The Latest Things I’ve Learned About Conspiracies

At my lunch break yesterday, I was looking on my phone for something to watch and found the TV show “Unsealed: Conspiracy Files.” I enjoyed flipping around the various episodes on Netflix. I wanted to share three things that I learned:

  1. The Invasion of Iraq was to protect a Star Gate that permitted the ancients to travel the stars.
  2. The “Moon Landing Hoax” theory was started by a book called We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle by Bill Kaysing and Randy Reid. Kaysing has published some other interesting books, such as Eat Well for 99 Cent a Meal. Sounds like a fellow traveller.
  3. Dennis Kucinich attempted to outlaw chemtrails, but the bill mysteriously vanished. Some more skeptical folks say that the bill was written by UFO enthusiasts and Kucinich didn’t even read it. Here is the bill. This is kind of a shame. I feel that Kucinich has some common sense approaches to the problems we all face, but on top of being painted as a loony liberal, he’s now cast a UFO/chemtrail nut. The conpsiracy theorist inside me, the one speaking to me through top secret government technology from an underwater base reachable by clandestine intercontinental mag lev rail, says that Kucinich may be the victim of a conspiracy to show all anti-war politicians are easily discreditable.

Steve Gerber and G.I. Joy

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by comic book writers of the 70s. I got a book from the library which collects all these great interviews of comic book writers whining and complaining about the biz. Well, Chris Claremont and Marv Wolfman don’t seem so whiny. But Steve Gerber sure does. His work is very interesting. I love what I’ve read of his run on Man-Thing–it’s always fun to see what a good writer can do with such a static, limited premise. When I read interviews with Gerber, he always sounds a bit resentful of the commercialism of the comic business. I guess he felt a little limited and soured by it, despite producing such rich subversive material.

I was a little saddened when I first found out that he moved on from comics and wrote for animation, namely G.I. Joe. I thought this was tragic, the dude feels trapped by the commercialism of comic books then gets a job writing half hour commercials for toys. But I read an interview with him about his time writing for G.I. Joe and apparently he loved it. It sounds like the producer just wanted the toys on the TV and allowed Gerber to do anything he wanted:

I am prouder of that show than of anything else I’ve done in animation! We were given an immense amount of freedom. I was working with possibly the most intelligent producer I’ve ever dealt with. The guy’s name is Jay Baccall. His actual title is creative director at Griffen-Baccall, which is the advertising agency of which Sunbow Productions is a subsidiary of a sister company or something. Jay is just incredibly sharp; a real good sense of drama, a real good sense of character, a wonderful sense of story, and a tremendous imagination – moreso, I think, than he realizes. Jay is perhaps the only producer I have ever heard actually say to a writer, “Gee, are you sure this is weird enough?”

Thoughts from Paperbacks: How Real Is Real? by Paul Watzlawick

From How Real Is Real? by Paul Watzlawick (1977, Vintage Books):

…our everyday, traditional ideas of reality are delusions which we spend substantial parts of our daily lives shoring up, even at the considerable risk of trying to force facts to fit our definition of reality instead of vice versa. And the most dangerous delusion of all is that there is only one reality. What there are, in fact, are many different versions of reality, some which are contradictory, but all of which are the results of communication and not reflections of eternal, objective truths.

Adventures in DSLR Feature Film Production: Screw Mount Stuck in Camera

I was testing out a camera mount I bought that attaches to a car via suction cups. I screwed  my DSLR on and tested the mount on the car windows on the inside of the car. It worked great. It really stayed on the window. It stayed on the window too good, as the screw mount came off with the camera.

It was really on there tight and would not come off. Immediate fears included:

  • The screw being on the camera forever, thus damning the camera to never again know the touch of a tripod.
  • Stripping the threads on the “mount hole” or whatever it’s called inside the camera, and likewise damning my camera to never again mount atop a quick release plate. Or thus damning me to some hefty camera repair fees.
  • My efforts to fix the camera would result in breaking it.

I searched around the internet and found this forum post. One contributor posted this solution:

You will need two nuts screw them on to the thread then tighten them against each other as tight as you can. use the bottom nut to unscrew them post.

And another poster echoed that solution with:

Get two 1/4″x20 nuts and put them on shaft. Unscrew with wrench using the bottom nut.

This solution sounded interesting and cheap, but I was having trouble visualizing it. Wouldn’t the nuts just unscrew? Would I have to tighten one nut by loosening the other?

I was also finding solutions that included pliers and good grip. Maybe that would be easier? Maybe a little WD-40 would help?

As I continued researching the internet, I read somewhere that the stainless steel in the screw and the stainless steel in the camera threads could actually weld if they were tightened too hard. Yikes!

Nervous to take tools to my camera, I took the problem to Yahoo Answers, here’s the link. I received 4 responses within a few hours. Here’s what I learned:

  • I needed to to try the dual-nut method using two 1/4 inch 20 nuts. I think the 20 means the nuts are stainless steel. Two wrenches would be needed to tighten the nuts together.
  • Never apply any oil lubricant to your camera, especially around the mount as the camera mount threads on your camera do have spaces for the oil to enter your camera. Since oil doesn’t evaporate, once inside your camera it could go anywhere and do who knows what.
  • The camera threads might get stripped using pliers or vice grips to remove the screw shaft.

So, thanks to the vote of confidence for the dual bolt method, I went to the hardware store and got the two 1/4 inch 20 nuts, as well as another wrench so I would have two, per the recommendation.

First, I removed the lens from the camera and put on the protector cap. This protected the lens and made the camera easier to grip between my legs.

ASIDE: I feel with all this talk of mounts, screws, tightening, and “between the legs” there’s no way to escape  intense sexual imagery, so I’m cool with it, happily married, and hope we can live in a world one day where there’s no shame connected to the beautiful human body.

I spun on the two nuts on the screw shaft, then tightened them to each other. To “tighten them to each other,” with two wrenches I tightened the bottom nut counter-clockwise and the top nut clockwise. This method made the nuts tightened together on the screw. For some reason I thought I had to keep clockwise tightening pressure on the top nut while I applied counter clockwise pressure to the bottom nut. I don’t believe this was necessary. I think just moving the bottom nut counter clock wise would work fine. Moving the screw clockwise tightens it further and could make matters worse. I made a few fractions of a counter clockwise turn and wasn’t sure anything was happening. When I took the wrenches off however the shaft unscrewed easily by hand using the nuts as a grip. The shaft came out quickly and none of the camera threads were damaged. Once I had the two nuts and two wrenches, the entire process took a few minutes. And no incredible amount of brute strength was needed. I tested mounting the camera on a quick release plate and everything works fine.

Making A Feature – Part 1

I want to make a movie.

Some people recommend making short films, a really nice short film to show at festivals and gain attention. Some people recommend making a web series, something to post on YouTube to get attention and maybe pick up some buzz. Some people even recommend making a TV Pilot first, something that could be put online and maybe get an executive’s attention. But I ask you, if you’re home on a Friday night and you want to be entertained what are you most likely to watch, a webisode, a short film, or a movie? Unless the webisode features Kevin Spacey, I think you’re most likely to watch a movie. I think that’s why I want to make a genuine over forty minute (technically over forty minutes qualifies as a feature film according the Academy) beginning middle and end feature motion picture, if only because those are the things that I like watching the most. I see tons of people making good quality short films and web series, but I never hear people talk about watching short films or web series (unless its House of Cards).

Carrie, my wife, came up with a cool story and we’re going for it. We’re making a movie. So far we have:

  • A story
  • 45 pages of a screenplay (a couple weeks ago it was 89 pages, but it got crazy town). Eraserhead only was 41 pages.
  • 1 Canon T3i DSLR camera with a M42 adapter for vintage prime lenses which currently include 28mm, 55mm, 135mm, and 250mm, found on ebay and ShopGoodwill.com — they take beautiful pictures.
  • 1 camera stabilizer I bought on ebay.
  • 1 double suction cup camera mount to stick on a my car.
  • 1 Zoom H4N. I used this to record part of my comedy album.
  • 2 Condenser microphones for voiceover recording.
  • 1 Audio-Technica AT835b Shotgun mic
  • Too much XLR cable.
  • 2 tripods with vital pieces missing.
  • One actor – me.
  • One antique car, namely a 1988 VW Fox.
  • A movie poster, thanks to sammigirl on Fiverr.
  • A musical theme, thanks to carlocastellano on Fiverr.
  • 1 book on how to make lighting for video on a low budget.
  • Around 5 old paperbacks on how to make movies/basics of photography.

 

Lesson: Key Fees are Bullshit

It was sometime around 2003 in New York City. I had the chance to move into a studio apartment on Central Park West. It was small, sweltering (located right above the boiler), dirty, and dark. But it was Central Park West! Right across the street was Central Park. Down the street a mile or two was Times Square and across the river to the east was Astoria, Queens where I lived, tired of having roommates. And they were probably tired of me.

The opportunity for the apartment came through a friend who’s neighbor was moving to another apartment in the building. Moving forward, I’ll refer to this gentleman as “Neighbor.” Neighbor was a nice guy and told me he’d do everything he could to help me takeover his place.

“My word goes very far in the building.”

I would receive a preferential rent: $800 a month! (The legal rent was around $1100, which is about what I was paying 7 years later when I moved out of that hole). There was one more thing, Neighbor told me the building manager would require a “key fee” of $500.

In cash.

Hey, I wasn’t paying a broker fee, which sometimes ran people back a stiff grand, and I was paying less than a thousand to live in Manhattan, home of Gray’s Papaya. I thought a little shady cash deal wasn’t out of the question.

I went to sign the lease, paid the deposit and first month’s rent. I think I remember my preferrential rent being written in pencil on the lease. Neighbor waited outside the business manager’s office. When I came out, Neighbor asked me if everything went well. I told him it did.

“Did you pay the key fee?”

“He didn’t ask for it.”

“What?”

“Give it to me, I’ll handle it.”

Then I gave the neighbor the cash.

WHY DID I GIVE THAT GUY FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS IN CASH?!!

He then went into the office and came back out.

“It’s cool.”

Now, your speculation on what happened behind those closed doors is as good as mine. Did the neighbor take a cut of the cash? Or maybe he just wished the manager a happy birthday and kept all the cash to spend on Propecia?

The lease was already signed, if the building manager wanted cash from me, he could have just asked.

Lesson learned: Don’t give people money just because they ask for it. I was so nervous about signing my first lease, getting a Manhattan apartment, and handling money that I didn’t stand up for myself.

I could really use that cash now. Maybe that old neighbor is on Facebook.

The transition moving into the apartment was hardly smooth. Neighbor took a couple weeks moving out. He even let some European tourists crash there, on my lease, while I suffered in Queens. I wish I held my ground but I was afraid of making enemies.

Do me a favor, if someone insists on a key fee in exchange for a crummy dark Manhattan studio, fight it.

 

 

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

I’ll be honest, I didn’t like J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek. I thought there were some fun moments and visuals, but it felt more like a standard summer action movie than the enticement for us to all beam up and explore space. It was like Starship Troopers but without the satire. Perhaps I was just bitter about the casting choices.

While Star Trek Into Darkness is definitely still a high velocity action romp, J.J. Abrams artfully adds some solid questions about war and killing. Kudos. The movie even opens up on Nibiru, a nod to all us crackpot conspiracy minded kooks (and the nods don’t end there).

The movie starts, like the first one, with some strong 9/11-War-on-Terror parallels which had me already judging this film as another boring vengeance driven pro-militaristic summer spectacle. But then right as we’re getting ready to go blow up the bad guys, Star Trek finally emerges from the explosions and lens flares: Scotty resigns, exclaiming they’re supposed to be explorers not a military operation. Then Spock delivers some gems about the morality of war. And we’re off on a fun action packed adventure with some food for thought.

I saw the movie  as a smart sci-fi take on the pursuit Osama bin Laden. How do you pursue someone who is a great danger to the peace? Are there those who profit from such a villain? Where would our space program be if we didn’t spend so many lives and resources fighting terror? Maybe I’m pushing my own agenda with that last one. There’s even a scene questioning the use of private security forces. And everyone might not agree with me on this one, but Abrams pulled a move that would have made Roddenbery proud: having Kronos sit in for Afghanistan. I loved this movie.

However, here are my complaints:

  • I didn’t like how future earth was portrayed. It looks exactly like our society but bumped up a couple decades (taller buildings, flying cars). I know this choice sounds practical, but think of it: Star Trek takes place in a time where humanity has matured. We all get along and work well together. I think that world would look different, especially the bars.
  • I had some problems with the portrayal of women. I remember reading the The Making of Star Trek (nerd alert). Roddenbery originally wanted to make the crew of the Enterprise 50/50 men and women. The studio said this would make people uncomfortable. He tried. Now it’s 2013 and in this Star Trek movie there’s a scene where all the captains of Starfleet are assembled; they’re all men. Come on, really? This is the future. That being said there were some good Uhura scenes. But while weapons specialist/science officer Carol Marcus was a nice addition to the crew, the movie makes sure to throw her in her underwear while having Kirk ogle her. I know this is standard movie fare, and other blockbusters treat women far worse, but it’s unfortunate to continually portray women as objects (at least make them Captains of space ships). However, there is a scene where Spock eyes Marcus jealously which is a nice touch. There’s also a healthy mix of men, women, and aliens in the Enterprise crew.
  • When they beam people up, it looks all swirly. I think they should have kept the old beam effect.
  • There’s no scene after the credits. I thought all movies had these now.
Here’s what I liked:
  • Classic Trek ethical dilemmas!
  • Classic Trek sound effects!
  • Classic Trek references!
  • Klingons!
  • Great performances – Benedict Cumberbatch gives us a slick villain.
  • Lots of standard Trek humor – Thanks, Scotty and Bones!
  • No shortage of cool visuals – I really like the look of the Enterprise, there’s even uniforms reminiscent of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
  • The start of the credit sequence, especially the music.

I saw this movie in 3D. It was cool, but I don’t think necessary. I’m not a 3D fan. I didn’t even like Avatar in 3D. Fast movie cameras (as opposed to a stationary frame), lens flares, and rack focus don’t tend to translate well into 3D. But space, especially in the final credits works well. I’d recommend seeing it with your normal eyes.

MOVIE RATING: Three Vulcan Ears.

BONUS: Before Star Trek, I saw the trailer for Man of Steel. It looks like there’s some fun Jesus allegory being packed into this movie: Superman works on a fishing boat, has a beard, gets arrested… looks good!

 

Improvised Stand-Up Set

I got on the stage and started going off on nicknames and it led to this mostly improvised set. It was fun. I think I improvise best when I already have something planned. Maybe it gives me confidence? When I just get up to improvise, I tend to try to remember things. I had a complete list of jokes ready to go, but when I started whining about nicknames, it set me off on a rant. I find the energy involved in improvising stand-up helps the performance.

Magic: The Jeffersons Theme Song over The Jetsons

You can’t move up much further than the Jetsons.

Gather Ye Rosebuds

I was meditating last night and got the idea for this short. I shot it on a Canon T3i, edited on iMovie 6 and added music in Garageband.

Here is the description I wrote on YouTube:

Gather Ye Rosebuds, a chilling cry to cast aside our responsibilities and engage in frivolities. Or perhaps, a cry from space? Is poetry an artificial construct or is the human experience coming from somewhere else? Are we destined or do we trudge along in a statistical maze on uncertaintly? Gather Ye Rosebuds is a film which examines these questions in the guise of a monster movie. To the astute observer this is merely a web video, but the untrained eye it is a gateway into the inner recesses of doubt. Are we who we think we are? What do we truly remember about our existence. Is the sun a giver of life or the remnant technology of a collapsed universe? Questions not answers are what give each of us breath. Join the mystery.

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