Thursday, August 28, 2008

Third Trimester

Cathy entered the third trimester last week. All is well.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Killer Bob Is Full Of Secrets

My sister, who will be spending her Labor Day weekend with us, is as yet unaware that she'll be asked to talk about the terribly creepy guy you see here on the right crouching behind Laura Palmer's bed.

Creepiest television moment ever?

Mine at least. Like a lot of folks, I found the whole aura and mystique of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, the melancholy ambiance of its 50's style decor and rustic setting, the gorgeous ache of Angelo Badalamanti's perfectly empathizing score, its gorgeous actresses pertly costumed in soft cashmere sweaters, pleated skirts and bobby socks, Kyle MacLachlan's career defining turn as Special Agent Dale Cooper--I found all of this intoxicating. Never more so then during its initial 7 episode run in the Spring of 1990, when Lynch and his co-conspirator Mark Frost left the question of Who Killed Laura Palmer shrouded in its own web of nutty dream logic. It was never better, perhaps, then at the conclusion of its third episode and the now iconic dance of the dream man.

Friday, August 15, 2008

That There Is My Pa

My Dad and I spent a week at the Chautauqua Institute last month. That's Dad in the picture above, enjoying the amazing breakfast we grabbed most mornings on the porch of the Tally Ho. Now the Tally Ho not only throws down some outrageously delicious Swedish pancakes, it's also host to one of the Institutes best (and, so far as I could tell, only) nightly dinner buffet's.

The way to go with the Tally Ho buffet is to do it take out style. You can fill your styrofoam containers to your stomachs content for, as the above sign informs us, just "$6.95 per pound." But what's a pound if the food isn't any good. And that's what really made the Tally Ho so endearing, the food was amazing. It should be known that there is a positive dearth of eating options at the Institute. I wondered while I was there if the Institute shouldn't broaden its pedagogic mission to include a culinary school, a summer residence for budding chefs to come and study with with some of the arts best teachers. And of course they'd test their new culinary tools on the no doubt adventurous tummy's of the Institutes seasonal guests. But the Tally Ho's dinner buffet was a really nice surprise. Always a beautifully cooked fish with a light, tasty seasoning, a few bowls of cool pasta salads and vegetables, the cool black and crunchy green beans being what I seemed to be craving and enjoying the most. There have been dozens of times over the years when, fork full of delightfully crispy green beans hoisted before me, I've exclaimed, "Man, I was really craving these tonight!" I've seen Cathy do it, too.

I got about 20 minutes of footage and 100 or so photographs from my vacation with my Dad to Chautauqua Institute that I plan on making into a video. After not having been to the Institue for over 20 years and having spent a few very idyllic summer there in my "I am immortal but the concept of infinity freaks me out" pre-teen years (now commonly known as tween), I was genuinely excited to go there and see how it, as a place, had changed and how it had stayed the same.

I also got to have some great talks with my Dad in his environment. Though I never felt it right to try and capture these on video. I'm still hesitant to carry on a conversation while wielding a video camera, too conscious of the obvious mechanical, impersonal aspects of it. That'll change, I hope, with a bit more practice. In any case, there's something about Chautauqua that creates a fierce loyalty amongst a healthy number of folks who go there. My Dad is smitten by it though I regret never having a chance to really find out just what about Chautauqua interests and excites my Dad the most.

No doubt, one of the things I'll remember most fondly about my week there is watching as my Dad helped launch the standing ovation given to the young and charmingly histrionic Russian piano prodigy, Alexander Gavrylyuk after his piano recital. My Dad would ecstatically lurch up out of his seat and shout, "Bravo! Bravo!" I think maybe only my sister Robin can relate or fully appreciate how this very action, of my Dad jumping up in the Institutes Amphitheater and expressing his appreciation of whatever performance had just wowed him with, what we thought 20 years ago of as something of an embarrassment, a bit of overly enthusiastic Vaudeville, was magically transformed by this new context. I'm simply 20 years older. Not necessarily more mature, but more willing to give myself over to the moment if it deserves it. More willing to forgive my Dad's quirks. I joined him and gave Gavrylyuk an ovation, too.

I did not, however, shout Bravo.

Kid, You Turn Summers In My Mind

Copyright and Fair Use

With millions of people creating their own content and uploading it to the Web in the form of blogs, photographs, videos, music--essentially any form of media that can be digitized--issues of copyright and what constitutes fair use, have been getting a work out.

Some may be aware of the high profile case where a family posted a 29 second video of their toddler to YouTube with a Prince song playing in the background on their CD player. The family was contacted by YouTube at the request of Prince's publisher, the Universal Music Publishing Group, to take the video down as they felt it infringed on the copyright of the Prince song.

And while the family chose to fight back against Universal and what they felt was an overzealous example of copyright protection, the case revealed, if anything, just how uninformed many of us are when it comes to what constitutes copyright infringement and what merits fair use.

That being said, a wonderfully readable new comic, Bound By Law, free and available online, walks those posting video online through the basics of copyright law and that terribly fine line between copyright infringement (bad!) and fair use (good!).

Additionally, American University's Center For Social Media has brought together a panel of experts working in the field of online video to create a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use For Online Video. As its introduction plainly states: "This document is a code of best practices that helps creators, online providers, copyright holders, and others interested in the making of online video interpret the copyright doctrine of fair use."

Friday, August 08, 2008

Video Storytelling Notes

Looking forward, if all goes well, to creating a series of videos for Morton Grove Public Library over the next year. Short vignettes or mini-features about environmental or green issues serving the information needs of the Morton Grove community. My hope is that these videos will include interviews with local experts about a diverse array of environmental issues of interest, though I admit to a pedagogical bent: the carbon life-cycles of certain household goods, mini-features on insulating your house for the winter and other simple tips for how folks can save on your monthly heating bills, a tour of a recycling center, environmentally themed video essays made by and with our patrons, working with teens to create their own mini-features on the environment, etc... A lot of exciting possibilities.

But how to make these videos interesting? We're competing, after all, with content creators who are better equipped and savvier, for our patrons limited time. How do we make something they'll actually care to watch and learn from? How do we make a worth-while, entertaining, piece of information? More importantly, does the information (noble sentiment approaching) help fulfill our mission to assist our patron's/community's pursuit of personal growth and lifelong learning? Is it a good tool for helping them fulfill that need?

And you can't simply post this video content into a bubble and expect them to come. You have to sell it to them, bring it to their attention and hook them. Right? The most important piece, I think, of vying for and gaining our patron's attention is to involve them, to make them collaborators. I'll need some help in this area.

Part of what I'm most looking forward to is honing my documentary craft. Constructing meaningful, coherent narratives in particular. Additionally, I'm look forward to:

1. exploring how to make the results of these narratives visually interesting (storyboarding, filming with more then one camera, post-production massaging)
2. as well as acoustically stimulating (and getting good sound is my priority right now)
3. graced with charismatic, compelling people
4. finding numerous, quality distribution platforms for the content
4. all that and more.

I've barely even begun, though I can't think of any other endeavor other then fatherhood that I'm having a better time exploring right now. I've got the itch to tell and help others tell their stories using video and seeing what comes of it.

I love the fact that my job is, by and large, about storytelling. I know it's cliche, but we are the stories we tell each other, the narratives we construct. And I can't help but think we've reached this very exciting, very interesting moment where people have been empowered by the ease (both technically and financially) with which they can construct, edit and share these stories. Folks are no longer passively consuming media, but creating and distributing it in record numbers. They're sharing, collaborating, sampling, remixing, extending, critiquing, infringing, fair-using and tip-toeing around the stories we tell like never before.

But are they doing it well? No doubt a healthy heaping of it is frivolous beyond even the seasoned hallway cat warding off the helplessly adorable encroaching puppies.

But some of it, quite a bit of it actually, if you're willing to really make a go and really search for it, makes nearly instantly accessible an impressive chunk of the past 200 years of our visual history, both still and moving images. And recently, that includes you and me and not just the so-called professional media. Some of us are starting to do it really well.

I've been astounded by the level of professionalism and visual narrative acuity of the hundreds of so-called amateur videos I've run across on various video-hosting sites like YouTube, the Internet Archive, oodles of Public Library's or Berkley's Center For Digital Storytelling. People are telling some phenomenal stories there and I'm convinced that Public Library's need to be jumping in to help their patrons-- not only bringing attention to the impressive body of work already out there, but informing, teaching and ideally making available the tools with which to create their own stories. The fact that millions of us already are telling stories, with video especially, is as good a proof as you'll find for how radically the way our communities consume and share information (or tell stories) has changed over the last decade.

My particular obsession, if it isn't already pretty obvious, is how we can take advantage of the easy-to-use digital video cameras, editing software and distribution platforms that are out there and help our patrons tell their own stories via this medium. We are, after all, in the business of storytelling. Our missions are filled with noble sentiments like helping assist our respective users/patrons/communities with their thorny pursuits of personal growth and lifelong learning. We can remain idle and pretend that the passive consumption of books is the best or only avenue through which our patrons can learn and grow, or we can acknowledge that a new and exciting information/media movement is afoot and become a vital part of it.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Words We Say, Or Words We Don't Say

It's been my experience in reading the novels of Ian McEwan, the popular English writer, that he starts strong and ends weak. It may very well be that the beginnings of his novels, Atonement, Enduring Love and the Man Booker Prize winning Amsterdam among them, are invested with such finely chiseled prose and a seemingly effortless command of narrative that sustaining them through to a satisfying conclusion is nearly impossible. Or maybe he just loses the thread, runs out of steam.

But at the risk of giving my inner-critic enough rope to hang itself, I've found McEwan's endings to be too tidy. There's a nagging tendency by the author to abruptly tie up loose ends and provide odd, jarring summaries of the action that's proceeded. Such contrivances deflate and call attention to the narrative at a time when the reader's immersion and suspension of belief should be cresting.

But I keep coming back to McEwan's books because, endings aside, they're compulsively readable and often breathtakingly beautiful. Terrible things erupt out of the most quotidian of events- a child kidnapped from a grocery store, a fender bender that goes terribly awry--and McEwan's wrings the anxiety, tension and grief from these situations with a masters sense of ambiance and control.

His latest, On Chesil Beach, may be his best and most successful yet. And, yes, something terrible does arise out of a quotidian event. A young couple, on the night of their wedding, sexually repressed despite themselves, awkwardly makes their way to the conjugal bed with disastrous results. In fact, this short book, more a novella, has no other subject then the disaster their sexual coupling, its impending failure and its heartrending consequences. And it's here that McEwan's penchant for tidy conclusive summaries is handled brilliantly. For it's in the consequences that arise from the couples failure to sexually consummate their marriage that McEwan shows us how words, those we say and, more devastatingly, those we don't, can heal or tear asunder.