Tuesday, April 28, 2009

If You're Going to San Francisco

Tonight is my last night in the west coast windy city.  I have been very busy the last week or so in court at the RealDVD hearing.  Today was fun as the CEO of Real Networks blathered on about how law abiding he was. "Copying is only incidental to the features we provide"  Of course, most of the press is vilifying the studios and belittling their case.   

I have also been running around for days "celebrating" my daughter's 20th birthday.  Many meals out and many new reasons to bump up the exercise when this rhinovirus leaves.  We went up to Sonoma for a few days and stayed at the Macarthur Place Inn.  Aerial view of grounds to the left. I got some great photos of the grounds and gardens which I will upload once I get home.
 Home.  It sounds great!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Traveling with my Devices

Since there is a sigalert on my route to work this morning, I figured I would stay home for an extra half hour to see if I could avoid the jam. So I get a few minutes to reflect on my packing this morning for a 6 day trip. I do not travel a lot but I do travel some so I have certain items prepacked for travel such as toiletries and makeup. The rest used to be just figuring out clothes for the climate and activities. Now the big issue has become electronic devices and the chargers for them. I counted 7 chargers this morning that I thought I needed. One for my Kindle, one for my Blackberry, one for my cellphone, one for my handsfree earpiece for the cellphone (which I hate but keep because of CA law), one for my ipods, one for my MacBook and one for my camera. Whew. So many devices to charge up. And most of them need charging fairly regularly. No matter what the manufacturer says the battery life is I can count on about 1-2 hours of use tops. What a perfect way to celebrate Earth Week--plugging in all my electronic devices!

I probably should consolidate. I am actually thinking about getting an iPhone so I can carry my cell and iPod as one device. But my work still gives me a Blackberry so I would need that. I thought about using the phone on the BB but it is cumbersome (Studio issue BBs are not the sleek, small hand ones but the large Manly ones). And on the weekends I like to put away the BB and only carry my cellphone which does not have internet access. My cellphone is the perfect size--very light, small and sleek--so I am reluctant to replace it with an iPhone. But I could also read from my Kindle on the iPhone which would cut down on another device. If I used the iPhone for all these activities I would be charging it every 10 minutes!

Go Green!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Not So Plain, Jane

I just heard an interview on Pacifica radio with my congresswoman, Jane Harman about the allegations in the press today, first broken in Congressional Journal, that she told an  Israeli representative that she would intercede on behalf of two members of American Israeli Public Affairs Committee charged with espionage.  This alleged conversation was captured on NSA wiretaps. Harman, in an interesting PR move came out swinging, complaining that SHE, of all people, was wiretapped.  She also denied the allegations but only after several minutes of asserting angrily that she knew nothing about being wiretapped and that an investigation should be started in why she was wiretapped.  A good defense is a good offense.  However, to me she came across as shrill and unbelievable, an observation shared by others.  Perhaps it would have been better to stick to a letter like the one she sent to Eric Holder.

I have only good feelings for Rep. Harman based on my personal interactions with her. First, she is a Smithie and we alumae need to stick together.  Second, when my husband and I took our children on the standard trip to the Nation's Capital years ago, she was very gracious in spending some time with us when we stopped by her office.  Finally, and most importantly, she was very helpful in interceding with the State Department in Micronesia when my son was jailed there four years ago for something he said on his radio station that offended a powerful Micronesian.  I was lucky to have a contact in her office who helped us get Rep. Harman to make several communications to the embassy in Pohnpei, who were not doing anything to get my son out of jail and to get back his passport.

So understandably I find the current allegations disturbing.   The line that supposedly occurs in the wiretap transcripts "We never had this conversation" is perhaps the most disturbing, particularly in light of the stance that she is now offended by being wiretapped without her knowledge.  I look forward with hope to an explanation of this conversation that is more benign although given that politics are politics I fear that this story may only get worse.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Socially Poor?

After a long and hot walk on the beach this morning, I came home and went immediately to my computer to check Facebook (sidetracked on the way by a short conversation with my son about tattoos which I still cannot appreciate as ART although I try). Why am I so drawn to Facebook? One of my old friends refers to it as FB High School. I went to a small girls high school which is nothing like my experience of FB so that cannot be it. I also regularly check my Twitter account although I use Twitter as a personal RSS feed for news on topics in which I am interested--BNO, NPR, NYT, LAT, enviroment, copyright law, internet law, technology and some business. I have never tweeted myself only "followed". I reserve my tweeting for FB where to the amusement of some of my colleagues I change my status almost every day (sometimes more) and regularly post links, comment and take quizzes.

So I just logged onto to FB and saw that my daughter tagged herself in one of the recent photos we took of her and her lovely bf. At her and my son's request I have stopped tagging them myself so that they have some control over what pictures show up on their own pages. I am pleased that she obviously liked the picture enough to claim it. I like the picture but I am not her (as she tells me all the time and vice versa)
Then I clicked on a NYT link of an article about Twitter and Facebook. This article repeats an assertion by a speaker at SXSW tech that people who twitter and FB are socially impoverished. The author says:

“Connectivity is poverty” was how a friend of mine summarized Sterling’s bold theme. Only the poor — defined broadly as those without better options — are obsessed with their connections. Anyone with a strong soul or a fat wallet turns his ringer off for good and cultivates private gardens that keep the hectic Web far away. The man of leisure, Sterling suggested, savors solitude, or intimacy with friends, presumably surrounded by books and film and paintings and wine and vinyl — original things that stay where they are and cannot be copied and corrupted and shot around the globe with a few clicks of a keyboard!

I live in a house with 7 other people including a baby, a four year old and an 83 year old. That is cramped. I work at a studio which has over 3000 employees at my location not counting those that come on the lot periodically for productions and visits. I live in a world city with a metropolitan population of over 12 million, all of whom seem to be on the freeways when I am. The internet is an escape--a way of traveling when I must deal with the vicissitudes of everyday living. I can vicariously hike in the Adirondacks with an old high school friend, kayak with my sister in upstate NY, walk on the beach in Florida with my niece, look at the animals another niece is treating in vet scho0l, dream of traveling to London, Stuttgart, Amsterdam, Japan like an old college friend, enjoy the tales of raising a household of teenagers from another high school friend, all from the comfort of my bedroom or office. These connections may seem fleeting but are rich and longlasting in my imagination. I am exposed to ideas that other people find interesting based on what they choose to link to on FB. I learn a lot of breaking news and not so breaking news on Twitter. Notwithstanding this internet activity, I also have time to read, appreciate art and occasionally film, although working at a studio does tend to undermine my enjoyment of motion pictures. But there is also so much to escape--loved ones' illnesses, financial concerns, aging and loss of memory (others and mine). I get to control my interactions with FB and Twitter and right now I choose to spend more time there than in the real world where CNN and sports blare from the television and many people continually look to me to solve their problems.

If that makes me impoverished, I am pleased to be poor.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Moonrise Sunset


Studios 1- Pirates minus $ 2.8 million

I woke up this morning at 5:00 a.m., a hour late for a conference call about the verdict in Sweden in the Pirate Bay criminal action. I pulled out my trusty blackberry and there it was. Email after email announcing the content industry victory. The four defendants were found guilty of contribution to criminal copyright infringement, i.e the uploading by users of unauthorized copyrighted works (movies and music) to Pirate Bay. The total damages award was about 28 million SEK (Swedish Krona), the bulk of the damages attributable to Hollywood motion pictures. The record industry, ironically, got a relatively modest damage award notwithstanding their much more vocal and visible presence in the trial as the "bad guys" going after the jolly pirates who after all are only giving people what they want--stuff for free that you would otherwise have to pay for it you got it legally.

Some websites are already predicting that the torrents will still flow on other sites like Mininova. Others have noted that this verdict does not shut down Pirate Bay because it does not include an injunction. I find one recurring argument in blogs particularly amusing in a gallows humor sort of way. The argument goes--studios and record companies are at fault when people steal from them on the internet because the content owners have not adapted their business models to the reality of the internet--i.e. stuff is free (for the most part). That argument ignores that it is wrong to take content for free when you know the owner expects to be paid. People do not steal DVDs from stores but feel perfectly comfortable taking the movie on the internet. Why is it the studios' fault that people steal movies on the internet? Also, business models are changing. Movies are available on the internet --both for a price and for free. TV shows too. See also http://www.youtube.com/crackle. Studios are not the record industry which released unencrypted CDs that could be ripped to the internet and handheld devices without foreseeing how damaging that would be to their hard goods business.

So bottom line--the studios are wrong because they do not give their product away for free. Having talked to some of our finance people, we might as well be.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

eFiling is Taxing and a Question of Belief

I spent many hours last night and today filling out income tax forms online so that my childrens' tax returns were filed on time. I was surprised to learn that I could not efile my son's return because he did not file a return last year and you need to give your exact adjusted gross income from 2007 to file. I guess I am even more surprised to learn that my son has never filed a tax return. I thought he had. I guess he never made enough money at his part time jobs to make it worthwhile. I had filed my daughter's return last year by mail. She worked at several places so her return was a bit more complicated than I would have liked. But thanks to last year's time investment it was fairly easy to efile her return today. The biggest hassle is typing in the information from the W2 form. There should be an easier way to handle that form electronically.

So now I feel elated rather than taxed. We get an extension for ourselves so we file our returns in October every year with the help of an accountant. I do not do much on that return since I have a W2 and not much else. I leave the mess to my husband- something about which he reminded me when I bitched the last two days while trying to file the returns for our kids.

I started listening in the car today to a recording of Jimmy Carter reading his book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. While I am interested in the subject, once again I am distracted by the reader's voice. President Carter is 84 years old and slurs his words a bit these days. I have great admiration for the man and his ideas. I have trouble not being distracted by his raspy southern accent.

But I digress because what I wanted to reflect upon is the religiosity of Presidents. Listening to Carter talk about his first trip to the Holy Land and his awe of the places he had studied for many years in the Bible, I am wondering about our current President's embrace of Christianity and evangelism. A month ago it was reported that President Obama was consulting with evangelical preachers about hard issues he was facing in his new position. Last weekend there was an article about his search for a church to attend in Washington. Having read Dreams from My Father, I had the impression that Obama was raised to question organized religion and to approach it as a vehicle for reaching people as part of his community organizing. Now is he actually religious? Has he been all along after his school years? I understand there has been a lot of commentary on this issue but I am much more interested in knowing what Obama believes. You know what Carter believes. You can hear it in his voice (when you get past its timbre). Is Obama going to be more effective because you cannot tell what he believes?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Death and Taxes

Tonight I need to e-file my children's tax returns. I don't know how I became their "H & R Block" but I am stuck this year. Before I do it though, I want to spend a few minutes (five or more) thinking about death.

According to someone named Karma from Bhutan in Geography of Bliss, one of the secrets of happiness is spending at least five minutes thinking about death each day. This requirement is in sharp contrast to the Martin Seligman et al research that says you should think about three things a day for which you are grateful to be happy. I think, after a tough day at work, I will do both.

Thinking about death does not seem to be as hard as the gratitude piece. Death is heavily in my thoughts these days. I was listening to The Story of My Father by Sue Miller on the way home and had just reached the part about her father dying when I passed a little league practice. My mind flashed to the two young men in the car accident with Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart on April 9, 2009. Both of these young men played baseball with my son when they were about 8 or 9. The team was the Reds in the Mustang level of Pony League in Manhattan Beach. My son had just come off a season of being on an all-star team but found himself sitting on the bench on this team. The coach did not play everyone even though these were very young boys. He played his own son. He also played two of the stars of the team--Henry Pearson and Jon Wilhite. Both boys later played high school baseball at the local public high school. My son played on his private school team and decided not to try out when he transferred to the same high school. Wilhite went on to play in college at Cal. State Fullerton--a major baseball power--and even played in the college world series. It appears that Pearson did not play in college and instead worked on his dream of becoming a sports agent. Pearson was in the front seat with the driver, Courtney Stewart, in the accident last Thursday. Both were pronounced dead at the scene and Adenhart died later in the hospital. Wilhite is in serious condition at UC Irvine Medical Center according to an AP article.

I read Pearson's obituary in the local paper this morning. I saw his picture and Wilhite's picture and remember the little boys that they were. My son was not friends with either of them over the years. He only knew them on that one youth baseball team that was so painful for us at the time because our son did not play much that season and we believe everyone should play in those types of teams. Now those concerns seem trivial in the face of loss of life.

I am grateful that my son is alive and in the other room playing with his children. I am grateful that I am able to feel sorrow for others' losses. I am grateful that I still have to file tax returns because I would not like to deal with the alternative.