Monday, February 28, 2005

A Raskin follow-up

It turns out Daryl, back from a week in Paris and London, once wrote a story about a speech that computer usability guru Jef Raskin made at his alma mater, PSU. Here's the article from 1999. And it includes some interesting biographical tidbits that didn't make it into the obits I read.

Currently playing at the Angelika

The film "Turtles Can Fly" is not one of those films that seems engineered to tug at your heartstrings at all the right moments, although it can't help but do so at times. After all, it's about impoverished children, many maimed by mines and many of them orphans, caught in the tent-city and refugee-filled no-man's-land that is rural Kurdistan just before the latest war in Iraq.

But it takes its subjects seriously, perhaps -- as some reviewers point out -- depicting their interactions as a microcosm of the larger Kurdish society. And I didn't find myself crying at all. Instead, I found myself cringing at the way some of the characters have given up hope.

But there is enough pluck and energy in many of them, especially the central tech-savvy, leader-of-the-children character nicknamed "Satellite," that it's easier to forgive a somewhat one-sided depiction of the utterly dejected and resigned orphan girl Agrin. Maybe I'm imposing my glossy screenplay ideas on a world where being downtrodden your whole life really does take all will to live out of you. But there's still something that doesn't feel right watching a young girl walk into a pond at daybreak, douse herself in kerosene, light a match and ponder its potential.

The world the film creates is one that reminded me of the Peanuts comic strip -- all the young competition, cruelty and wistfulness is there, with maybe a different flavor of humor now and then. Adults are present, but peripheral -- traders in the black market or inept elders eager for Satellite to get their TV working so they can hear news of the impending war.

After flipping through some of the "forbidden channels" showing Western music videos and the like, the boy tunes in Fox News and images of Bush.

"That's Mr. Bush," he explains to the elders. "The world's in his hands now."

The village officials ask him to translate what the president is saying.

"He says it's going to rain tomorrow," Satellite tells them.

A good apple

Among notable deaths this weekend was Penn State alumnus and native New Yorker Jef Raskin (his master's thesis at PSU was a computer program), one of the founders of the team that created the Apple Macintosh. He's credited with naming the product line after his favorite kind of apple (which is spelled a little differently -- McIntosh -- although as a result of the computer, it's easy to think that's the way the fruit variety is spelled as well). His obit also credits him with popularizing two other phrases of the tech vernacular: "font" and "click and drag." In general, he's remembered as a guy who championed a computer interface more friendly to common users. (Some of his book "The Humane Interface" has been posted online via Google Print.)

Sunday, February 27, 2005

"Two-bit" Oscar show

So my Oscar guesses were pretty abysmal. I should've remembered to think like the voters, not like myself. Out of all of them, I'm happiest about the two screenplay awards, which went to two of the best films of last year, as well as the best animated feature, which was really great, except for the obligatory closing chase scene. My final score: 5/13.

B. had an interesting theory on some of the picks. It seems Oscars often go to actors for whom the voters all of a sudden decide/realize: "Hey, s/he can act!" Like Jamie Foxx. Who was really just a run-of-the-mill comedic actor for most of his career -- until now.

Whereas you have great actors/actresses like Johnny Depp, Don Cheadle and Kate Winslet who churn out great performances with some frequency and who get nominated and then don't win.

Final thought: Was Dustin Hoffman slightly drunk on stage or just channeling Rainman?

Oh, and goodnight, Brooklyn! (And welcome home, Daryl.)


In honor of the Oscars tonight, head on over to the NYT Magazine site for some fun pictures of your favorite celebs. Highlights:

Natalie Portman and Clive Owen: Maybe it's just me, but they seemed to go with a vague "Star Wars" theme for shots touting the movie "Closer." And whose hand is on Natalie's head?

Hilary Swank: Very droll. Way to cast against type. Known for playing masculine roles, here she apes a slightly perturbed Playboy bunny.

Why is Johnny Depp wearing what looks like a bracelet he got at the Limited Too?

Great shot of Kate Winslet.

And I'm not sure what's going on with the four main cast members of "Sideways" but it makes for a goofy, amusing photo.

Paparazzi alert! Albert Maysles is the old guy in the middle. He's Christo & Jeanne-Claude's documentary filmmaker, shooting on location Saturday afternoon at "The Gates." He also did "Gimme Shelter" (1970), which follows the Rolling Stones on tour, focusing on the tragic Altamont concert where the Hell's Angels -- who were supposed to be providing "security" -- generally roughed up the crowd and beat at least one spectator to death.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Bard & the Governor

Besides Shakespeare in the Park, someday soon we might see Shakespeare on the Island: There's a cool proposal on the table to build a theater -- inspired by Shakespeare's reconstructed Globe in London -- on Governor's Island off the tip of Lower Manhattan. They would build it inside the old fort, Castle Williams. The island with its long and varied military history is sitting in limbo at the moment as various groups including the National Park Service decide how best to preserve it and offer it up for public use.

As a fan of both good theater and innovative architecture, I think this is a great idea -- especially with the planned $10 groundling price -- although you'd have to allow a little more transit time to get from a Midtown office to the ferry to the island in time for an 8pm curtain.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Two Bens

Ben Brantley weighs in on "McReele," focusing more on the seemingly mixed up motivations of the supporting characters, but does mention the "arduously topical" nature of the play.

Also: It took me by surprise this morning to discover that Ben Folds has put out not 1, but 3 (!) EPs since his '02 live album and before the single "Landed." Not all of it's that great, but so far I can recommend two (city-named) tracks: "Kalamazoo" and "Adelaide." Next on my listening list: "There's Always Someone Cooler Than You."

A follow-up on THON ...

A reader named Steve commented that he was unable to get into PSU's Rec Hall to actually see the dancers last weekend. This appears to have been on top of the traditional lock-down of the building the organizers authorize (I think it still works this way) so that there isn't a crush of people into the hall at the last minute to watch the final moments.

THON, while raising a lot of money for a great cause, has often had its critics, me included. Most of the complaints fall under the following category: Unhealthy or questionable means for a worthwhile end.

Chiefly in my mind: Is it really necessary to "dance"/stay up for 48 hours? Why not 40? Or 30, even? I doubt the amount of money would be affected at all. It's not like people are donating by how many hours you can actually stay up. While this may be the scheme in other dance marathons, THON has developed over the years and now the assumption is that all 700+ dancers will be able to make it -- come sleep-deprived hallucinations and weeping bouts -- through all 48. Obviously, it's humanly possible, and it adds to the whole idea of joining in the suffering that kids with cancer must endure, but it really disrupts a good deal of the dancers' lives. If the event weren't so long, the physical prep time (in terms of actually getting ready for the event -- not the fundraising, etc.) and the physical recovery time would be shorter, I'd imagine. Never having danced, I don't know for sure.

But it's an idea that a lot of people have suggested, only to be shot down by this assumption that it's FOR THE KIDS and thus all-means-necessary are A-OK. It's at that point we need to step back and remember: More than one road can lead to the same goal.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Does he have your vote/sympathy?

"McReele," a new play that opened tonight at the Laura Pels Theatre, is so full of political ideas that I found myself pulling back from the action several times and having uncomfortable flashbacks to the last election: Not necessarily because of the themes (no heavy mentions of "terrorists" or "Iraq"), but instead, in the hopeful, I'm-gonna-make-a-difference rhetoric that flows from the mouth of the protagonist as well as his supporters.

Politically themed plays usually focus on capturing one ongoing debate (the death penalty, say) or otherwise depicting a historical moment with all its inherent issues. This one instead attempts to give us a realistic view (long-winded TV-debate answers included) of a plausible and charismatic candidate who makes people forget he's really a politician.

Anthony Mackie ("The Manchurian Candidate," "Million Dollar Baby") plays a well-spoken and wily death-row inmate with big ideas and lots of free time to mull them. He becomes exonerated after a local journalist (Michael O'Keefe, who played an enjoyably lost character in "Reckless" this season) starts to champion McReele's cause. That cause encompasses both his supposed innocence and his plans for how to prevent black teenagers like himself from getting onto death row in the first place. The reporter later becomes his campaign manager as McReele begins a run for U.S. senator from the oft-maligned/forgotten state of Delaware.

We don't learn whether he wins -- or how much of a role he actually played in the murder that sent him away. But midway through the play, he admits to O'Keefe's character that he was closer to the fatal moment than he first let on. Then more doubts arise.

Much is made of the way McReele can win people over -- whether his wife or the journalist's girlfriend -- and this talent becomes the crux of the climactic scene. I won't give it away, but we're made to draw conclusions from the reactions of the father of the murdered boy without really knowing the truth about McReele, whose name plays on mixed racial expectations as well as his authenticity.

Despite a strong ending, the drama was weighed down by all the political specifics. I wish more of the speechifying had occurred off-stage, so that it would have felt less like a fictional campaign ad and more like an examination of the complexities of the characters.

A small thing

I'm walking to the ATM at lunch today when I start hearing a faint sound like morning doves cooing. It's intermittent and soft, but still it stands out from the noise of the street. I look up, searching for eaves or some nearby perch. Finding none, I gaze around at eye level. Still the sound, but still no source. Finally, I walk on, gazing down at the ground and see a man sweeping trash into a hanging bucket at the end of a short pole. He is dragging it along the sidewalk and the hollow, intermittent sound it makes is what I took to be the doves.

Aww, how nice. Trump actually let them post a banner that DOESN'T tout himself.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

T.O.N.Y. and Moby

Residents of the Second City, rejoice! One of the coolest listings magazines has made the leap to Chicago. Look for the first issue next week. As a regular subscriber (they make it really cheap for you to always have a weekly copy handy) of Time Out New York (T.O.N.Y.), I suggest you pick up a copy and salivate over all the fun things YOUR city offers. It will either make you really excited to be a city dweller or really sad because you don't have enough time and/or money to do attend/visit all the fun events/places it touts.

Fans of Moby (a proud New Yorker), rejoice as well! A preview of his new album (his 10th, apparently) is available at iTunes Music Store. It's this seven-plus-minute track that plays for you snippets from many of his new songs, as if you were in the Virgin Megastore, listening to it with those big fluffy headphones, trying to decide whether to buy it or otherwise just killing time until your friend arrives and you go watch a movie next door. (Union Square anyone?)

Wednesday afternoon, on Madison Avenue.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Central Park, last weekend: Winters, when I was younger, I'd often lose one in a pair. But both? At the same time?

Oscar, Oscar!

I know the Oscars aren't until Sunday, but I thought I'd get a head start and post my predictions. No, I haven't seen all these, but it's not going to stop me from guessing.

Actor -- Leading: Don Cheadle for Hotel Rwanda

Actor -- Supporting: Jamie Fox for Collateral

Actress -- Leading: Catalina Sandino Moreno for Maria Full of Grace

Actress -- Supporting: Virginia Madsen for Sideways

Animated Feature: The Incredibles

Directing: Ray

Documentary Feature: Born into Brothels

Foreign Language Film: The Sea Inside

Original Score: Lemony Snicket ...

Original Song: "Accidentally in Love" from Shrek 2

Best Picture: Ray

Screenplay -- Adapted: Sideways

Screenplay -- Original: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

That's not all the categories, but they're the biggies. What're your predictions?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Mirror sites / mirroring our universe

The other morning on WNYC/NPR, they were discussing the merits and drawbacks of Wikipedia, the open-source internet encyclopedia where anyone can add or edit entries, and one speaker highlighted a potential pitfall of the online site by referring to a short story by Borges in which a map of a country becomes so detailed as to span ... the actual entire country. She cited this story and contrasted it with Encyclopedia Britannica, which aims to give a summary of the highlights of the world of knowledge, without actually encompassing the world of knowledge.

I had to go and see if Wikipedia itself had a reference to this short story, and so it did. (It turned out to be only a paragraph long!) Unfortunately, I had to find the information through a site called that extracts much of its info from Wikipedia, since the original site has been lately affected by a power failure: "Power corrupts. Power failure corrupts absolutely," proclaimed the site this evening.

That's one thing hard-copy volumes have on Wikipedia -- unless of course you consider how infrequently public libraries are open these days.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

A proud PSU moment

THON (aka the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon) rocked Rec Hall this weekend, concluding as it always does in the early evening on Sunday. It's a big annual event on campus to raise money for the treatment and support of children dealing with cancer, based around the university's medical center in Hershey. The total amount raised/pledged this year was $4,122,483.65 ($4.1 million), a sensational amount and more than half a million dollars more than last year!

That total came from the ever-popular (but not always entirely accurate) forum at Daily Jolt ... and my sister, who was actually there, confirmed it for me. The two newspapers in town (TDC, CDT) apparently didn't get their acts together in time to publish any web updates this evening (as far as I can tell). Maybe they didn't get this memo.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Saturday night, on the Upper West Side. (A $1K+ reward? That must be some special bird -- and some special owner.)

Tea and scones

This evening, sipped tea and ate delicious berry-and-banana scones with B. and her friend from D.C. at Alice's Tea Cup, a tea room with antique-looking furniture, old china, a general (yep, you guessed it) A. in Wonderland theme and a quirky loose-tea-and-odd-gifts store up front, sort of reminiscent of the one in Serendipity 3.

Friday, February 18, 2005

TV, without really watching it

I've never been much of a "Survivor" fan (although I'll admit to watching Trump-or-monkey's show when I'm home). But with a PSU alum I've met among the castaways this season, I'm vaguely interested in how he does. Luckily, intrepid Collegian reporter Nick Norcia was watching and gives us a rundown/review. So what're his overall odds? One site says: "Appears to have an alliance with Tom and Katie, at least" and "Internet rumors suggest he goes far." Nick, in his article, seems to agree.

Oh, and since I don't have Comedy Central, I've had to play catch up again on two choice Daily Show segments on: the blogosphere tearing down the MSM (which apparently means the "mainstream media," sort of the way CU L8R means ... well, you know) and The Gates. Unfortunately, the link for the second one has been replaced on the show's site. Maybe someone can send me a permanent one?

Winds from the East

A letter to the editor in the NYT (see "Bereano") from a guy in Seattle raised an interesting comparison that I had sensed but never articulated, having never been to Japan. This letter and other blogs (1, 2) have mentioned how "The Gates" here greatly resemble the "torii" of Shinto shrines, especially those on the grounds of the Fushimi Inari Shrine outside Kyoto. I'm not sure whether it's a case of similar aesthetics or latent imitation, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it "fraud." The comparison works even better when you remember that the artists originally planned for 11,000 to 15,000 gates to fill the park, before officials put the kabosh on those totals.

Speaking of Eastern religions: The last time I heard the word "saffron" being used so frequently to describe a color was when the Buddhist monks came to visit in Erie.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Thursday evening, outside the Plaza Hotel.

Of jokes and landmarks

Whether you're in NYC or Scranton, Pa., a certain method of advertising remains relatively cheap and very resilient: the moving and/or parked billboard. Walking by the Plaza Hotel this evening, I came across an example of this. Perhaps you've heard the Plaza was bought by new owners, who are turning most of it into luxury condos, leaving the hotel portion greatly reduced (and -- needless to say -- many people fired). From what I've read, it seems the facade of the hotel has been deemed a protected landmark, but the interiors? Not so much. Oh, sure, they're beautiful, but apparently either no one got around to doing the paperwork or the bodies who decide these things have not granted that coveted landmark status.

Enter this mysterious firm called the New York City Consulting Group, whose website appears on this moving-billboard van. What's their lofty goal? "It is our intent to raise enough money through donations to buy back the Plaza ..." Wow. No need to read any more. Do they realize how much the latest purchase price was? Apparently they do, since they linked to a USA Today article that cites a figure of $675 million cash.

So what are landmark-loving New Yorkers to think from this plan? The NYCCG is going to raise $676 million, knock on the new owners' door and say "Let's make a deal"? This seems like a lame attempt not only to steal people's money (what happens if they only raise $674M and/or the new owners look at them like they're crazy?) but also to get publicity for a futile quest. I couldn't find much on this outfit, except that it has an address of "551 Madison Avenue - Suite 300" and that it's associated with something called "Rolling Promos" (hence the van).

Somehow I just don't see this happening. Least of all from a group that can't seem to decide whether to use the word "it's" or "its" when declaring: "ITS A LANDMARK. IT'S NOT A JOKE!"

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What's this show parodying again?

"The Musical of Musicals: The Musical" is not a big budget production (it lacks any set to speak of and an upright piano is its main prop and music source), but it aims its sights at many of the over-the-top and overdone dynasties that have been Broadway's bread and butter for decades. Still, it's not exactly a primer for beginners; to really get its humor, you have to be able to flip through (at breakneck speed) a mental catalogue of all the shows it sends up. The same plot is repeated five times in the style of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Kander & Ebb (with a healthy dose of Fosse). If you're easily amused by general silliness, you don't have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of these artists' works. But I'd imagine it certainly helps. I have to wonder whether the creators of this show made up all the jokes from their own experience of theater, or whether they had to pore through video libraries of these Broadway legends first to create a show so dense with references. Usually when a show is so brimming with allusions, people rave and say, "See it twice, three times or four to get everything out of it." But this show feels more like a stand-up routine for theater geeks than any long-lasting humor fest. I laughed a good bit, it was amusing, but I don't imagine it draws heavy repeat patrons the way "real" musicals do. But I commend the four performers for juggling the various styles and jokes with agility.

The show is playing at an underground complex of five auditoriums called Dodger Stages on 50th St. past Eighth, which used to be a $3 Loews Cineplex Odeon (remember when you could see B-run flicks for that cheap?) before it closed and was converted into live theaters.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Tuesday morning, near C.P.S.

Beholders are we

Talking about The Gates today, an acquaintance of mine offered this hypothesis/question: Are more men than women raving about the art? She said several of the women she'd spoken to were either less than thrilled by the whole thing or otherwise unmoved. Whereas her boyfriend and me and other guys were really excited by it and found a lot of good things to say about the experience. Yes, it's a rather broad generalization, but it got me thinking for a moment. What factors help to shape how you feel about the work?

Hate excess? Love big events? Don't like the color orange/saffron? Enjoy public art that really draws the crowds? Like Christo since way-back? Are turned off by abstract art in general? Think it looks like swing sets, laundry hanging out to dry, or "schmatas" as more than a few critics have called them? Captivated by how it renews your view on the park?

I love it, in part, for these reasons:

It took a long time to realize. It took a lot of money to make, but it's free to all who come here or live here. It raises in our collective minds the importance of art and aesthetics as forces not to be forgotten, even if the work is not -- at its heart -- utilitarian, practical, of much use for anything other than the bringing-forth of our emotions and the creation of memories.

The color is vivid, eye-catching, warm and welcoming in a time of barren branches and too many cold clouds. The lines and fluttering curves carve out the landscape and contrast with the natural setting in wonderful and slightly changing ways.

It takes a good hearty walk to appreciate it, and there are countless angles/ways of looking at it. It's ephemeral and forces us to look at it now, not to ignore it, to reach for the joy and beauty we might attain now, while it's here.

I also came into these two weeks very excited and hopeful about it, so perhaps it's natural that I'm seeking out the positive in it all.

* * * * *

In Google news, you can see from the link at the top of this post that "The Gates" -- as in the art I'm lately gushing about -- have moved their way up the charts since this weekend. It used to be (like last week) that the internet community, when feeling lucky, would receive Bill G.'s home page as a gift. Now searchers are getting Christo and Jeanne-Claude instead.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Something slightly new in the subway

On the subway tonight, there was a man who could either be described as a passive preacher or a religious found-art creator. Maybe I'm giving him too much credit, but he was certainly unique compared to the usual guys struggling for your attention and/or money. He was sitting in the end-seat of the car, holding up small posters with tabloid-headline cutouts pasted across them along with his own writings. All of them had vaguely religious/Christian themes. He had a whole stack of them, which he'd shuffle every once in a while, to show us a new mix of words. None of it was extremely coherent, but it was all tangentially biblical. I kept my iPod on most of the time, so I didn't really hear if he offered any vocalizations to match his art/message, but I did hear him say, "There's nothing new under the sun," at one point.

"I've got a bridge for sale -- real cheap"

Perhaps it's inevitable, but people are hawking some of those free swatches of Gates fabric on eBay. Some were going for more than $20 this morning! Someone even managed to get their hands on one of the bolts, supposedly. (Is there a gate somewhere this morning swaying a little bit more in the wind?) The artists said they would be giving away 1,000,000 of these swatches free (about 1 for every 8 New Yorkers, right?), so they're not exactly "rare" by usual measures. Of course, if you're not in NYC, you might see them as pretty rare nonetheless.

On WNYC this morning, they said "vandals" were selling pieces of The Gates, but all I could find was that one bolt and one of the empty tarps that held the fabric in its cocooon last week. Are they misinterpreting where the swatches originated or am I not searching with the right keywords?

Still, at least, there don't seem to be any stories about "scalpers" attempting to sell "tickets" to the free event.

The art, gloves and scarf not necessary

Check out a slideshow of shots I took this weekend in the park.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Observing The Gates, in no particular order

Dogs do not ignore them. They lift their hind legs and pee on them, marking their territory, their own particular gates.

Children stand on their bases, leap up to touch the fringes of the fabric.

Around the Jackie O reservoir it feels empty because it is a huge vista without any saffron. And the view from the top of the Met museum isn't that great. You climb up the crowded staircases, only to start wishing you were back down on the ground -- among them, instead of above them.

Lots of bundled babies, some of them sleeping in their snuggly carriers. Years from now, their parents and guardians will show them pictures and say you were there, but now they're gone and you're still here and all we have are the pictures and our memories of them and of you.

A guy snapped a photo of B. and me. He asked if we wanted to kiss, but added that it would be better with a video camera. We didn't kiss; we just smiled. Later, we wondered how he knew we might kiss if prompted. What if we were just friends?

They strike me as abstract. They are not actually like gates. They don't close from the top or from the sides, like swinging gates or a portcullis. They stay open and let you pass through.

Even the food nearby is good for everyone (cheap). We drank coffee and ate a honey bun for a dollar from a window at the North Meadow rec center. At first, I gave the man a 10, and he said do you have anything smaller, and I said all I have is one 1-dollar bill and he said that's what it costs and I smiled and gave it to him.

The Gates are welcoming. You can touch them; there are no signs telling you not to. Which makes you want to touch them all the more. In fact, we only saw one sign actually telling us what we were looking at, even though we knew. The sign that said "The Gates" and "Christo and Jeanne-Claude" just sat in the middle of the park, not at the entrance or the exit, just in the middle -- as if someone had placed the title plaque on one of the arms of a Calder mobile or actually in the pond with Monet's waterlilies. If English-speaking aliens came down amid the park they'd have to go searching for that one sign to understand what's up with all the saffron foliage.

The workers/guards/helpers have special gray and saffron smocks, and many of them got C&J-C to autograph them; the couple seemed to pick the same place each time: right across the shoulders, and in exactly the same scrawl as you see on all the prep drawings and on all the merchandise.

We each got a piece of the fabric. The workers were handing them out to those who approached them and asked. They dipped their hands in their smock pockets and pulled out little squares of saffron. I'm keeping mine in my wallet for the time being.

Today, I went to go visit them while I was eating my lunch. I'm going to try to visit them as much as I can.