Monthly Archives: April 2003

What Does This Have to

What Does This Have to Do With Stealthmode?

You may have noticed that this blog has very little to do with Stealthmode Partners, the business I am in on a daily basis. It was started to help my friends understand what place technology would play in all of our futures, and which technologies seemed interesting. Currently, it addresses humanistic issues that are at least partly connected to technology, as well as common problems (or problems I think are common).

It’s hard to believe that four years ago most of my friends weren’t on the Internet, but it’s true. Although I rarely write about the Internet per se anymore, I often attack related subjects. This week it is the difficulty I had trying to transfer a few domain names.

If you are interested in entrepreneurial issues alone, we also publish a monthly e-zine called “The Outside World,” which tells entrepreneurs useful (we hope) things. This month’s issue is about federal funding coming to Arizona and how ASU will be a catalyst in the process. It costs $99/yr, and is available by subscription at

About the Domain Names

Years ago, all domain names were controlled by Network Solutions. They cost about $65.00 for two years to register, and people were snapping them up like hotcakes during the dot-com hey-days. They were thought of as real estate and Network Solutions was the Multiple Listing Service.

When a new group of “top level” (.biz, .ws, etc) domain names came into being, Network Solutions found its business model in jeopardy. Other companies sprung up to register new domains, and they charged less., for instance, charges $7.75. You can see why Network Solutions might find this distressing. Especially since they had been bought by Verisign, a much larger company. Verisign, I’m sure, thought they were buying this virtual monopoly.

Domain names expire every day. Network Solutions sends you a little envelope reminding you that your name is expiring and you might lose it (never mind that many of us are just waiting to lose some of the stupid names we thought we important two years ago).

That bill usually triggers a desire to find a cheaper way to hold on to these names, so you go to another registrar and ask him to get the site for you from Network Solutions.

Unfortunately, this is well-nigh impossible, because Network Solutions, while complying with the letter of the laws of competition, violates their spirit in every possible way.

For example: Your would-be registrar sends NetSol an email asking for the domain to be transferred. NetSol sends *you* an email asking for your permission. This email must be answered within a certain short window of time, in a certain format.

NetSol has studied the art of spamming, and the emails it sends you will almost certainly hit your junk file and be automatically deleted. Then your time to respond will expire, and they will deny the transfer. THey do this repeatedly.

And this is only one of their little tricks to keep you as a customer. Another is to require that the email address of the administrative contact in their records be the same as the email address of the person who requests the transfer. Well, where is *your* network administrator from two years ago?

Naturally, Network Solutions’ Tech Support by phone is almost impossible to find and not very helpful. It just tells you the same stuff about the email addresses.

Frustrated (this is the understatement of the year), I posted my issue to a techies list in the Bay Area, and found out that of course I’m not alone, and that others have bravely walked here before me. I’m including Eric Wolfram’s instructions on how to deal with these issues at the bottom of this email, but if you want to laugh, go to Eric’s rant about Verisign at

If you’ve gotten this far, you deserve to know that I’m off to Africa on a Leadership Safari sponsored by the Foundation for Global Leadership (I’m on the Board, and no, they are not paying my way. Don’t expect to hear much about entrepreneurship next week, but if I find an Internet cafe in the bush I might upload some digital pictures 🙂 Back on May 5.

for Eric Wolfram’s instructions on how to change domain registrars

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McKee on Story The telling

McKee on Story
The telling of story is the primary way in which we civilize society. Story
makes us understand what it is to be a human being. Story is the way we get
meaning and messages about life. We go to the storyteller for the answer to
the question “how should a human being lead his/her life?”

Over the ages, we have asked this question of playwrights, novelists, and
now of filmmakers.

If the storytelling is honest, we live in a civilized way. When the
storytelling is false, just look around. and see what happens to the world.
So says Robert McKee, pre-eminent guru to would-be screenwriters.

McKee travels the world teaching seminars on how to write for the screen.
What makes a good film is “a good story well told,” thinks McKee, and he
believes that we are in a crisis of story right now, in which most films
(example “The Gangs of New York”) don’t tell a story at all, or don’t tell
it well enough. During the golden age of story in the 20th century– the
20’s, 30’s 40’s– the nature of story was well understood. The nature of
story, which used to be common knowledge, seems known today only by Asian
filmmakers and TV writers. (McKee thinks all the good writers are writing
for TV, where you can still tell a story.)

To tell a good story, according to McKee, you must have wit, taste, extreme
insight into what happens below the surface of life, tremendous knowledge of
your subject, understanding of personality, passion for perfection and
talent. McKee believes that some of these characteristics are teachable,
though talent and taste are probably genetic. As Norman Mailer once said, “a
good writer has to be able to smell his own shit.”

All the characteristics above, if you are lucky enough to have them, help
you boil down events from life, which contains far more material than you
can ever use. Story structure is a matter of selecting events from the life
story of a character and composing them into a strategic sequence of events
in order to arouse specific emotions and communicate a controlling idea.

In the language of filmmaking, an “event” causes a change. When an event
takes place, the world of the character changes for better or worse. In the
typical feature film, there will be 40-60 such events, every one of which
must create meaningful life change in the life of a character. The changes
can be expressed in terms of a “value”– a shift from one pole to the other:
life to death, poor to rich, from negative to positive, positive to
negative. In a well-constructed film, you can plot the changes-the character
is on an ascending or descending roller coaster of value changes.

Meaningful change in the value charge of a character’s life is always
achieved through conflict. Conflict motivates the character to change. The
cinematic unit during which an event produces change in a character is what
we call a “scene.”

A smaller unit within the scene is the beat. The beat is change in behavior.
Beats of behavior build the scene, scenes make up a sequence, or a series of
scenes that culminates in change more powerful than any simple scene could
have accomplished. Scenes are aggregated into acts, culminating in even
greater change.

A series of acts builds to the story climax, the climax of the last act.
This change is absolute and irreversible. The character has gone to the
limit of what he can do.

The great sweep of change in terms of the deepest value of the character’s
life from the beginning to end of a movie is called the “arc.” The arcs of
stories take place in the minds of the characters as their attitudes change
from positive to negative or the opposite.

In a well-constructed story, these units of truth are assembled
tongue-in-groove until they form an edifice of authenticity. Now go to a
movie and try to apply these principles.

Despite McKee and his seminar, over a billion dollars are wasted every year
making films that lack the principles of story. Five hundred films a year
are distributed by Hollywood studios, although over a thousand feature films
are completed. Another seven or eight hundred films are made by Europe’s
film industry and not distributed. Countless films never even get finished,
and half of the finished films aren’t seen. Many films that are seen are not

That’s a fifty per cent defective product rate. If Hollywood were a true
manufacturing business, this percentage of defects would be unacceptable.
Time to make changes in the supply chain.

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Namaste, I have an anonymous


I have an anonymous friend who is a creative, under-utilized resource at a multi-national company (this is by definition true of anyone creative at a multi-national company.)

Because we are bored by war news, my friend and I have decided we want to make movies. At one time, this would have been very far-fetched and unattainable as a goal, but two years of watching movies shot in digital video at Sundance and the plummeting prices of digital video equipment have convinced us that we can at least make a stab at it.

We’re dividing up the tasks of learning “the industry.” Although we’ve seen it as consumers, we have never been on a movie set, and we need to start at the very beginning: what are the steps that go into making the finished product? We are in the process of reverse-engineering the movie production process to find out how to make it better.

None of this will involve even setting foot in Hollywood. For one thing, we’re sure we don’t want to make the kind of movies made in Hollywood. We’re the “indie” type. For another, we’re completely disconnected from the Hollywood network, totally inexperienced, and probably unemployable by the typical Hollywood studios. So we’re going the Shirley Temple-Mickey Rooney route: movies made in the “barn.”

Seven Steps to a First Movie

1.Buying the Camera. Because I’m a person who believes in using the right tools to do a job well, I drew the task of buying the camera. Fortunately, Peter Froeb, a professional videographer, was willing to help me here, as there were about thirty cameras to choose from.

Digital video cameras come in at about four price points: around $700, around $2000, and around $4000. They come in two formats: digital 8 and mini-DVD. In Fry’s last weekend, there was a Sony Digital 8 (bigger tape, harder to destroy, but not the latest format) camera on sale for $379. This camera does USB streaming, has a 700x digital zoom, a microphone, a night light, and a manual focus. Peter suggested that as a first camera, it would be an economical choice. I take advice from professionals, so I bought it.

2. Choosing the editing software. My friend drew the task of learning to use the editing software, so first she went to an Avid class. Avid is the industry standard, very expensive non-linear editing software that one uses on the Mac. Since both of us have PCs, and no money, we will probably not use this software, but it’s nice to know what’s out there. We hear that Final Cut Pro is better and cheaper. We put that decision on hold for now. You can’t edit what you haven’t shot.

3. Learning to use the camera. You do not do this intuitively. As a confirmed early adopter, I can take most electronics devices out of the box and use them without reading the manual. Don’t even think about doing this with a digital video camera; it’s too complicated. For me, the first obstacle was that I’m left handed and the cameras are made for righties. The next obstacle was that the images MOVE. And you can miss the action if you’re not prepared.

After four hours of intense concentration, I was able to make a one-minute video of my dogs and send it as an email. This felt like a huge accomplishment. Editing a feature film for theatrical distribution seemed a long way away.

4. Developing content. Neither of us knows how to write a screenplay. To learn this, we have registered for the Robert McKee storywriting workshop in San Francisco. More on this later if it turns out to be as good as it is cracked up to be.

5. Overcoming fear. My friend is now afraid this will never happen. Overwhelmed by all the things we have to know, she wonders if we should ever start. As a consultant to entrepreneurs and the igniter of dozens of small company flames, I figure it has a 50-50 chance, and that’s good enough for me.

6. Raising money.We will skip this step for now, since we would never involve OPM in such an early project. Look for us next year with our hands out.

7. Building a team. Everyone wants to be in or be part of a movie. It’s a magical, mystical thing that is even more compelling than getting options in a technology startup. We have a long list of highly skilled volunteers, and we will need them all. I have figured out that I don’t have the patience to edit, I don’t have the knowledge to direct actors, I don’t have the steady hands to shoot video, and I know nothing about scoring music. My friend has more skills than I do, but not by much. Movies are a team sport.

After traversing these seven steps, not only have we not reached Nirvana, we haven’t even become highly effective people (at least, not at filmmaking). Stay tuned.

In the market for affordable public relations?

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