Monthly Archives: January 2005

Three days and ten films

Three days and ten films later, I’m not sure if Sundance was as good this year as it has been in the past. There were more parties (to which I didn’t go) than usual, and Motorola had a late night suite at Deer Valley that Paris Hilton attended. I think no one �in the industry� really has to attend the screenings anymore, because all the movies are on DVD and can be delivered to their rooms with breakfast.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t crowded. Several times we stood in line for things we didn’t get to see.

We did, however, see a good sample of different categories. But although just about everything I saw was interesting, nothing was truly memorable.

It turns out we walked out of �The Joy of Life’ before the filmmaker got to her point about the Golden Gate Bridge and how it needs better security barriers. We thought it was about lesbians trying to find themselves in love, and we left after about forty minutes. Only later did we learn what the movie was truly �about.� Can that be a successful piece of art?

Although �Lonesome Jim� seemed good at the time, and was directed by Steve Buscemi, but now all I remember is a disaffected guy trying to figure out why he didn’t succeed in New York.

Steve Buscemi also appeared in another film we saw, �Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/12�, a movie about making movies. Its director, Walter Greaves, made a move that was never released, and a sequel 35 years later. This was one of those movies only real movie buffs found of interest. I liked it.

The next day, we saw one of the Festival’s favorites: �Me and You and Everyone We Know.� Miranda July, a performance artist turned filmmaker, starred in her own love story. The high point of it was a cute little boy telling his older brother what to write to a girl in a chat room. It really laid bare the world kids are brought up in today with no real childhood.

Several films explored this same theme, especially �The Squid and the Whale,� another one of the winners. In this film, a couple divorces, and their kids get to see all the new girlfriends, boyfriends, and adult angst as the kids desperately try to hang on to the way it was and the adults desperately try to put it behind them.

�The Brothers,� a Danish film, also had child characters who had to deal with the disintegration of their families, although in this case the problem was a father who went off to Afghanistan and suffered damaging post-traumatic stress syndrome when he came home. I liked the movie because it avoided all the potential clich� endings, choosing to finish with an uncertainty I have come to know as real.

The other foreign film I saw was �Odessa, Odessa,� the story of Russian Jews who left during World War II and found themselves in the United States or Israel. In the United States, they still feel alienated because they are Jews; in Israel, they feel alienated because they are Russians. They have a profound sense of home, but the film also showed what’s left of Odessa’s Jewish community today, mostly elderly women, and how little the ones who stayed at home have to enjoy. The grass, as we know, is always greener.

The Jews were again the subject of �The Protocols of Zion,� a modern day exploration of an old anti-Semitic document that purports to explain why the Jews rule the world. Mark Levin, the director, took a journey through these protocols with his father Al Levin, also a filmmaker. In this film, too, the family theme played against the external subject: not sure whether this was a film about Levin getting to know his father better, or about real threats to or by the Jews.

Two highlights of the documentary series were �The Devil and Daniel Johnston,� about a bipolar Austin musician who was so ill that he could not live by himself; at the end of the movie, he’s better because medications have improved, but he is still living with his aged parents, and the documentary Grand Prize Winner, �Why We Fight.�

�Why We Fight� is an intellectual and thoughtful history of the rise of the military-industrial complex since the Eisenhower era. Although I was a child when Ike was president, I never realized that he was against the military buildup, because he realized that as corporations made money by building weapons, we’d be more and more tempted to go to war. I learned a lot from this film. I remember an old New Yorker cartoon in which the military industrial complex was depicted by a pier, on which a parade of tanks were driving off the edge into the ocean. I also remember thinking what a waste of resources, to build all those tanks we’ll never use. Now we use it, and I long for the good old days when the tanks were built, supporting the economy, and then rolled into the drink.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I�m sitting in a darkened

I�m sitting in a darkened theatre in Park City, Utah waiting for a movie to begin. The name of the movie is �The House of Joy,� and we are seeing it because 1)it is set in San Francisco and 2)we could get in by putting ourselves on the wait list. That�s about all I know about it, but to tell you the truth � I don�t care.

By now you�ve undoubtedly guessed that we are at Sundance again, this time for an abbreviated last week-end. Most of the press is gone, and many of the studio bigwigs. And in fact, someone behind the credentials desk told us many people from the east coast didn�t even get here this year, because all the flights were cancelled from New York and Boston just as the Festival began.

For us, this is probably a good thing. Between coming for the last weekend and being immune to many of the deterring elements, we will have a chance to see movies we would ordinarily be locked out of, even with our passes. During the crucial first week, when the deals are made, even $1000 passes don�t get you into the films you really want to see.

Our pass includes several of the Award Winners, who won�t be known until Saturday night, so there will be some real surprises.

My daughter tells me the trailers before the films this year were made by JibJab, the animation company that produced the viral parody �This Land is Your Land� during the Convention. So far, what�s in front of me is a still picture of Park City with the 05 Festival Logo visible. Snow is falling in the foreground. I can�t figure out what the technology is, but it must be digitally projected. When the trailers go on, they�re not very good.

Forty-five minutes later, we are out of �The Joy of Life,� having seen enough of a lesbian�s view of San Francisco. Every man in the theatre walked out, too. Beautiful photography, no real story, and a great deal of angst with which we unfortunately can�t identify Preceded by a short in which a young woman interviews her mother and father, who both came out during her childhood. Not one gay parent, but two. Had that been the feature I would have stayed.

We stood in line for an hour and got into Steve Buscemi�s film �Lonesome Jim,� about a guy who comes home to his parents� house in a nameless town in Indiana to have a nervous breakdown, only to find out that life�s not as bad as he thought. That summary doesn�t do it justice.

It�s a film with an ensemble cast, and some interesting characters who unfortunately don�t get developed as much as I hoped they would. The hero is a laconic guy who isn�t always likable, and with whom most of us don�t identify. Played by Casey Affleck, he has a transformation at the end that I didn�t find credible.

This film, though unexceptional, will be released commercially. It was shot in digital video in 120 days. It looked to me like what I get on my HDTV.

It has funny moments. Buscemi said he liked it because it was like his earlier film �Trees Lounge,� and dealt with the struggle of a young man to come to grips with where he came from. It�s based on a real story (the writer�s), in which the company didn�t even change any of the names. During the Q&A he quipped that his family is only speaking to him through lawyers.

I�m back into Sundance now, after this first day: it�s the place where you lose touch with the outside world, you think people who make movies are important, and you live on snack food so you don�t have to miss a movie for a meal. More to come.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

In eight years Arizona can

In eight years Arizona can lead the nation in K-12 academic performance. This is a bold statement, when you consider we are now 49th. Most parents are dissatisfied with the public school system, and many are straining their two-income pursestrings to the max paying for private schools.

Everyone would love to have a functioning public education system again. But how can we do it? By using the elearning techniques that are commonly employed in adult education and informal education (gaming, entertainment, etc.)Anyone who has ever seen a child pick up something–good or bad–from a computer knows this.

My friend Ted has been trying to do something for Arizona education for fifteen years, dragging me behind him on every initiative because his wife once ran my kids’gifted program. But now, I think he has held an intervention with the legislature that may work, because we have hit bottom.

So this is the year of the Hail Mary pass for Ted’s effort. Today marks the launch of a legislative initiative by the Arizona advocacy group eLearning System for Arizona Teachers and Students (eSATS), whose research shows that in eight years Arizona can lead the nation in K-12 academic performance by bolstering the current system with eLearning that supports teacher-student interaction.

Senate Bill 1181 develops a statewide eLearning system to deliver individual student mastery of core subjects at every grade level.

Don’t worry about the politics: SB1181 is aligned closely with the National Educational Technology Plan [ http://www.ed.gov/technology/plan ] and No Child Left Behind Act. It provides the means to attract and develop exceptional teachers and to increase the academic performance of each child. We’re experienced education advocates, and we know we have to hook into every other initiative going on in the state, plus a few unfunded and underfunded federal mandates.

The eSATS design is based on fifteen years of planning, research, focus groups and engagement with the Arizona education, business and government communities.

�There is a new fervor in American (and Arizona) education and a new creativity that�s being driven in part by our current generation of tech-savvy students,� said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. �We are already seeing some remarkable results, and I believe this trend bodes well for the future of our country.�

Arizona has already pioneered eLearning by giving each student in Wilson School District a computer in 1993, implementing the Cox Education Network in rural Snowflake District in 2002, and now by adopting a �computer for every student� program at the new Vail High School in Tucson in 2005. Other pilot programs that have made Arizona ready for the full move to eSATS include ten Virtual Cyber Schools and the adoption of laptops by teachers in Paradise Valley.

�The state is ready for transformation to eLearning on a school by school basis,� said Ted Kraver Advocacy Leader for eSATS. �One of the more fascinating aspects of the eLearning Centered School legislation is the ability to shift low efficiency costs of legacy education into highly effective investments in eLearning. These include digital curriculum, teacher education and professional development, and 1:1 computer-connectivity systems with technical support.�

Automated student assessment offloads most of the lecture, recitation, grading and grade-reporting responsibilities from the teacher, greatly increasing one-on-one contact time with the students. Teachers, principals and administrators are better able to track student achievement and adjust instruction specifically to individual needs. A statewide data system supports awareness and decisions to teachers, administrators, parents, Arizona�s Department of Education, Legislators and the Governor.

And as the Arizona statewide K-12 eLearning system transitions to being fully operational by 2009 and is completed by 2012, Arizona�s children will be the first to benefit from the innovative new approaches being created by eLearning providers.

For those of you who care to learn more…

The eSATS design is based on vision and recommendations from Arizona education, governance, business and eLearning enterprise experts and leaders. Expert advice and research has been incorporated from educators and eLearning technology experts across the country and around the globe.
Arizona�s eSATS initiative is the first to be designed to transform an entire statewide school system. Its major components include teacher education and development, digital curriculum, well-supported computers and connectivity systems and assessment of student work to state standards in real time. Annual student, teacher and school performance assessments are easily derived from the data system. The two year bridging from legacy education followed by a six year build out is based on best practice innovation diffusion for long-term, systemic transformation. This approach will provide orderly and cost effective eLearning adoption. Under the plan, major K-12 support roles are funded for Arizona�s Universities and for the Arizona Department of Education. The accelerated deployment of broadband telecommunications to all Arizona communities over 1000 population is critical for success.

The full set of eSATS supporting papers, design and legislation is available at http://azelearning.org.

The full text of the National Education Technology Plan is available at http://www.ed.gov/technology/plan.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I still don’t have HDTV.

I still don’t have HDTV. Yes, I bought the 50″ unit and I signed up for it. Cox was supposed to connect it two weeks ago, but they didn’t. They came on the wrong day; I wasn’t home, they left me a Spanish doorhanger — a compliment to my beginning Spanish — and they didn’t come back.

Cox also took three weeks to connect a single simple land line I was going to use to connect my Tivo to the cybersphere in which its information resides. In the interim, I called them no less than twenty times (oh yes, I’m outcomes oriented).

Cox has interesting customer service. When you call, everyone is very nice. They sound helpful. When they come to your house (if they come at the time they said they would and you are home), they seem competent and willing. But they don’t seem to do anything. There is no outcome. Once they came to remove the phone box just after I ordered the phone. When I stopped them from taking it away, they didn’t connect the phone (that’s a different service). Instead, they left, having done nothing but having made a dozen phone calls.

They finally connected the phone line when I threatened to cancel my phone, high speed Internet, and cable TV accounts. But now they have forgotten about my HD TV. It’s not the same division that does the phones, and the phone guys can’t help me (although they say they would love to).

The TV guys are divided into the people who service phone sales (you call in and order a service) and the “retail” group (the people who entice you to order HDTV when you are in Best Buy getting the LCD TV.
They don’t appear to talk to each other, and they definitely don’t service each others’ accounts.

After a month of spending my cell phone minutes on hold for Cox customer service, I’ve decided to take a new tack: I’m going to passively wait to see how long it takes them to figure out they haven’t given me a service they could be charging me for.

I wouldn’t be talking about this if I hadn’t had another customer service experience this week that makes even Cox look sensible.

I called my auto insurance provider to take my former foster kid’s car off my insurance, since I had titled the car to her, she was no longer living with me, and I was attempting to get out from the financial responsibility of dealing with a 20-year-old over whom I had no control. You would think Met Life would be thrilled to get her off my policy.

But no, they told me they couldn’t do it. Not unless I had a certified document showing that she had other insurance. Not a prayer. In vain I argued that she wasn’t my child, was over 18, and didn’t live with me. And that I no longer owned the car.

They told me there were “guidelines” that wouldn’t allow them to let me take her off my policy.

I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a reader. “Guidelines” is not a synonym for “laws.” So I bravely stated, “So if you won’t remove her, I guess I will have to cancel my policy and go with another insurance company.”

And sure enough, the customer service rep said, “if that’s what you think you have to do…” It was, and I dissolved a ten-year relationship with MetLife over their poor customer service and utter indifference to our continued commerce.

I teach seminars on how expensive it is to acquire a new customer. Don’t Cox or MetLife take those seminars? Or don’t they care?

On a more positive note: every once in a while you come across someone who intuitively understands the psychological underpinnings of customer service. The best customer service I have received lately is from Jason Brown at North Scottsdale Audi.

I brought my car in because it was having some problems that I determined were shifting problems. Three times before, Audi had tested the car on their computers and told me nothing was wrong. But this time, Audi and Jason decided I had endured enough, and they put a new transmission in my car at no charge. And Jason got me a rental car for nothing. And then he absorbed the cost of the upgrade from the rental car I was supposed to get and the one I needed for the dogs.

In addition, he called me every couple of days to let me know the ETA of my transmission. Jason is so good at customer service that he threw the pathetic efforts of Cox and MetLife into brilliant relief.

I think Jason hangs the moon. And all because he takes the time to be present to his encounters with me. I think Audi could maximize revenue by lending Jason out to Cox and MetLife. He could be a very high priced consultant.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I swear, I’m psychic. But

I swear, I’m psychic. But I’m not psychic enough to save myself money. Or maybe I�m just not much for delayed gratification.

The day before Christmas, I went into Best Buy to get a new DVD/CD player ($79) for my home entertainment system and walked out with a 50″ Sony LCD monitor, otherwise known as a new HDTV.

Filled with buyer’s remorse over buying such an expensive toy, I set about trying to find a way to make my computer the driver for my TV, which might make the thing deductible.

Through a kludge of Monster cables and noise-cancelling head phones, with the help of my trusty partner Ed I can now watch DVDs or play music that’s on my Powerbook over my big screen TV. I can also read my email and browse the web in a very big way.

This morning I found out that what I’ve been trying to create by hand is going to be manufactured by a technology company. The Consumer Electronics Show starts today (in Vegas, which is the perfect place for it), and HP has announced a new line of media PCs that will do exactly what I want to have done — converge all my entertainment systems into one, using the HDTV as a monitor.

The only problem? I’m now on a Mac. When I do the inevitable � buy a new HP Media Center PC– will the platforms talk to each other? Even God doesn�t know.

This isn’t my first effort at convergence. Two years ago, I bought a universal receiver and installed structured wiring so I could control my TV, my stereo speakers, and my DVD/CD changer through a single system. Soon after that, I got the IPOD and found that it was just as fulfilling to listen to the IPOD with headphones, or to dock the IPOD in a good pair of JBL speakers, as to use my components. I ended up using that big system to listen to NPR around the house, and when I moved I put all the components in a closet, put speakers in the ceiling, and haven’t turned the system on for anything but playing Christmas carols (everything else is on the IPOD.)

My Powerbook is, of course, a Mac. My IPOD is configured to work with it, as well as with iTunes. However, the HP system will be Windoze, I’m sure, which means I will have to figure out how to transfer all my music to a format the PC can deal with. It just took me a year to get everything out of MusicMatch and into iTunes; now will I have to go back?

And my network? After installing all that wiring, it’s wireless — from the Vonage phones to the Airport router. This morning, I’m off to buy a wireless network adapter for the Tivo so he can get his information with out a land line.

It�s a good thing I have a sense of humor about all this money I�ve spent following technology through the years; if I hadn�t bought a thing, I�d be retired by now.

Two unrelated notes:

Stealthmode Partners has started a group for Arizona entrepreneurs who want to meet the rest of the world at Always On, Tony Perkins� online social network/magazine, If you are part of Arizona�s entrepreneurial community, or you just want to meet it, you can become part of it at http://stealthmode.alwayson-network.com. There�s always something interesting to read on the Always On site.
AND:
I�ve been distributing this blog by email for the past five years. However, because of the high incidence of spam, many people have trouble either getting my invitation to join or the subsequent emails because their junk filters block Yahoo emails. So I now make it available both ways. if you know about RSS and you don�t like getting email, you can subscribe through Bloglines, where you can read my writing at http://www.bloglines.com/blog/francinehardaway. And it remains at http://blog.stealthmode.com, where it started.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized