribute them to an audience willing to see something more than the movie versions of amusement park rides.

Bingo. So let's get started.

I promised you two years ago (I know, I know, but I've been busy…) that I'd post a business plan for a New Studio: "…a new business model that lets creative people make a decent living making good, cheap movies. [The New Studio is] going to trust its audience to pay for quality films. It's going to grow its fan base by distributing entire movies on the Internet with no DRM."

In the unlikely event you've been eagerly waiting for me to keep this promise, you're in luck. Here's the first installment:

What is The New Studio?

The New Studio is a business model which uses the new technologies of low-cost digital capture and editing, high-quality low-cost print-on-demand services, and near-zero-cost electronic distribution to take creative control of cinematic storytelling away from producers and studio executives and give it back to writers and directors.

The New Studio is owned and managed by directors and writers, who produce their own material and retain artistic control of their work. Every director in a New Studio has final cut.

The New Studio accomplishes its financial goals by enabling motion pictures to be produced, marketed, and distributed cheaply enough that there is a high probability of a modest profit (and a smaller possibility of a large profit) for every film the New Studio produces.

The New Studio may accept investments by outside producers. Producers’ relationship with The New Studio is, however, financial rather than creative. In return for lower financial risk (that is, a more predictable return on investment than a traditional studio can promise), investors in The New Studio willingly leave all creative decisions to the New Studio’s writers and directors.

What are the The New Studio’s principles?

Hollywood fears the web. Studios fear that releasing their movies on the web will destroy their revenue stream.

Fear of releasing movies on the web comes from a belief that the product is worthless – so no sane person would voluntarily pay for it. This belief is justified by most of today’s movies. They are made not to satisfy an artistic urge, or to tell a story, but to make money. A lot of money.

If you need to make 100 million dollars, you have no time to think about anything else. Including telling a story.

But you don't need to make 100 million dollars, because you don't need to spend 80 million dollars to make the movie and distribute it. In 2010 you can produce movies cheaply using new technologies, as Robert Rodriguez and others have demonstrated. You can distribute movies essentially free using the Internet. This means that, as long as you’re not greedy, there are stories you can afford to tell with the new tech which studios cannot afford to tell for theatrical release. This is good for the artists but bad for middlemen who add cost but not artistic value to projects.

People will want to pay for a story which is worth the money. No story is worth $100 million (well, maybe just a few. The Bible’s done pretty well at the box office…). But lots of stories are worth $2 million.

When you put content into electronic form you enable people to make an unlimited number of copies for free. There is therefore no such thing as theft. Want proof? If someone makes a free copy of my movie, what have I lost? Only something I never had: the copier’s money. (NOTE: If you thought Digital Rights Management could stop people from making copies, you’re confused. Study until you understand why you’re wrong. Until then, don’t bother us).

While there is no such thing as theft, there is such a thing as publicity. A good product, distributed widely, creates buzz and demand. This in turn generates sales.

People who see honest publicity for a good product want to buy it. Digital Rights Management is based on a worldview of shortage. Our worldview is abundance. We think our stories are good – so good that people who see them will want to own them. We want as many people as possible to see them because we know some (not all) of those people will pay us for them.

What does The New Studio sell?

We sell access, experience, and artifacts.

Access to our products and, to a few lucky fans, access to the process of producing our products.

Experience of the magic of motion pictures – the willing suspension of disbelief, the entry into the story, the magic of the motion-picture production process, the glamour of our stars.

Artifacts including high-quality art produced specially for our customers and actual items used in the production of our motion pictures.

We make motion pictures and sell films.

  1. We release our motion pictures free on the Internet. In high-quality audio and video formats. Before theatrical release.
  2. We sell films. Not DVDs (which are just little round pieces of plastic and metal) – films. Films are released to the retail market simultaneously with free Internet release. The buyer of a film gets a high-resolution DVD with an excellent motion picture that tells a compelling story. This DVD is not region-coded or protected by DRM; the buyer can play it on any device, create any number of copies, and exhibit it to the public if he chooses. The film comes in a high-quality package which creates a film experience.

    The motion picture at the heart of the film is reproduced on the highest-quality media available, so that it will last a lifetime. If media is scratched, or if it degrades, it will be replaced at no cost, with no questions asked – guaranteed.

    The film is sold in one of three editions, and not everyone can own one. The first edition is the limited edition.

    The limited edition film includes original, limited-edition collectible art art (a numbered 8x10 archival black-and-white photograph of one of the stars by an outstanding photographer) which will grow in value over time and which represents a connection between the filmmakers and the buyer.

    The limited edition film includes a high-quality illustrated book containing production stills and a commentary on the production by the screenwriter and the director; this book is available only as part of the film editions.

    The limited edition film includes a unique password for a website which allows the buyer to view dailies and other production details of the next motion picture produced by the studio.

    The limited edition film includes a coupon which can be redeemed for two free tickets to see the motion picture in a local theater after its theatrical release (if it gets released to theaters!).

    And the limited edition film includes a lottery ticket. The two winners of the lottery will be auditioned for roles in a future motion picture produced by the studio. If the winners are not cast in speaking parts, they will be cast as extras or given roles in the crew of the production.

    The limited edition film will be available for only $50 per copy. Only 100,000 limited edition copies of the film will be produced – ever.

    The second edition of the film is the special edition. The special edition film includes all the contents of the limited edition. It also includes a copy of the movie’s poster (signed by the director and shipped rolled, not folded) and a numbered 11x14 archival black-and-white photo of one of the stars by an outstanding photographer, signed on the front by the star and on the back by the photographer. This photo will be shipped ready for framing in a 16x20 archival mat. Both the poster and the photograph will grow in value over time and represent the personal connection between the filmmakers and the buyer.

    The special editions of the film are available for only $250 per copy. Only 1,000 special editions of the film will be produced – ever.

    The third edition of the film is the collector’s edition. These collector’s edition will include, in addition to the special edition film contents, two premiums. The first premium is an actual prop or costume used in the production of the film, with a certificate of authenticity signed by the director and the star most closely associated with the item. The second premium is two tickets to the theatrical premiere of the motion picture, if such a premier is held.

    The collector’s editions of the film are available for only $5,000 per copy. Only 100 collector’s editions of the film will be produced – ever.

  3. We sell motion pictures via iTunes. No motion picture will be released to iTunes until three months after its free Internet release – guaranteed. The motion pictures will be optimized for high-quality playback on iPads and laptop computers, and will be free of any DRM restrictions.

    Our motion pictures will be available via iTunes for only $4.99 per copy (for purposes of comparison, “Chicago” is sold on iTunes for $9.99 per copy).

  4. We sell prints of motion pictures to theatrical distributors. No motion picture will be released to theatrical distribution until one year after its free Internet release – guaranteed. This benefits buyers of films because they will have exclusive access to high-quality prints of the motion picture for a year before the motion picture is released to theaters. It benefits theater owners because they will have access to motion pictures with a proven fan base on the day of release.

How does The New Studio sell?

We sell direct, over the Internet.

We create demand by letting people experience our motion pictures in their entirety, in high-quality reproduction, for no cost. Our customers are not thieves. They are fans. They appreciate motion-picture art when they see it. If they can afford to own motion-picture art, they will choose to buy our films because those films have lasting artistic value, are worth owning, and enhance their lives.

Some of our customers cannot afford our films, but they still love and treasure motion-picture art. We celebrate the opportunity to enrich their lives by providing them with excellent art, even though they cannot afford to buy a film. Many of these people will become more prosperous, and will buy our films in the future; others will pay for downloads of our motion pictures so that they can play them through iTunes. Fans who cannot afford to pay us in cash will pay us with their voices by recommending our motion pictures to friends. A few of our fans will be inspired to make their own motion pictures, and they will tell stories we cannot imagine – and that’s the best part of all.

How does The New Studio advertise?

We don’t. Our product speaks for itself. People will recommend our motion pictures to their friends and companies will recommend them to their customers. Our motion pictures are so good that we think other people will want to use them to advertise their products and services. We approve. We will give a limited number of people and companies with influence, good taste, and good products permission to host our motion pictures, uncut, on their sites – individuals’ blogs and corporate portals – to help them advertise themselves and their products and services to their customers. If you think your audience or your customers would be attracted to your site by an excellent motion picture, get in touch. But hurry – we’ll grant this permission to a limited number of people and companies who believe strongly and early in the value of each of our motion pictures.

In the next entry, I'll run the numbers to convince you that the New Studio can make money.

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30 December 2009

What Does DHS Think TSA's Job Is?

I've been puzzling over Janet Napolitano's comments in the wake of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's semi-successful attempt to ignite a bomb onboard a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas day.

At first I thought her comment that "the system worked" was just normal bureaucratic ass-covering, but after reading and re-reading her comments, and after thinking about the "additional security measures" most widely implemented after the incident, I'm not so sure.

The additional security measures just didn't make sense to me at first:

  1. Passengers limited to one carryon bag (Abdulmutallab had none).
  2. No personal effects in passenger laps during last hour (Abdulmutallab had nothing in his lap; the bomb was inside his clothing).
  3. No moving around the cabin in the last hour (OK, Abdulmutallab did this).
But then I asked myself "what are these rules trying to prevent?"

The answer is unfortunately obvious - the rules are trying to prevent someone who has succeeded in getting a bomb on the plane from detonating it over a populated area near an airport.

What tipped me off was the weird restriction of the new rules to the last hour of the flight - what DHS apparently really doesn't want is a plane exploding in an urban area on TV, because that would look too much like 9/11. If we're going to lose one, let's make sure it goes down over a farm - like United 93.

Just to be perfectly clear, it looks to me like these rules are DHS's (specifically TSA's) attempt to protect the people on the ground, not the people on the plane. The underlying assumption is that terrorists who try to smuggle a bomb onto an airplane will succeed, at least some of the time.

Given the failure of TSA screening to detect pretty much all hazardous materials, this assumption is depressingly realistic. It also makes Secretary Napolitano's comments to CNN's Candy Crowley much easier to understand. If you're assuming that you can't stop people from smuggling bombs onto airplanes, you're going to assume that you'll lose a plane from time to time, and the best you can do is minimize the damage and respond quickly. Here's what Secretary Napolitano said:

...the system worked. Everybody played an important role here … the passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures in light of what had occurred on the Northwest Airlines flight. Uh, we instituted new measures on the ground and at screening areas both here in the United States and in Europe … uh … where this flight originated, so … ah … th … the whole process of making sure that we respond properly, directly and effectively went very smoothly.
These are the words of someone who's planning on cleaning up a mess rather than preventing people from making the mess in the first place. When Crowley followed up, the Secretary more or less confirmed that preventing an airplane bombing is a lower priority than keeping the planes running on time:
...what I really think deserves attention is everybody responded quickly effectively … witihout, without, you know, panicking and shutting down the airline systems — air travel.
If you're a taxpayer (or even if you're just a citizen), you're entitled to an opinion about what TSA's job should be. Here's a handy little poster illustrating what this citizen and taxpayer thinks it should be:

If TSA can't do this, or doesn't want to do it, I say shut 'em down and spend the money on something more effective.

You can watch the interview with Secretary Napolitano here.

01 November 2009

Goodbye, Don

Don Bowen died yesterday. He was 51 years and two days old - a bit older than me. He died of a brain tumor. I took the picture of Don you see above in San Diego's Gaslamp district on July 30. Don was attending my company's conference, and a lot of his friends held a party for him in the evening at a local restaurant.

The crowd lined up to see Don that night was huge. If you'd met Don, you'd know why. You can't meet him any more, of course, but you can get an idea of why all of us loved him. He chronicled his two years of living with cancer on his blog. What comes through the details of the story is Don's optimism, his faith, and his love of his friends and of the everyday reality of life. The very last entry sums it up; I imagine Don had prepared this well in advance:

On October 31, 2009, my Lord threw His loving arms around me tightly, invited me to enjoy life in this new world of His and pronounced me cancer free. He promised you and me a miracle if we prayed BIG, and He has kept His promise.

Memorial services will be held at 10:00 am on Saturday, November 28, 2009 at the Northwoods Community Church, 10700 N. Allen Road, Peoria IL 61614

Praise the Lord for His goodness!

Don

For the whole story, you can start at the beginning and read it in order. Goodbye Don. Don't worry about us - we'll be fine too. And we remember.

20 July 2009

Never a Small Step

"The day", to my grandparents's generation, was December 7th.

To my parents', it was November 22.

To me, and to my generation, "the day" is today - July 20.

I like to think that Neil Armstrong fumbled the first half of his famous quote because the false humility stuck in his throat.

It was never a small step. It was always and only a giant leap, and everyone knew it. Armstrong knew it, because he and everyone he worked with signed up for a giant leap, and would never have settled for anything less. Kennedy knew it; he gave the call Armstrong answered. Kruschev knew it, behind all his bluster.

And I knew it, and so did all my fourth-grade friends on Robin Hill drive in Williamsville, New York. That leap defined my generation and set us on our path. The Beatles and the race to the moon were the soundtrack and the backdrop to our childhood (and Walter Cronkite, who's left us just this week, was our narrator.) Armstrong's leap, and his footprint, told us everything we needed to know about how the world worked. It told us that anything we could imagine was possible.

Fantasy and Science Fiction are one section at the bookstore, but they're not the same. Fantasy is the fiction of what can never be; science fiction is the fiction of what has not been yet. The generation of kids before me read fantasy - Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. We read science fiction; Asimov and Bradbury and Clarke and the others. And we watched Star Trek.

NBC cancelled Star Trek just two months before Armstrong took that giant leap for us all. But it was too late - all of us, we 10-year-olds, had been watching, and Armstrong had proved it could really be done.

We remembered. Gene Rodenberry gave Captain Kirk a flip phone in 1966 just as NASA was winding Gemini down and planning for Apollo and the moon. When we got to be old enough to work for companies like Motorola and Nokia, we built that flip phone (Kirk called it a "communicator"), and we gave it to you. Because, after all, that's what Armstrong would have done. And we built lots of other things too; the talking computers and giant electronic encyclopedias and autopilots and phasers we learned about by reading Amazing Science Fiction and watching Star Trek.

My kids' generation is reading fantasy again; Harry Potter. Their day is September 11. Things like that matter; still, I hope they know Armstrong leaped for them, and that if they leap, they can leave footprints too.