Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What Independent Filmmakers Need

This story happened awhile ago, but it was only today that the full
implication sank in.

I went to the Sundance Film Festival this year, and had the very exciting
experience of watching the premieres of films of two friends of mine - La
Misma Luna
, and The Pool. Both of them truly great films.

The Pool was shown in competition, and after the first screening, I was
invited to the filmmaker's dinner, sponsored by Sundance at a very chichi
local restaurant.

At the table (that seated about 40), on each plate, was a little gift bag
that contained several items, two of which I remember. One was a lighter
shaped like a stack of poker chips. A pretty cool idea I thought, since you
could probably get it through airport security without having it

The second was a $100 prepaid Visa cash card (a Visa "ePassporte").
Basically a $100 gift. Even cooler. Thing is that I didn't actually try to
use it till today.

Well, I haven't been successful yet, because it requires some activation,
but along the way I gained a better understanding of what this thing was.
It's basically a rechargeable piece of plastic. You can deposit money into
your account, and the money is then available by sticking the card into an
ATM machine and entering your PIN.

Who would want to use something like this? Well, probably a person without
a bank account, or someone who is occasionally (or usually) paid in case,
and a person with poor credit, and therefore no credit card.

And who could someone like that be? Well yes. An independent filmmaker
would be a plausible target. I guess.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Top Ten Book

I meant to write about Joan Didion's A Book of Common Prayer a few months ago, when I had just finished reading it. That didn't happen, but now that my daughter read it too, I revisited my original thoughts, and agreed with them completely. I rank it among the ten best books I've ever read. It's the first Joan Didion fiction book I'd ever read, and I was blown away. Incredibly interesting and yet authentic characters, extraordinarily real depictions of what a central american country can be like. You have to read it to understand.

Of course I wanted to check what other reviewers had said. Well, the original New York Times review of 1977, written by Christopher Lehman-Haupt when the book came out, was titled No Second Coming. Joan Didion's third novel, it said, was "powerful but flawed", and the main character is "a being out of focus, and ultimately out of empathy".

Which reminds me of Manola Dargis' review of the film Pulp Fiction in the L.A. Weekly many years ago. She hated it. It had "too much dialogue". That review, along with its "Don't Go" recommendation, ran in the L.A. Weekly for months - all through the extended theatrical engagement of the groundbreaking film. And where is Manola Dargis today? You got it. She now reviews films for the New York Times.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

This Time it's For Real

My faithful readers will know that my cell phone has been an ongoing source of frustration for me for several years now. I did have a golden era of over four years, starting in early 2000, when I got my first miniature Nokia phone. This was the phone that made cell phones worthwhile for me. Less than 4 ounces, excellent reception, excellent sound quality, and it lasted for more than 4 years. The part that finally died was the battery, and at that point this model had been out of print for so long that no replacement parts were available.

But by then the world had evolved, and I decided to take the leap and combine my phone with my PDA (which at that point was a Handspring Treo), and get the Treo phone. Now that was about 8 ounces, but combining the PDA function with the phone seemed worth it.

Only problem was that voice quality wasn't great, it was heavy, the software would occasionally hang the system forcing me to turn it off and back on, and in the two years that I owned it, I had to have it replaced four times (always because of problems with the audio connection to the ear-bud headset that I use religiously).

The frustration of those two years convinced me that I want a Nokia phone, no matter what it costs. So I went ahead and ordered the top of the line - the E71. But that love affair, as my faithful readers know, was shortlived, as explained here. So I moved on to the Samsung BlackJack, and fell in love. Unfortunately that love affair had the characteristics of sophomoric infatuation. The BlackJack is undeniably beautiful. But it's a first generation device. The software just isn't that great. Not to mention the fact that it's got a Microsoft operating system (read; sloooooow).

You may ask why I didn't get the Blackberry. Mainly, because the Blackberry was known to have poor voice reception quality, the monthly fee was high, and it was fairly bulky and pretty ugly. Of course you'll say I could have bought the Blackberry Pearl, but that one doesn't have a full QWERTY keyboard for typing.

And then, Tadam, out comes the Blackberry 8300 (Curve). Still pretty ugly. But only 4 ounces. Great sound quality. Voice recognition (missing on the Samsung), a built-in camera (missing on previous Blackberries), and absolutely impecable operation of the mail, contacts and address functions. So I replaced my short-lived BlackJack with the Blackberry Curve.

No, I'm not in love, at least not yet. But I am quite happy, and in my experience, this level of happiness, if maintained over time, leads to love.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Fannie Mae Steps In

A young friend, let's call him Raul, started working at a large sub-prime mortgage lender as a loan officer exactly six weeks ago. Interesting timing, he finished his three week training exactly as the bottom started falling out of the sub-prime market.

In his first week on the job, he was about to close a 7% fixed rate mortgage (a refinance for someone that had gotten a variable rate loan that had recently ballooned). The house appraisal had been done, credit reports and all information were in. Then, at the last minute, the rate was raised to 11%(!). Raul called the customer to ask if they'd accept the 11% rate. They didn't, and the deal fell through. The customer didn't get his $350 appraisal fee back...

But then, two days ago, a miracle happened. Fannie Mae decided to step in. They would fund the sub-prime loans at a fixed rate of 6.2%. And get this - the debt to equity ratio (the ratio of the customer's monthly debt payment to income) could be as high as 66%(!). In my experience, relevant up to 3 years ago, that ratio could not exceed 33%. And the loan to house value could be up to 90%. Meaning only 10% down is required. The two limitations are that the loan can only be up to $417K (which in California is truly a limitation), and the customer has to provide full income verification, which essentially means having a job. The self-employed need not apply.

But bottom line, Fannie Mae is stepping in try to save the sub-prime loan market, or at least to save the sub-prime lenders, from foreclosure. Raul thinks he'll close three loans this week.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Truck Bomb Kills 250 Yazidi's in Iraq

The news article continues to say that the Yazid's, a pre-Islamic Kurdish sect believe that the Muslims want to kill them all.

But get this - the bombing, so it is reported, was in retaliation for the stoning of a Yazidi girl who had fallen in love with a Sunni guy and converted to Islam.

I'm not trying to justify anything, but they're not exactly paragons of virtue these Yazidis, are they?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

"I Saw It On Amp'd Mobile"

Yesterday I noticed for the first time an Amp'd Mobile billboard. This was right after I had read an article about the X games - Extreme skateboarder Jake Brown had been in the lead, until he missed a jump, and fell more than 45 feet onto a wood floor. Amazingly, he was not badly hurt.

But the same article mentioned that a few weeks earlier, an extreme biker missed a double somersault in the air, lost grip of his bike, and fell 10 feet directly onto his head, and became a quadriplegic.

So what was in this Amp'd Mobile billboard that I noticed? By the way, in case you're not aware - Amp'd Mobile provides video clips to cell phones, a sort of YouTube for mobile phones. This billboard sported a picture of a biker losing his bike and starting a plunge towards the ground below. I'm sure you get where I'm going. The billboard was advertising that on Amp'd Mobile you could see the clip of this pretty horrific accident. Perhaps it's the most downloaded of the Amp'd Mobile videos? I wouldn't be shocked or even surprised to hear that, but I am shocked that Amp'd Mobile would choose to put it on their billboard. Or maybe I'm not...

Friday, August 03, 2007


You know your relationship is headed for a breakup when your boyfriend starts describing you with the same (albeit positive) descriptives he uses for his ex-wife...