Archive for August, 2009

Second Movie

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Among the roster of free music apps available for download to iPhone is a rudimentary matrix sequencer called “TonePad.”



As described at, this plaything is quite user friendly: “Create songs by simply touching the screen and seeing notes light up.” (This reminds me of what Stanley K. said about a different pleasure: “Having them colored lights going.”)  TonePad allows you to create a short (about 4-second) snippet of music that repeats hypnotically. You can then build upon it with new tones and rhythms, mimicking the accretive style of composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass.  After some practice, what’s you’ve mastered is a kind of dime-store minimalism, except you don’t need to cough up even ten cents.  Since I needed music for the soundtrack to my second iMovie, I decided to give TonePad a try.  The result, available on YouTube and Vimeo:


Mouse Musketeer

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

While walking the dog this morning I came across a cute bit of sidewalk art:



I wonder how the child artist knew to place the cavalier’s sword in what would be the mouse’s right hand?  If the artist himself (let’s assume it’s a boy) was right handed, wouldn’t he be inclined to place the sword on the right side of the figure as we see it, since that’s how the young artist sees his own reflection in a mirror, and his own shadow on the sidewalk?  Or has he, after watching many a cartoon about cavalier adventures, formed an image of the sword naturally fitted to that side?  (Notice too the bent left arm, hiding the left hand behind the back, lending the figure a distinquished air.)

Oops: Is The New Yorker on Vacation?

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

At breakfast this morning, while munching my Cheerios, I came across a head-scratcher of a sentence on page 53 of the August 24, 2009 issue of The New Yorker.  It’s in an article written by Tad Friend entitled, “Plugged In — Can Elon Musk Lead the Way to an Electric-Car Future?”:   

In 2004, Musk, who was interested in developing an electric car, met an engineer named Martin Eberhard, proposed to build a sports car with a lithium-ion battery.

If I understand it correctly, it was Mr. Eberhard (not Musk) who proposed to build a car powered by a lithium-ion battery.  So doesn’t there need to be another “who” in there to form a grammatically correct sentence?

In 2004, Musk, who was interested in developing an electric car, met an engineer named Martin Eberhard, who proposed to build a sports car with a lithium-ion battery.

It may be that’s how the sentence read when Mr. Friend submitted the piece to the magazine.  Maybe his editor, or later the proofreader, disliked those two “who’s” in the same sentence.  Fixes were debated.  But wouldn’t you know it, implementing a one-“who” solution was tolled by a deadline. 

If I may offer a two-sentence solution:

Musk was interested in developing an electric car.  In 2004, he met an engineer named Martin Eberhard who proposed to build a sports car with a lithium-ion battery.

I don’t know if that satisfies the rhythm The New Yorker goes for.  It would pass muster with high school English teachers.  Then again, it’s August, and English teachers are on vacation.  Maybe editors too.

My First Movie produced on iMac using iMovie

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
This is also available on YouTube at

The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest: Update

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Back in February I reported on my many failed attempts at winning The New Yorker’s cartoon caption writing contest.  Now there’s one more failure to add to the pile.  For Contest #201 (July 27,2009), I decided to improve my odds of losing by submitting two captions.  Below is the cartoon (drawn by veteran cartoonist Tom Cheney) followed by five possible captions — two of my ideas mixed in with the three finalists announced this morning.

“My office?  Think of an Edward Hopper — but with lots more light and air.”

“Maybe we should do the firings in the basement?”

“They said the complaint box was anonymous.”

“Let’s meet in my office, weather permitting.”

“Hello, Mother?  I reached the top.  Now what?”


The winner (which again will not be me) is going to be announced August 24.  In the meantime, I found something to support the first caption.  It inspires an alternative caption of even greater obscurity:

“Me?  Oh, just waiting for that secretary in the blue painted-on dress.”



UPDATE (08/25/2009):  The second, third and fourth entries above were the three finalists.  The winner was the fourth caption.   I found another Hopper painting somewhat in the same spirit as Tom Cheney’s cartoon, at least insofar as this office also appears to be al fresco: “Office in a Small City” (1953).


What I wish for you

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Often mentioned in the days following Walter Cronkite’s death last month was the origin of his signature sign-off, “And that’s the way it is.”  As Cronkite himself once explained, he sought to emulate his mentor at CBS, Edward R. Murrow, who closed out broadcasts with a sobering “Good night and good luck.”  Both are fine tag lines.  Yet when it comes to American-style wishes, I don’t now how you can do better than David Foster Wallace’s words.  Here’s how he capped off a truth-telling commencement address delivered at Kenyon College in 2005:

“I wish you way more than luck.”


Better Thought Next Time, No.4 (Richard Corliss)

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

You begin with a few simple thoughts.  Maybe you’re sad over the closing of a nearby video rental store.  Perhaps you’re finding your Netflix subscription wonderful but not perfect.  Maybe it’s beginning to strike you that, my God, people sure are growing fatter.  Then comes your editor asking, Where the hell’s your piece for this week’s Time magazine?  You approach the keyboard where your three thoughts congeal into embarrassingly silly prose — a rant you (or more likely, that exaggerating editor of yours) decide to title, “Why Netflix Stinks.” 

What I’m describing is a throw-away piece by Time movie critic Richard Corliss in the magazine’s August 10, 2009, edition.  The article is online, here.  It’s not worthy of a critic whose elegant and well-argued film reviews I’ve been enjoying for a long time.

Corliss, whose voice is assured and accurate in his film reviews, opens his argument with a strained predicate:

“It’s Friday night, and you want to watch a movie at home with that special someone.  You could go to a video store and rent a film, and instantly it’s yours; popcorn extra.  Or you could go to Netflix, and the movie will arrive, earliest, on Tuesday.  Here’s hoping you had a Plan B for your big date.”

Unless the “special someone” is a stranger picked up in a bar earlier Friday evening, I’m not buying into this scenario.  A “special someone” is someone you’ve had conversations with before, maybe even talked about films with, more than once.  Why, it could even be a spouse or partner with whom you’ve been sharing a home — and a DVD player.  A relationship in which the couple plans things in advance.  One or the other makes plans so that beer and toilet paper don’t run out; pays bills in advance of the electricity being shut off; has necessities on hand in advance of the blessed arrival of a quiet weekend.  What a concept!  Plus, planning in advance turns out to be a widely applicable tool.  I bet with practice it wouldn’t be long before the Average Joe is managing a 4-DVD Netflix subscription in a way that places one or more must-see films in the house every Friday evening.  Yes: Plan A, all the way.

(Not to shill for Netflix, but you have to wonder why Corliss conveniently forgets that Netflix provides a “Watch Instantly” feature.  It streams movies instantly to your computer monitor or TV.  Is he looking for an excuse not to watch a movie on his “big date”?  [I’m seeing Groucho’s eyebrows flutter at the mention of “Plan B.”]  Only in the article’s next to last paragraph does Corliss suddenly remember, Oh yes, you can get thousands of Netflix titles instantly, even on a Friday night.  Did he think readers would forget the premise of the piece after reading for two minutes?)

Like some anti-romantic comedy, Corliss’ article goes downhill after that opening “date night” scene, passing over moguls of illogic on its way to a morose finale.  He says he has “misgivings” about Netflix’s usefulness compared to that of a well-stocked bricks-and-mortar video store.   He warns ominously (cue the theme from Jaws) about “the possibly harmful effect that Netflix may have on American society.”

Well, even Corliss has to concede there is no video store within walking distance of his home, or anyone else’s home in America, that is as well-stocked as Netflix.  Yet Corliss waxes nostalgic for video stores that once had movies “you could see right away” — conveniently forgetting those fun times when a cassette, previously rented by an irresponsible viewer, would require you to spend precious time rewinding to its playable start; not to mention those countless instances when the tapes and DVD’s were defective and unwatchable. 

In a segment of the article captioned, “Wait Time: Eternity” (you hope that was the editor’s dumb idea, not the author’s), Corliss complains Netflix sometimes has a “wait” time for unexpectedly popular titles (he cites the scarcity of the 1974 Taking of Pelham One Two Three in the wake of the remake this summer).  Yet he fails to acknowledge a video store’s shelves would in those circumstances similarly disappoint the instant-gratification crowd.  He says the Netflix folks “sometimes” don’t put the correct movie in your envelope, and later in the piece he ratchets up the irate rhetoric by referring to “botched orders.”  I don’t know: that’s never happened to me under my Netflix subscription. 

Corliss yearns for happy days of yore spent visiting his local video store, befriended by a “budding Quentin Tarantino, eager to point renters toward some arcane masterpiece from Italy or Hong Kong.”  Earth to Corliss:  There’s a reason the lapel-grabbing Quentin Tarantino and obsessive video-store clerks of his ilk are objects of derision and the butt of jokes.  If Tarantino is the face, the voice, and the personality Corliss sees when ruminating on halcyon days, what can you say — other than chacun à son goût.   

At the finale, Corliss’ thoughts enter the mishagoss zone, where he goes for broke — pushing the nuclear option, as it were.  He takes a page from the inimitable Craig Ferguson, shouting: “I’ve figured it all out: why everything sucks!”  For Corliss, Netflix is why.  It’s Netflix that’s making us passive, inert, fat and flabby. 

Time for Congress and the President to act?