Friday, December 29, 2006

Mike White

Last night's bedtime movie was "The Good Girl".

I noticed Mike White in the film - how could you not? - and I appreciated the simple yet convoluted story, but I hadn't put the two together. Yeah, he wrote it.

He appears in most of the movies he writes: "Chuck and Buck"; "School of Rock"; "Orange County"; and more. I first noticed him in "Chuck and Buck", appropriately since that was his first lead.

In general, White's movies are small-scale stories of off-kilter individuals. "School of Rock" is the most famous, probably had the best box office as well. He hasn't yet written anything that hasn't drawn me into his world. I'd call "Nacho Libre" the worst thing to come out of his head so far. That's a pretty good record.

But why doesn't White's name come up more often in discussions of today's best screenwriters? I'd put him up there in the top 20 certainly, maybe the top ten. Why does Charlie Kaufman get all the press?

Beats me. Maybe White needs to seek out the press more often. Anybody else as big a fan as me?

Bonus movie-watching update:

We saw "A Night at the Museum" between the time I started this post and the time I finished. I'd forgotten that Steve Coogan was in it. I just look at him and chuckle.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Well, we didn't get to see "A Night at the Museum".

I made lunch for the kids and asked the younger two to clean up a game they'd been playing while I cleaned up and got dressed. Oddly, Child Three complied and Child Two procrastinated. She and Child One wrestled or something.

The movie was scheduled to start at 2:00. At 1:45, I noticed that the game was still out. We waited for Child Two to clean up. The theatre (AMC Saratoga) is about a ten minute drive from here in Santa Clara.

Child Two put the game away and we were off. We lost five minutes to traffic. Then we lost another five minutes trying to find the theatre, and five more looking for parking. It was 2:05 by the time I parked the minivan.

We ran to the theatre, only to find a long line of people waiting to buy tickets. Sigh.

There was no other movie that appealed to us in terms of content and start time, so I thought we'd drive and look for cool stuff to do. We left the Westgate Mall area (the mall's across the street) and drove south on Saratoga. I though D&J Hobby was down this way, but I didn't know exactly where. (My 12-year-old memories were very, very close, but not quite good enough - the theatre is roughly where Hamilton and Campbell join.)

I drove down dull Saratoga to 85, then headed over to take 17 north, but changed my mind and took Bascom, which was a street that I liked to shop on when I lived here. It has a Cosentino and a Trader Joe. As I drove by the Pruneyard, I noticed another movie theatre, so we stopped to check the show times. No dice.

I drove up Bascom to 280, then east to the Bird exit. I showed the kids the Willow Glen we lived in on Fuller. Child One, the only one to really live in that house, was the only one who was even mildly interested. The house looked the same, but had considerably more Christmas decorations on it than we ever put up.

I headed north to show Child Three the Shark Tank (a.k.a. the HP Pavilion these days). It was 3:15 by now, so I figured the crowd and parking lot at Valley Fair would be subsiding.

Nope. Not even close. We spent a nervous half-hour in the Valley Fair parking lot looking for a parking spot. I say nervous because Child Three had to pee so badly that we considered having him use an empty water bottle. There was no place even to pull over and let him go outside.

I somehow found myself in an exit-only lane, so I exited. I spotted a strip mall with the Train Store and figured that was as good a place to pee as any.

Child Three's moan of relief could be heard from down the hall. All four of us went.

The kids voted 2-1 to walk around a mall rather than go home, so I drove back to Westgate Mall, thus completing a circuit of Campbell, more or less.

We window-shopped, mostly (Child One bought a game) then came home.

Late at night, Elvi and I watched "Hellboy". No plot holes there....

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

So Technorati ain't perfect

Technorati doesn't seem to gather in all the updates it ought to. As a result, some of the favourites listed on my Technorati Favorites page appear to have been last updated months before the actual last update.

I put a plain old link to those blogs I like to read regularly but which Technorati seems to miss. I see no pattern. I can offer no advice.

Technorati does offer code to plug-in and make the updates appear on my blog, but it's too ugly.

I'm going to take the kids to see "A Night at the Museum" this afternoon.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Blogrolling gets the ax

Blogrolling was a great idea, and still when it works which these days means not anymore.

I've fired Blogrolling.

There doesn't seem to be a replacement that will do all it used to do, so I've opted for a Technorati Favorites page, which lists blogs in chronological update order, but which can't be displayed on this here blog. I can link to it, but that reduces the ego value of any fellow blogger who wants to see his blog in RAF red on Avia green.

I've only just started adding blogs to the Technorati page, but doing so's easy with the automated "Add to Technorati Favorites" browser button.

I could use a feed reader, but I'm trying to simplify my life, not overwhelm it.

Bonus child fun:

So we're in California, staying with Elvi's sister and her children. Her sister runs a spiritual household and tries to ground her children in propriety. She also sends her kids to a Waldorf school. Waldorf education de-emphasizes reading and as a result, her eight-year-old girl (or is it seven?) - let's call her "M" - can't read or write.

M and my six-year-old Child Three got into a minor spat. M wanted to hurt Child Three with an insult but for some reason wanted to write it down. She drafted my Child Two to do the writing and dictated the insult.

M delivered the note, which said "You are the Devil, Jacob", to Child Three.

Elvi's sister found the note and was not amused. I laughed, and chuckled a while after that. I'm still smiling. This was the worst possible insult that M could think up, but out in the real world, it's fairly innocuous. Child Two, the poor girl, is such a sweetheart and only tried to do her cousin a favour. She didn't realize this was such an awful thing to say in this house. She didn't know where to turn.

Child Three, meanwhile, was upset at first but soon shrugged off the note.

But, man, was it funny.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Two-day wrap-up

I spent seven hours visiting with fellow 101 Squadron enthusiast Alex Yofe. I thought I had a decent library and research but his stuff puts mine to shame. He's been collecting and interviewing for three times the amount of time I have, so that's understandable - expected, even. But to see it....

We spent the time looking through photos and telling stories of the fantastic people we've met and now miss.

Alex presented me with a free copy of his latest book, "Spitfire Mk. IX in the Israeli Air Force Service 1948-1956" as well as a poster of a 101 Squadron victory over the RAF on January 7, 1949. (He'd sent one to me years ago that was damaged in transport.)

Alex wasn't pleased with the text he wrote for this Spitfire book - English is his third language - so he asked me to write the upcoming book on the Avia S-199. To the detriment of my earning power as a freelancer, I couldn't agree fast enough. Most of the photos and illustrations will come from Alex, and we will collaborate on the text. I'm honoured. The book should be out by April.

And the South African sausage at dinner chez Alex was superb. It was a slim, homemade beef (?) sausage seasoned with a South African spice mix that tasted a lot like Montreal steak spice.

Bonus hint that "Futurama" has affected your child - well, my child:

Child Three and I were discussing my sister-in-law's Christmas tree and he asked, "Is the Christmas tree going to stay alive?"

"No," I said. "It's been cut down. What would happen if your head were cut off? Wouldn't you die?"

"I know where I was cut," he answered. I prompted him with a raised eyebrow. "On my lower horn."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Packing it in

The suitcase, that is. We're off to Santa Clara, Calif., after a drive and sleepover in Albany, N.Y. Santa Clara, part of the Silicon Valley complex, has been about as warm as Montreal lately, although historical weather trends should hold in the long term. Still, it's a green and brown Chanukah in Montreal this year.

I asked for and received a one-week extension on my travel article, which will help make up for the number of people who either don;t return calls in December or take the month off. that left me with some Webs time yesterday. I reworked the beginning of "Sheep's End" from those notes I'd written in November. I like it more and more. I do have to boost some stakes in there, but I need to finesse that somehow. I could have the villain beat up the female lead, but that wouldn't be in the spirit of the thing. She is already kidnapped, but offscreen. Perhaps I can put that in front of the audience. Ah, I'll figure it out. It's a goal for the next three weeks.

Other goals include reading at least seven TriggerStreet screenplays, reading Cornelius Ryan's "A Bridge Too Far", work on "By the Book", and finishing this "Sheep's End" boost. At some point, I'm going to grab a coffee with fellow 101 Squadron researcher and author Alex Yofe. And if I can convince myself to drive three and a half hours, I might go take a look at this tarted up Mustang replica.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday-scented potpourri

Craig Silverman's Regret the Error blog reports on corrections in journalism. I visit once in a while, but at year end, Craig notes what he considers the best of the year in whichever categories he deems necessary.

I read his annual wrap-up last night and I laughed so hard I was in tears. It was just one of those episodes where you can't stop laughing. Here are two examples of work that needed correcting:

I'd like to see Helen Mirren try that!

This one is pure anti-genius, from the kids at the Exponent, a student newspaper at Purdue University:

The Queen Elizabeth gaffe is a case of misuse of automated spell-check. This one shows why you need to be extra careful when you copy and paste text or use a template to maintain a style. Make sure you remove all the old text. Better yet, use stylesheets.

Bonus holiday treat tangentially related to screenwriting:

Industrial Light and Magic has a Web site that reveals in gory detail how the company produced the special effects for "Pirates of the Caribbean 2". It's heavy duty Flash, but fantastic.

And you learn that Davy Jones has exactly 46 tentacles on his face.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Dishwasher succumbs

To us!

Elvi and I decided to try to fix the dishwasher ourselves. A bit of Web research revealed that this was probably one of two problems. Either the plastic valve that the drainage hose hooks up to was clogged or the motor/pump had ceased pumping in the proper direction. We figured there was a clog in it, because that we stood a chance of fixing.

Thursday, we tried to get at the drainage hose from the side, but we couldn't reach it. In moving the dishwasher out from under the counter, we stressed the copper pipe that brings the thing fresh water and it started to drip.

I worried that we'd split the pipe. I turned its water feed off and Elvi put a towel own. She's more optimistic than me and she thought we just loosened the nut that keeps the pipe attached.

We then tried to follow the drainage path, essentially. We started taking parts off inside the dishwasher. We got as far as the spray arms and a water propeller, but we were stymied by a nut and rubber cover.

We stopped there and called Art, a plumber-savvy sort of fellow. He agreed with the diagnosis told us the right way to do this - he was too busy to come over. The way to get at that drainage valve is from the front, after removing the kickplate. While Elvi did that, I cleaned the gunk out of the parts we'd removed.

When you know what you're doing and how to do it, repairs are easier. Elvi handed me the valve she removed and I used a skewer to push out the end of a chicken wing bone and the detritus that had agglomerated around it to seal off the passage.

Art said he'd seen these valves clogged with lemon seeds. I smell a design flaw.

Victory is sweet.

Friday, December 15, 2006

More Spit love

IWC, the high-end watch company, produced a film to advertise its Pilot watch. The film stars two clipped-wing Spitfires, a LF IX E and a XIV. And a Junkers Ju 52. And John Malkovich. I fell in love all over again. Not with John Malkovich.

Watch here.

Then, watch the "making of" film here.

I think those two gorgeous creatures both belong to the Planes of Fame in Chino, Calif. That museum's LF IX spent its career with Canadians, shooting down two Bf 109s with a third probable and a probable FW 190.

Bonus thought of the day:

If dogs had reached the levels of intelligence and technology that characterize modern humans, would they urinate in toilets? Or would scent still be so important to them that they'd pee on their homes' walls?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Minor "Futurama" news

Wizard Entertainment has a brief interview with "Futurama" showrunner David X. Cohen.

Even though the bastard didn't invite me to the room, I thought I should point you to the piece. The new season is halfway written and in production.

Crap! Crap! Yay! Yay!

Crap #1:

Our new water heater stopped working. A little investigation revealed no reason why it stopped. Further investigation revealed that the appliance had blown a fuse. We discovered this after stores had closed, and we had no replacement 25-amp fuses on hand. Elvi replaced the one blown fuse with a 20-amp fuse.

Of course, the water heater blew that out and by my turn for the shower this morning, I had only half a shower's worth of hot water left.

We decided to switch to 30-amp fuses. The water heater is not only hooked up to the fusebox, but to a circuit breaker farther up the line. The 30-amp fuses are safe. We're pretty sure.

Crap #2:

The water heater is not the only naughty appliance. Our dishwasher decided to stop draining. We can hear the motor working, so I suspect it's a clog. There is no water in the drainage hose.

Unfortunately, we can't get to the drain under the washer, and even if we did clear the clog, the dirty water would run out onto our kitchen's hardwood floors. (No, I don't know why - and it's the second consecutive house I've lived in with a hardwood kitchen floor.)

Looks like a job for Dishwasher Repair Person.

Yay #1:

I just finished grading all work and submitted all grades. Time to get to that travel article.

Yay #2:

I just checked. We have hot water again. Time to wash that still-dirty half of me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Alex, Lisa (Mrs. Alex), and I auditioned actors for his proposed short yesterday. I'll be an associate producer if we get funding. We're planning to shoot in the spring, but funding agencies require full packages - including cast - before they dole out money, so we're casting now.

Alex has hinted at what the day was like for him. Here's my perspective.

Lisa and I alternated between reading scenes with the actors and working the camcorder, depending on the sex of the role that needed to be read. That was a blast. I had a lot of fun reading and shooting. I took a TV course or two as part of my graduate journalism degree, so I know how to frame and shoot.

What was amazing, and Alex commented on this, too, was how the actors could keep a scene fresh. Actors in the afternoon would crack us up with a look or nuance, even though we'd seen that scene read dozens of times already that day. Sometimes it was hard to keep from laughing in the middle of an audition take.

It was fascinating to watch. One of the scenes has a character say "Of course it does" - which is a fairly vanilla sentence. Yet by stressing one word over another, the passage takes a different approach. That's obvious, but it doesn't come to life until it's done to your face.

I wondered how the actors could handle playing off a non-actor, i.e. me. I tried to put a little something into my readings to keep from being flat, and too allow the actors to play off me. I fell into it with them. One scene ends with a comical embrace, but while Stephanie and I performed in office chairs oppposite each other, we nearly jumped into each other's arms as the camera cut.

One other actress, who also teaches acting, complimented me, saying that for a producer, I was a good reader. I just heard "You're a good reader," or maybe it was "You're a great actor." Even Alex asked me at the end of the day whether I'd ever thought about acting - in jest, I'm sure, but there's a kernel of truth in every joke, right?

For the record, acting has never appealed to me - too much memorization.

The day also presented me with the opportunity to go all fan boy to Al Goulem. I told him to his face what I told 101 readers last winter.

Another familiar face was Trevor Hayes, who played the title role in "Dr. Norman Bethune" and acted with my kids last summer in that Canada-China co-production. You may recall that I had a discussion about salaries with the producers - whether or not that is the cause, I never got a copy of the children's performance. Trevor offered to let me see his DVD copy of the miniseries and we're in touch. I'll et y'all know when I have a copy in my hands.

I've held auditions and casted before. In university, I co-directed and produced plays. One similar problem is that you have only a limited number of roles and too many actors qualified to fill them. Two actors yesterday were both fantastic, funny, and a pleasure to watch, but because they didn't quite fit the type of character, we may not have a place for them. It's a pity that we won't be able to use all the superb talent we saw.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Units matter

George Vaccaro has an unlimited Verizon calling plan in the US. Before a visit to Canada, he called Verizon to find out what download fee Verizon would charge him to transfer data. The customer rep George spoke to quoted him a rate of 0.002 cents/kB.

Verizon's computers calculated charges at 0.002 $/kB and billed him nearly $72.

See the difference? Verizon employees don't.

George blogged about the misunderstanding, and posted an audio recording of his call to the company:

I would not have held myself together quite as long as George has.

Weep for our future.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Up for a breath

I got all the audition times confirmed for Monday. I spent last night correcting quizzes and assignments and I'm doing that all day today as well. I'm also taking confirmations of audition times by phone.

Gotta get back to it.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Drowning in work

Remember way back, when I said that once my classes end, I'd be able to write? Ha!

I got that travel assignment from the blog, due early January. I need to get that done on time for it to lead to further work.

I have a Reader's Digest article to work on. It's about Afghanistan and some of its people. My contact at the magazine told me that unless I speak Afghani and want to go to Afghanistan, I don't have to reach the tribespeople to confirm their statements. Nice. Because the article is not scheduled in the magazine yet, I have no hard deadline, so I've let it slide a bit.

And then, there's this. And this, too, I suppose. Although it feels a bit like I've been cryogenically frozen, transported to a star system beyond the nearest one, and dumped into the deep end of an alien ocean of some sort of fluid in which I can't swim, with things that want to lay their eggs in me - and not in a nice way - I find myself a producer of Alex's short film.

The funding agencies want a cast in place before they fund. Alex is doing the casting, but I'm in charge of getting in touch with his wish list of actors, and finding any more that would be appropriate. And I have four days to do it, of which today is day two. I've done a pretty good job, if I may say so myself, but headshots and resumes and DVD reels have yet to show up in the mail. I really, really hope they appear tomorrow. We plan to hold auditions this weekend.

My biggest problem is finding a 30-ish East Asian male accent-free actor in Montreal. I don't think there is a single one with experience. I tried all the agencies, I tried ACTRA's Face to Face interface, and I tried my old pal Josa at the Montreal School of the Performing Arts. I found two people through Accès Asie, a local Asian cultural heritage group, but only one has acting experience. I had to stoop to Craigslist.

Ahhh, Craigslist. I've had three applications from that ad, one an Asian in Toronto, one local Asian with no acting experience whatsoever and not even a decent headshot, and one moderately experienced local guy who happens to look more Caucasian than Fred Willard.

To top it all off, I have to correct collections of two QuarkXPress assignments, two final quizzes, a database assignment, and a Web page assignment - and I should do it real soon now. I hate correcting QuarkXPress assignments.

Oh, and the wife is on a business trip tomorrow.

Maybe I should advertise on Craigslist for someone who wants to grade QuarkXPress documents. That way, I might find an experienced and appropriate Asian male.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"Studio 60" scores again

Much of this week's "Studio 60" tied up or twisted old plot lines. The episode has one character revealing growing feelings for another - but whoever hasn't seen that coming must not be watching the show at all. Now that I think about it, you might count two more instances of that. Still, the show was funny again.

One subplot in the show - and here I don't really spoil the story - involves refugee musicians from New Orleans. Danny hires several of them to get them some cash and union cards. The tiny end credits ran by quickly and we didn't catch the answers to what we're curious about. Are the musicians in the City of New Orleans band actual refugee musicians? Did Sorkin and his crew write about refugee musicians and have them play on the show just so that they could hire these folks? Anyone know?

UPDATE: Someone does know. Check the informative links in the comments to this post, especially the link to this Times-Picayune article. The musicians are all New Orleans refugees, although they may not all be starving and need union cards.

Elvi possesses the musical ear in our family and she tells me that these guys were excellent. She says the trumpeter could be a Marsalis in quality.

UPDATE: In fact, Wynton Marsalis calls himself the biggest fan of that trumpeter, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews.

Bonus pointer to Sunday's Gazette:

The photo isn't on the newspaper's Web site, but the Gazette had a photo of the tree on Marcil I mentioned yesterday.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Drive-by blogging

Me and my big blog. No sooner do I tease the Pacific Northwest for their terrible weather than we get some. Yesterday was one of those days with temperatures hovering at freezing and rain. Those are ice storm conditions. We lost power at home at 7:00 p.m. Hydro Quebec restored our power at 2:30 p.m. today. The temperature indoors had dropped to 14 degrees C - livable, but uncomfortably close to the line.

We still don't have our cable Internet connection, so I'm in a Starbucks.

(Whoops - I just splashed some gingerbread coffee on my CD-ROM drive.)

I was going to park outside and wardrive - er, warpark, but there was no place to put the car near the shop. I had to park and come in.

While the ice melted before the night was over, the blast of ice and wind has taken down trees, and power, and cable all over NDG. Every five blocks, you'll find a tree or huge branch down. One old tree on Marcil just south of Monkland took out three parked cars.

I came to Starbucks to get that fajita recipe I posted on 101 during the summer. I don't have it written down at home, only online.

Gotta cook. Gotta run.