Monday, December 22, 2008

I Can Put it All on my Credit Card


Credit Card (Flobots "Handlebars" parody) from kennybloggerly on Vimeo.

For the holidays, why not enjoy a catchy song parody with a side of heavy-handed satire?

Laugh, then think, then cringe at my rapping/singing.

If you're not familiar with the original song, you can check it out here or here, which ought to greatly enrich your appreciation of our version.



YouTube, MySpace, DailyMotion, Veoh, Crackle and Vimeo

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Diploma


Hey look! I finally got my diploma!

It's a long story but even though I graduated from USC two years ago, there was a hold on my diploma. Basically, they said I didn't go to a required student loan exit interview. I was sure that I had gone, so I figured it was just a misunderstanding and all I would have to do was call them and straighten it out. In fact, I figured it would be so simple that I didn't bother doing it for six or seven months.

Finally, I did call and I was told that I had missed some other exit interview, which was online. They gave me a web address but the online exit interview failed to work for some reason. I chalked it up to the site not being Mac compatible (I had just switched) and figured I would do it later on my old PC. However, my life at that point was busy and exciting and I never got around to it and eventually lost the website. Calling to get it again was never a priority.

Recently I've been thinking I should probably get around to getting that diploma, and I fortuitously discovered the original letter USC sent me about the hold, thus saving me the hassle of looking up the necessary phone numbers. At this point, the hold was especially asinine since I've long since paid off the small Federal Perkins loan that the exit interview pertained to. This fact meant nothing to the USC workers I spoke to, and I was again referred to the exit interview site.

However, you can't take the exit interview online without calling the ECSI for your school code, an annoying extra step that reminded me why I waited so long to deal with this. When I called the ECSI and asked for my school code, they looked up my records and, slightly confused, told me, that I was already paid up and they couldn't generate an exit interview for me. Fortunately, what they could do was call the school and remove the hold.

So if you want to get out of doing your exit interviews, all you have to do is wait a couple years and pay off your loan. And that's the boring story of how I beat the system.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Flashback: Aborted China Diary, 2002

Stephanie and I are sifting through old papers, looking for stuff to throw away. The air is thick with the dust we've stirred up and we are sneezing profusely, burning through a box of tissues as our sinuses run rampant.

I discovered that on my trip to China several years ago, I had attempted to keep a journal. It didn't last. Here's what I had.


Wednesday, 6/5/02

7:08

We're weaving through Beijing and I don't know which way is up. You can't tell how big the city is because you can't see more than a half mile through the fog. We could be going back and forth and I wouldn't know it. I wish I knew Chinese characters better. I wish I had my textbook. I wish I had my tape recorder.*

People walk in the streets and ride bikes out into lanes totally without regard.

Later

The hotel toilet seat says: "No leaning backward." As if you'd want to just relax by reclining against the underside of a toilet lid.

It's nicer at night because you can't see the smog, just the colorful glow of brightly-lit signs in the darkness.

We went through some malls near the hotel and Tammy proposed we go to drink so we each had a beer and I had some probably undercooked lamb kabobs. This was with the guy chaperoning us, whose friend and brother showed up to hang out too. There's no drinking age here, which is sensible, especially since everyone drives like they're drunk anyway.

6/6/02

Morning TV: A horrible ad whose extensive use of questionably accurate computer graphics tries to convince people to take a pill that will grow their bones.**


*I think at the time I was trying to do that writer thing you see in movies where they narrate into a tape recorder instead of writing things down. It always seemed like it would be easier, but the problem is that you feel really self-conscious when you actually do it, and then you have to transcribe it all later anyway.

**Chinese people are desperate to be taller. This pill promised to make them taller by stretching their bones. A computer animated simulation showed how your leg bones would grow longer if you took the pill. It looked like it would be really painful if it were actually real.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Marty McFly Nukes the Fridge


Just stumbled upon the Cracked.com list 7 Terrible Early Versions of Great Movies, which includes a link to the fascinating first draft of Back to the Future.

I've read a weird early Back to the Future draft before -- it opened with Marty getting out of detention by sticking a match to the ceiling with gum and then lighting it with his mirrored sunglasses to set off a fire alarm -- but this one is even earlier, and weirder. I'd read about it before, in my Back to the Future Official Book of the Complete Movie Trilogy, and I'm pretty sure they mention it on the DVD, but this was my first chance to read it. As a writer, it's pretty instructive -- there's all kinds of stuff that is very clunky but was later made elegant.

As Cracked points out, this version features Marty as a video pirate, which I'd heard about -- not surprisingly, studios balked at having a hero who is a video pirate. After all, it's one thing for movies to set a bad example when it comes to violence and sex, but when it comes to something serious, you can't be too careful. Also in this version, Marty helps discover that Coca-Cola is the secret ingredient to making magical inventions work (which must have seemed like a cute idea but is way too stupid for the screen) and the future at the end of the movie is a retro-futuristic paradise that runs on Coke.

Cracked also notes that the specter of atomic war looms heavily over this draft, the better to foreshadow a climax in which, in lieu of harnessing lightning, Marty and Prof. Brown sneak onto an A-bomb test site to power the trip back to the future. There is no Delorean, so this involves Marty climbing into a refrigerator as the time machine activates to protect him from the blast.

(In the BTTF book, Bob Gale or Bob Zemeckis explains that, besides the A-bomb sequence being too expensive, this was changed because they were worried about kids trapping themselves in refrigerators. I guess that was a big problem in the '80s? There was even a special episode of Punky Brewster about it, where Margo makes the mistake of playing hide-and-seek in an abandoned fridge and can't get out. So did we somehow solve this child-danger crisis, or did we just get distracted by worrying about pedophiles?)

The surprising thing about reading this sequence now is how much it sounds exactly like the A-bomb test scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Too Many Words to Finish Writing This. I guess all that bullshit about fully stocked, furnished towns complete with electricity and food in the fridge was true after all -- the BTTF script explains how the government really wanted to test how everything responded to a nuclear explosion, and make the most of their limited above-ground detonations. They must have been disappointed when every object reacted in pretty much the same way: by getting completely incinerated.

EXT. TRACT HOUSE – MARTY

Marty is walking around in front of the house, looking it over. He goes inside.

INT. TRACT HOUSE – MARTY

Amazingly enough, it looks like a model home---there is furniture, magazines on the tables, a TV, a radio.

In the dining room, more MANNEQUINS are seated at the table, which is set with full place settings. Marty wanders through the house, chuckling at the idiocy of it all.

MARTY

goes into the kitchen and has a look around. There is a Frigidaire refrigerator---Marty opens it and discovers it is well stocked with food, including meat, cheese, milk, eggs, Coke, fruit and vegetables. Marty takes an apple, has a bite, and returns to the living room.

INT. LIVING ROOM

Marty turns on the TV. Snow. He switches channels and finally tunes in a picture---the “Howdy Doody” Show. Marty watches Clarabell dancing around and shakes his head.

MARTY: The “fabulous fifties.”


So Marty explores an eerie, fake town, goes inside a house, checks the fridge, watches Howdy Doody on TV, then jumps into a fridge just in time to escape the atomic explosion. Yes, he travels through time instead of being hurled several miles, which makes this farfetched script still more believable than Indy's version. But at one point, it looks like the time machine might not work, so Professor Brown floats the idea of getting in the lead-lined refrigerator and hoping for the best -- Indy's plan exactly. Also, apparently refrigerators filled with lead? Also a thing.

EXT. PROF. BROWN’S VANTAGE POINT

A distraught Professor Brown calls instructions into his walkie-talkie.

PROF. BROWN: Marty, it's over. Do you understand? It's over. Now I want you to get in the refrig---the time chamber, and we'll just pray that the lead lining---

INTERCUT WITH MARTY, IN THE GARAGE

Marty interrupts with an idea.

MARTY: The refrigerator! Hang on, Professor!

Marty runs back into the house.

Professor Brown doesn’t know what to think.

INT. HOUSE – KITCHEN

Marty runs to the refrigerator and opens it. Sure enough, there are several bottles of Coke here! Marty is elated!

MARTY (into walkie-talkie): Don't worry about a thing! There's plenty of formula in the refrigerator!


The similarity is pretty impressive, and maybe it's just that once you go to a '50s test site town, there's only one place to go, and that's a fridge. But maybe, just maybe, Steven Spielberg, who produced Back to the Future and championed the script in order to get it made, remembered this scene and always wanted to make it? Then, when Crystal Skull came along, he thought "Now's my chance!" and threw the idea back into the mix.

I think the answer is clearly yes.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

How Not to Eat Right - Follow Up

Kelley: If you are to continue your newly found interest in fast food, you owe it to yourself to go down to the South Bay Galleria and sample a Chick-fil-a sandwich.

I've heard from a couple of sources (one of which was possibly you, one of which was Aziz Ansari's blog) that the Southern Style Chicken Sandwich is very much like a Chick-fil-A sandwich. So maybe they deserve the credit for that minimalist masterpiece.


Steve:
A couple of years ago, I decided to try out Burger King, and went to their website to find the nearest store. After 15 minutes of first trying to find the store locater and then trying to get it to work, I still had no idea where the nearest BK was. Instead, I got to wait 90 seconds for their animation to load, endure auto-playing audio, completely pointless spinning graphics, and relentless pop-ups demanding I play the stupid games they had wasted their money on.


Dude, that is way more effort than anyone should ever expend to find a Burger King. Actually, even typing a web address is more effort than anyone should ever expend to find a Burger King.

Steve: What are your thoughts on Carl's $6 burgers?

I haven't sampled one lately. I had one years ago when they introduced them and I was underwhelmed. There was more meat, but it still tasted like fast-food meat, so my verdict was why eat the bigger, less healthy version of something if it doesn't actually taste any better. But then again, that was back when my standards were higher.

By the way, re: the Burger King Steakhouse Mushroom Swiss catastrophe -- I'm not alone. I urge you to follow the link for a visual aid that will show you what I was talking about. I would have photographed the burger myself but I had left my cell phone in the car.

How Not to Eat Right

For many years I ate very little fast food, mainly out of -- well, out of good taste, I guess. Which is not to say that I ate healthily, just that I got my junk food from places besides big fast food chains -- which is how I'm defining fast food here.

Lately, though, I frequently find myself requiring a quick, cheap meal from a place where I don't have to get out of my car. For many years after I first judged myself to be a burger connoisseur, I savagely hated McDonald's. For I time, I even preferred Burger King, based on the fact that they at least offered tomatoes in their flagship burger.

I started to be lured back to McDonald's by their cheap and enormous iced coffees, which turned out to be surprisingly decent. And after laughing at the commercials where people gushed over the juicy new Southern Style Chicken sandwich, I felt the urge to try it just to see how short it fell.

Then, something unexpected: the sandwich turned out to be good! It's the simplest thing, a piece of fried chicken on a bun with a couple of paltry slices of pickle. Not even any sauce. But the chicken was juicy, and the spices were tasty, and the pickle set things off just right.

It was a revelation. For the first time, the genius of McDonald's snapped into focus, and I started to admire it. Their food scientists have calculated the bare minimum number of elements required to come together and form a satisfying taste. There's a certain elegance to the minimalism. Of course, this is all providing that the materials themselves are fresh enough not to disgust you the moment they meet your mouth, but McDonald's has made an effort to clean up and revamp their restaurants in the past couple of years, and more often than not these days, the food is up to the task.

I've even become more susceptible to advertisements. A billboard dangled a picture of a Big Mac before me, and I thought, maybe I should give the Big Mac another try, and I got one, and it was inexplicably delicious. Not a great burger, but somehow it was exactly what it was supposed to be -- no more, no less, and completely distinctive.

I'm always intrigued when fast-food chains introduce premium level burgers (the first of which was Carl's Jr.'s vaunted Six Dollar Burger). You know they'll never live up to a fancy burger at a nice restaurant, but like lottery tickets, the lure of possibility is so strong that I always want to try them at least once.

Jack in the Box - Sirloin Cheeseburger

I go to Jack in the Box a lot because they have a pretty rich selection and it is the closest fast food chain to my workplace. There are lot of good chicken options, including the Fajita Pita sandwich if you're trying to not be too unhealthy, and the Sourdough Club or the Ciabatta sandwich if you're willing to compromise a bit (though you have to specially request grilled chicken on the Ciabatta sandwich these days).

I'd seen Jack boasting about his Sirloin burgers as his staff jeered childishly at competitors Angus meat, but I had never bought one before. One day I was feeling glum and decided to treat myself. For some people that means piling on to their credit card debt with something that is actually nice, but for me it apparently means allowing myself to buy a big burger at a fast-food chain.

The Sirloin Cheeseburger was great! JITB offers you a choice of onions (red or white) and cheese (American, swiss or cheddar). You get a good solid burger on a fresh bun with produce that is not at all depressing to look at or taste. The meat is tender and has flavor that doesn't feel completely grafted on with condiments after the fact. For fast food, I could ask for nothing more.

McDonald's - Angus Chipotle BBQ Cheeseburger

My first experience with McDonald's Angus burger was with the mushroom swiss option, and it was very disappointing. The mushroom and swiss was lackluster, it precluded the inclusion of any other produce, and the meat patty was large but flavorless except for the salt and pepper liberally sprinkled over it.

With the release of the Angus Chipotle BBQ option, I decided to give McDonald's another chance. I've now had this burger on two occasions. The first was consumed in a parking lot, sitting in my darkened car. There's a lot more going on in this burger, enough that judging the beef itself is more difficult. This time, though, it seemed passable, and the BBQ sauce, cheese, bacon and other stuff carried the day. The burger was surprisingly good. The second time I had one, I sat in the restaurant where I could clearly see the burger on my tray. It still tasted good, but the way the beef patty failed to fill out the bun made a poor visual impression.

Burger King - Steakhouse Mushroom Swiss Burger

I don't know what the hell is going on at Burger King these days. McDonald's is raising their game like crazy, and the King is apparently pouring his money into second rate marketing guys who slave away to create cute little quips to print on their packaging. Jack in the Box does a bit of this, but Jack has been effectively established as a character with a distinctive attitude, and so any smartass labeling comes from a recognizable brand identity. The creepy smiling King is a non-sequitur enigma, and so, too, are Burger King's attempts at cleverness, which are all over the map.

The French fry sleeve is hence labeled a "Frypod," and includes a notice near the bottom that "If you can read this, I'm not in your cupholder." Pre-checked boxes along the side imply that the food within has been confirmed to be Fresh, Hot, and Delicious. This touch comes off as a cruel slap in the face when the food itself is unmistakably hours-old, cold and mediocre. In the midst of filthy, dilapidated restaurants bearing the pink and turquoise decor of 1993 gone to ruin, soda machines bear cutesy recipes for mixing different sodas together. The burger wrapper urges you to take a moment to contemplate your burger before eating it, because it's better that way. Unfortunately, that is the worst advice you could possibly give someone who is about to consume a fast food burger. On the contrary, you should start eating immediately -- don't take even a moment to process the chasm between the delicious picture on the menu and the embarrassment on your tray. Even the perfectly decent Angus Chipotle BBQ burger suffers if you look at too long. Substitute a sandwich from Burger King, and that moment of anticipatory contemplation threatens to hurl you headlong into a depressive spiral, leaving you desperately wondering just how your life has come to this.

For their Steakhouse Burger, Burger King has chosen not to emulate its competitors thicker patties, but rather, to spread the meat around. It aims to impress not with thickness but diameter. To be sure, the patty more than fills out the bun. Unfortunately, it's rubbery and tastes only vaguely of beef. Chewing it is not unlike chewing some tofu-based meat substitute, and the flavor is equally authentic. The fried onion bits, which were what had intrigued me most about the sandwich, were soggy and lifeless. Also, I should know better than to get the mushroom-swiss option at a fast food chain, because that is apparently something no one can do right.

I left feeling thoroughly disgusted with myself. My previous encounter with Burger King, a disastrous encounter with a value-priced chicken sandwich, had kept me away for a good long while, but apparently had not taught me a clear enough lesson.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Wicker Men: The Death of a Hollywood Industry

In our new short, learn the untold history of how the transition to sound cinema nearly destroyed the wicker furniture industry.


Watch Wicker: The Best Thing Ever in Funny Videos  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

In case the Veoh player disagrees with your computer, you can also watch it at:

YouTube, MySpace, DailyMotion and Veoh

Monday, December 01, 2008

Emergency Water Emergency

Here's a fun thought puzzle activity. Let's do it together!

Let's say you had a big 2.5 gallon water jug, the kind you can keep perched on the shelf of your fridge with a pull-out spout for dispensing water. Let's say you kept it in a cabinet as your "emergency water supply" that you're supposed to have in case of earthquakes or whatever. Let's say one day you discover that the whole jug is practically empty and 2.5 gallons of water have gradually leaked out of it over an indeterminate number of months. Let's say you now want to make sure the mold on the water-damaged cabinet shelf is dead and will not continue to grow all over whatever you put back inside that cabinet. What might you do to clean this up?