Just Around the Corner

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This will be the first in what I hope will be a series of three blog posts chronicling an important transition in my life.

A few years ago, I befriended a /Filmcast listener from across the pond. What began as a series of harsh disagreements on our interpretations of specific films ended up blossoming into a really meaningful friendship. At the time, I had just come off a pretty bad breakup, and I found this person to be a constant source of comfort. She was and is an amazing person, someone whose kindness and understanding helped me to weather an extraordinarily rough patch in my life. Our friendship took the form of frequent Skype calls, during which I would lament the state of my existence and she would find it in herself to constantly encourage me, and embolden me to make interesting choices that I would typically shy away from.

The thing is, her life wasn't exactly all sunshine and lollipops either. She also suffered from occasional bouts of loneliness and struggled with her career. I think we found a connection in these shared experiences. She always had a saying she was fond of repeating to me:

You never know what is just around the corner.

I really appreciated this expression. There's the obvious implication of hope there, but what I like most is it's trying to tell you that sometimes you don't have the whole picture. You don't have a full understanding of the forces at work in your life. Sometimes, a long period of darkness and despair has an abrupt ending (and soon) that you might not be able to see or even conceive of. So don't give up. In life, you never know what is just around the corner.

Fortunately for her, this saying proved to be true. Within two years after I made first contact with her, she'd found an amazing man, her career was taking off, and she soon became pregnant with what is today a beautiful baby girl. The demands of a relationship and of motherhood have made it difficult for us to chat that much these days. But she is one of those people whose impact on my life was so profound and edifying that I'm grateful to have had her in my life, if just for a little while.

***

Three months ago, I was not in a great place.  A significant job offer had fallen through this past fall, which led me to a seemingly endless series of humiliating rejections (of all different varieties). I'd spent years completing my Master's degree, but I was coming to its conclusion with no significantly improved career prospects. My contract at my current job was rapidly coming to an end and I didn't know what I was going to do. In fact, I'd pretty much resigned myself to the idea that there was no longer any possibility for me to work in an exciting, growing field that I was passionate about. Those of you who know me and support me may think it's pretty ridiculous for me to have given up hope at this stage, but the fact of the matter is, when you hear "No" enough times, you start to wonder if "Yes" is even possible.

Then came a phone call.

And another one.

And another.

And still one more.

Within a period of two weeks in early March 2012, several job opportunities appeared out of nowhere, each from a different person I've been fortunate enough to meet over the years. (Perhaps one of the biggest blessings of being down-and-out on your luck is that you are given the opportunity to witness the kindness of friends and colleagues). Within a 10-day period, I'd flown 12,000 miles to job interviews and back to Boston, a whirlwind of self-examination and intense questioning that brutalized the body and the soul, but which was nevertheless filled with excitement. My friend Rachell once expressed to me the truism, "After the final 'no,' there's a 'yes.'"

Yesterday, I received my first full-time job offer in over 5 years.

In the days to come, I'll be telling you all about what i'll be doing with my life for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, I just wanted to share my story -- one of mild success borne out of reaching out, making connections, and finding that those connections have led to my salvation. If it could happen to a schmuck like me, certainly it could happen to any of you. Sometimes, you never know what is just around the corner.

Software Patents Strike Again

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Leigh Beadon details the case of Speak for Yourself, a relatively cheap augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) app that's now under legal fire:

Dana points out that PRC's mission statement begins "We Believe Everyone Deserves A Voice" and that their refusal to create an affordable iPad app, and now their attempts to crush a competitor who did, clearly runs counter to that mission. For her, that's basically where the discussion ends: a company is trying to take away the only thing that has been able to give her daughter a voice, and she couldn't care less whether or not they have the legal right to do so.

Quality vs. Quantity

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Andrew Phelps has some cool analysis of Gawker's new editorial guidelines that are geared towards garnering more page views:

The key to the balance probably doesn’t lie in raw numbers, though. A Gawker that was only weird Chinese goats would likely, over time, bore its readers. The more substantive stories serve as tentpoles for the entire site; once in a while, they’ll blow up huge, and they’re probably more appealing to the kind of brand advertisers Gawker seeks. [...]

It also at least has the potential to lead to happier writers who know when they need to chase pageviews and when they don’t.

The Life of a Chinese Immigrant

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As an Asian immigrant whose parents owned a Chinese restaurant, Kevin Heldman's story for Capital New York story about the perils of being an Asian delivery person in the Bronx really hit home with me. For immigrants, so little separates us between prosperity and poverty. The line is difficult to contemplate:

You go to that drawer full of menus with dragons or pandas or bamboo on them, and the random Chinese characters, and the obligatory promise of fast and free delivery. And in 25 minutes or so a Chinese man on a bike will come to your door and you’ll maybe drop him a xie xie with your tip and he’ll give you a bye bye and he’s gone. End of story.

But there’s a different version of that story that goes on in many parts of this city. And that version is about money, class, race, and education. And in that version people are robbed, assaulted and killed, and people live in fear, constantly on guard and under threat over Chinese food.

Sci-Fi and Reproductive Rights

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Annalee Newitz from io9 is so damn smart. Here's a recent piece by her in which she describes what science fiction tells us about our fears and hopes about the future of human reproduction:

If everything from technology to politics will be different in the future, then so will human reproduction. That's why so much science fiction deals with the question of how humans make babies — or don't make them — in alternate worlds that are often quite close to our own. It's also why reproduction is a political issue. After all, a political campaign represents the promise of a new kind of future.

Fascinating and insightful.

Encyclopaedia Britannica Goes Online-Only

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The times they are a changin'...

Anatomy of a Joke

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From the New York Times comes a detailed analysis and evolution of a joke by comedian Myq Kaplan:

Looking back at the joke’s various incarnations, Mr. Kaplan said it was heartening to see improvement. Yet nothing was more fun than the first time. “When you introduce a joke into the world, and the audience laughs,” he said, “it’s the most invigorating, thrilling thing.”

What If 'The Sopranos' And 'Seinfeld' Had Switched Endings?

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I enjoyed this brief profile of Mad Men creator Matt Weiner in The New York Times, but the best line in it comes from Sopranos creator David Chase, who reflected on how his show ended:

It’s just very difficult to end a series. For example, ‘Seinfeld,’ they ended it with them all going to jail. Now that’s the ending we should have had. And they should have had ours, where it blacked out in a diner.

I can't tell if Chase is speaking tongue-in-cheek here, or if he actually has regrets about the maddening final scene from The Sopranos.

Either way, I think he's right.

More Complicated Than Calories

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From The Atlantic comes this report from Kristin Wartman that maybe what's making us fat isn't just the calories we eat: it's the fact that we're surrounded by pollutants and chemicals that are collectively and profoundly changing our metabolism:

Lustig echoes vom Saal's belief that a wide range of substances in our food supply and our environment are likely leading to obesity and metabolic disease based on hosts of studies of various substances. These include soy-based infant formula, phthalates (used in many plastics), PCBs (found in coolant and electrical equipment), DDE (a type of pesticide), fungicides, and atrazine (a common pesticide).

If the obesogen theory comes to be accepted and casts doubt on the energy balance model, the food industry will be in trouble. It would be harder to keep promoting diet and "health" foods that may be low in calories but that also contain an array of substances that may actually prove to contribute to weight gain.

What's Wrong with 'Kony 2012'

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The "Kony 2012" viral video created by the Invisible Children organization has taken the internet by storm, accumulating over 55 million views since it was released just a few days ago:



While on its face, the video appears to be an innocuous call-to-action (or a call-to-awareness, at least) about the crimes of the Central African LRA-leader Joseph Kony, online observers have raised several issues with this campaign, including its patronizing imperialistic tone and the fact that Invisible Children have not proven themselves incredibly responsible with their finances.

In their analysis of the video at The Atlantic, Kate Cronin-Furman and Amanda Taub describe why campaigns like these frequently fail to achieve any substantive good. In fact, these campaigns have typically exacerbated the problem because they fail to communicate the vast complexities inherent in these situations:

The problem is that these campaigns mobilize generalized concern -- a demand to do something. That isn't enough to counterbalance the costs of interventions, because Americans' heartlessness or apathy was never the biggest problem. Taking tough action against groups, like the LRA, that are willing to commit mass atrocities will inevitably turn messy. Soldiers will be killed, sometimes horribly. (Think Somalia.) Military advice and training to the local forces attempting to suppress atrocities can have terrible unforeseen consequences. Consider the hundreds of victims of the LRA's 2008 "Christmas Massacre," their murderous response to a failed, U.S.-supported attack by Ugandan and Congolese government forces. International Criminal Court investigations often prompt their targets to step up attacks on civilians and aid workers, in an attempt to gain leverage with the court. (Both Kony and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir have tried that method.)

Their piece is a must-read and I agree with almost everything in it. The one point I take issue with can be summed up in the following excerpt from their piece:

Treating awareness as a goal in and of itself risks compassion fatigue -- most people only have so much time and energy to devote to far-away causes -- and ultimately squanders political momentum that could be used to push for effective solutions.

In other words, Cronin-Furman and Taub imagine citizens with a limited "reservoir" of attention, and conclude that an ineffectual campaign such as Kony 2012 drains precious resources from that reservoir.

While I understand that on a basic level, people only have 24 hours per day and must allocate that limited time in prudent fashion, I disagree that campaigns like Kony 2012 are necessarily harmful because of this. In an ideal world, Cronin-Furman and Taub would be correct, and people would be so busy with activism that it would be a crime for them to waste their time entertaining the viral videos of Invisible Children. But we don't live in an ideal world. We live in one with LOLCAT pictures, and Youtube videos of skateboarders injuring themselves, and iPad announcements and so forth. 'Kony 2012' pierces that world and perhaps plants the seeds of activism inside of people (even as it's also planting some seeds of misinformation).

There are a whole boatload of issues with the 'Kony 2012' video. The campaign and the efforts of Invisible Children will probably not directly effect the good they are hoping to. But maybe they will cause a politically concerned citizen to educate him/herself on the topic, to explore it more deeply, and to commit to helping in ways that are actually meaningful. And that's more than many of us can ever say about our own efforts in social justice.

Are Law Schools Misleading Their Potential Students About Job Prospects?

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When I graduated from college, I strongly considered attending law school. I even studied for and took the LSAT. I ended up not going that route for a variety of reasons (cost being the primary one), but countless others have in the intervening years. Their experiences have not been uniformly positive. A new movement has sprung up to advocate for transparency in law school admissions. Specifically, people want law schools to give an accurate accounting of their graduates' job prospects, a key statistic when you're about to fork over $150,000 and three years of your life.

New York magazine has a great piece charting one team of lawyers who are determined to keep law schools honest:

[L]aw-school tuition rose 317 percent nationwide during the aughts, compared with a 71 percent spike for undergraduate tuition. At New York Law School, it now stands at $46,200 a year—comparable to Harvard Law’s. But neither the cost nor NYLS’s lowly ranking (it’s 135th on the U.S. News & World Report list) has deterred the students who fill classes that, according to the complaint filed against the school, are a fifth larger than in 2000. It may help that NYLS has consistently claimed what the lawsuit refers to as a “sterling” 90 percent placement rate, a rate that Anziska, Raimond, and Strauss argue simply does not compute.

The questions this case raises are difficult to answer, but whatever happens may have significant implications for the future of legal education in the U.S.

The Tobolowsky Files in Boston and NYC (February 2012): A Photo Journal

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This past week I had the privilege of traveling with Stephen Tobolowsky to the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Boston and to The Bell House in Brooklyn, where Stephen shared his stories and his insights with hundreds of fans. There's something magical about live storytelling that binds us together in the words and performance of another human being. It's an unforgettable experience and I hope each of you get to experience it at some point.

Below you'll find a photo journal of our travels. New York was so lovely and exciting that I'm reminded of how sad I am that I don't live there. Huge thanks to the fine folks at the Coolidge, The Bell House, the Independent Film Festival of Boston, Bumpershine, and Creaghead & Company for making these performances possible!

The Canon 5D Mark III Is Real

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After literally years of speculation about Canon's successor to the wildly popular Canon 5D Mark II, the 5D Mark III is finally here! The improvements are mostly incremental: better image quality, especially in low-light, some more video/audio options, and superior software options.

I currently own a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 7D, and to be honest, nothing about the new camera screams "MUST BUY!" to me. The Mark II still produces dynamite images and the 7D has some pretty robust video features. The extra $1000+ I would be forking over for a Mark III (compared to a Mark II) will be difficult to justify.

Then again, I haven't seen the images yet. If they are truly mind-blowing, which they very well may be, I might have to dip into the old savings account for an upgrade...