Help Launch the only Non-Profit Film Lab in the United States

New York City has a rich history of supporting experimental filmmaking. One major reason is that filmmaking is a collaborative effort, and the city is home to many artists and resources to nurture a filmmaking community. It’s one of the reasons I moved here: if not to produce such work, I was looking forward to being around it.

However, filmmaking has changed dramatically over the last twenty years, and now it’s almost impossible to find resources for making film.

Mono No Aware, a non-profit cinema arts organization founded a decade ago by a cadre of experienced experimental filmmakers, has sustained independent filmmaking in New York since 2006. They are currently nearing the end of their fundraising campaign to start the nation’s only non-profit film laboratory. This will also be, believe it or not, the only film laboratory in New York City.

The campaign ends on December 6. Support independent filmmaking in New York City. Otherwise, the only films made here will be cheesy rom-coms and indulgent HBO series that block access to your home and local bodega.

Contribute to Mono No Aware

The Big Lebowski On-Sale

After two moves in two years, I’ve become frustrated toting around my physical media collection, especially books, DVDs, CDs, and VHS tapes. Over the years, I have managed to digitize almost my entire music collection and most of my movies. The physical copies are safely stashed away in a friend’s basement.

My collection of movies and TV programs, however, is almost entirely in SD. I never bought into Blu-ray like I did with DVDs in the late-1990s and early-2000s. It would be nice if I could magically upgrade all my movie files from SD to HD… or better.

One of my favorite films of all time, The Big Lebowski, is currently on sale for $7.99 on iTunes and Amazon. I’ve owned it on DVD for years, and it’s occasionally been available to stream, but I couldn’t resist getting it through iTunes, especially since it’s available to stream on any device.

The sale is for a limited time.

The above links to iTunes and Amazon are affiliate links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

Font Awesome, or How to Make “Free” Pay Off

Font Awesome is a font and icon toolkit based on CSS and LESS. Since I redesigned my sites in 2014, I have been using it to display the icons that you see pepper throughout the sites.

The Font Awesome icon pack has been free, but perhaps sensing that free was not a sustainable revenue model, the creators offered a series of subscription tiers for the upcoming version 5.

To raise some initial money, the creators turned to Kickstarter and offered early backers a discounted Pro membership. Their goal was to raise $30,000 to fund development of Font Awesome 5. The crowdfunding campaign ended early this morning, obliterating that goal. They raised over a million dollars. After reaching their initial goal, they set up several stretch goals after reaching certain fundraising milestones. Many of them are a little too technical for me to understand, but the last one in particular is that they pledged to open-source some of their frameworks. That’s pretty cool.

This however didn’t happen by accident. Raising funds of Kickstarter is now a cottage industry, and the guys at Font Awesome were very methodical in launching their campaign, even hiring a professional video production firm for their video.

The result is certainly impressive, and initially I thought they had produced it themselves: “What? These guys can make videos, too!?!” Knowing that they outsourced the video work—and that it cost them like $15,000—makes the Font Awesome guys seem a lot more human.

At the same time, though, their success shatters the myth that crowdfunding is a revolutionary way to raise funds. The Font Awesome campaign is extraordinary, being the most successful Kickstarter campaign to date. But it shows that to successfully raise funds, it helps that you already have funds.

As risky as it may sound to spend $15,000 on a three-minute video, it clearly helped Font Awesome raise a lot of funds. That’s not bad for something that started out as a free product.

“Drinksgiving”… or This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Years ago, I quipped that the three most festive “days” of the year were as follows:

  1. Your Birthday,
  2. Your Last Night in Town,
  3. The Wednesday Before Thanksgiving.

Sure, these are “drinking days,” but more importantly, these are days when you’re feeling a sense of relief from having few obligations. On Your Birthday, your friends and family regale you with gifts and sometimes pay for your meals and drinks the entire day. What’s not to like? Your Last Night in Town is always fun because you’ve presumably done all you came to do and are now packed and ready to unwind before hitting the road the next day. “Tomorrow it’s back to reality.”Finally, aside from some last-minute grocery shopping, the Wednesday Before Thanksgiving is usually met with relief after traveling home (or because you didn’t travel at all) and are ready to unwind. “Make mine a double.”

But apparently, the Kids Today have turned this moment of relief into some awful binge-drinking ritual on part with New Year’s Eve and St. Patty’s Day.

Drinksgiving is:

a training ground for the kind of single-A-level bozos who think it fun to cram into all the joints in town everybody already hates, turning them into college-bar pop-ups for the night. Bad music! Pitcher deals! Sexual deviance! If the pilgrims could see them now…

In all fairness, this diatribe isn’t referring to my conception of the Wednesday Before Thanksgiving. This is for college kids going home during the Thanksgiving break and hitting up the bars they were too young to visit when they lived at home. I did that once with some high school friends during my junior year of college, but I never reprised the ritual. The Britisher was kind of depressing and after three years away, I didn’t have as much in common with those friends as I did before.

But in the public imagination, the kids have ruined Thanksgiving Eve. And now, consequently, I feel like an old-timer, complaining that the kids are doing it wrong. Because they are!

Cubic Yards of Toilet Paper and Paper Towels

I moved again. This time, I’ve moved further along the calming shores of my beloved Superfund site along the English Kills, a tributary from the Newtown Creek near Bushwick, Brooklyn. I think the area is named East Williamsburg, but it doesn’t feel like Williamsburg. It’s Culturally Bushwick.

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One of the new challenges of living in this new industrial landscape is that I’m even further away from my regular Costco in Long Island City than I was a few months ago. For many years, I would shop there and carry bulk goods on my bike. It was reasonably convenient when I lived in Hunterspoint, and it was manageable when I moved to Greenpoint two years ago. But now it’s impractical to schlep rotisserie chickens, a half-dozen not-yet-ripe avocados, and bricks of Manchego cheese, much less cubic-yards of toilet paper and paper towels on my bicycle.

Lady Fleur shows one way to transport cubic yards of toilet paper on a bicycle.

Lady Fleur shows one way to transport cubic yards of toilet paper on a bicycle.

The other day, we were running low on toilet paper and paper towels, but instead of renting a car by the hour, I went online. I remembered that I had signed up for Boxed about a year ago and that I had ordered toilet paper and paper towels before.

Ordinarily, I would be wary of a service like this because I already have a Costco Membership. But I simply didn’t have time to go all the way to Costco, and it didn’t make economic sense to get a car to transport paper. I ordered all this essential paper, along with some cleaning supplies, and I received the order the next day. The prices are competitive, but a little inflated compared to Costco. Also, the selection is limited, but there’s some items that aren’t available at Costco that I use a lot, such as food-prep gloves and Tate’s Cookies. These, by the way, cost at least double on Amazon Prime.


Right now is a good time to sign up for Boxed. Sign up with this link, and we each get a $15 credit. That’s a pretty sweet deal, but it gets better if you have an American Express card. Until January 2017, Amex Offers will tender a $15 statement credit on a Boxed purchase of $50 or more. And if that’s not enough, American Express enrolls you in the Boxed Bold loyalty program, exclusive for American Express members. I think you get a 3% reward on your purchases, which is a little more that you get with Costco’s Executive Membership.

As much as I feel like a shill for writing this post, I am doing so because I this really is a good deal. Back in the late 1990s, there were a bunch of dot-com companies that were basically giving away the store in order to show sales growth. This seems like one of those: a startup outfit that’s trying to rack up sales, even at a loss, to show their investors that they should keep investing.

You should take advantage and stock up on toilet paper before the bubble bursts.

Shop at Boxed

The above links to Zipcar and Boxed are referral links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

A Cyclist’s Secret to 8th Street and Saint Mark’s Place

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I learned this years ago when I used to live off Washington Square and in the West Village.

The fastest way to get crosstown on a bicylce, from Greenwich Village to the East Village, specifically between Sixth Avenue and Avenue A, is along 8th Street and Saint Mark’s Place.

And about a month ago, I noticed that the Department of Transportation began to mark a bike lane on 8th Street, between 6th Avenue and Astor Place, to give cyclists an initial clear path along this crosstown corridor.

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To be sure, there are other bike routes. You can ride eastbound on 10th Street and westbound on 9th Street. You can also navigate along Bleecker Street, to get from the west side until the street terminates on the Bowery. And, although it doesn’t have marked bike lane, you can take 4th Street from the West Village all the way to Avenue D. But the problem with these routes is the incessant red lights. A speedy but safe cyclist will encounter a red light at just about every intersection.

However, whether it is by design or by coincidence, you get a pretty consistent wave of green lights on 8th Street and then on Saint Mark’s Place, until you get to Avenue A at Tompkins Square Park.

Although it came a decade after I left the neighborhood, it’s great that we cyclists have a safe efficient route to get cross the downtown area.

Textbooks for 2017 Winter and Spring Courses

Are you enrolled in one of my courses for Winter 2017 or Spring 2017?

Here are the textbooks required for your class. Most of these titles are available in print and as ebooks and are also available for sale or rental. Buy early to ensure your best pricing options.

Please note that the course websites are still not live, but I’m linking to them now for when they are ready.

Contemporary Media

A survey of contemporary media institutions and their economic, social, political and cultural implications.

Straubhaar, Joseph, Robert LaRose, and Lucinda Davenport. Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. 9th ed. Boston: Cengage, 2016.

Media Technologies

An overview of media technologies, including early writing and the printing press, the rise of mass culture and electronic media, and the digital revolution

Kovarik, Bill. Revolutions in Communication: Media History from Gutenberg to the Digital Age. 2nd ed. New York and London: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Film History

An historical survey of film from the advent of commercial motion pictures in the 1890s, the proliferation of national cinema movements throughout the 20th century, and the influence of each in the formation of a global film culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Thompson, Kristin and David Bordwell. Film History: An Introduction. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010.

History of Broadcasting

The history of radio and television broadcasting from the 1920s to the present. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the course focuses on broadcasting institutions, issues, research trends, and program format analysis.

Hilmes, Michelle. Only Connect: A Cultural History of Broadcasting in the United States. 4th ed. Boston: Cengage, 2014.

The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

A Week Later

A week ago, it seemed like the US was on the cusp of having its first woman president of the United States. We had been preparing for this moment for a very long time, and as early as May, well before the party nominations were wrapped up, the New York Times published this map. They projected Clinton to carry these states.

It didn't work out this way.

It didn’t work out this way.

As you know, things didn’t turn out that way.

Were Clinton voters and democrats living in a filter bubble, similar to the one Mitt Romney supporters inhabited that made their candidate’s loss in 2012 unthinkable? Did the Democrats think that they could just run anyone against Trump and that the voters would reject an emotionally unstable, intellectually vacuous, and bigoted white man from New York?

The shock of a Trump presidency has been very difficult to process. It’s embarrassing that we as an electorate voted this way. A man who who has been a huckster and a charlatan will be a peer to the Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. A man who’s name signified tackiness enshrined in gold will be the chief executive of the country. A man whose companies have declared bankruptcy several times will be the one who will be negotiating treaties and passing budgets. (I wonder what will happen when the debt ceiling will need to be raised in the March 2017: my guess is draconian cuts to spending and an attendant economic recession.)

No matter how embarrassing it is to watch Americans install a caricature of a successful businessman in the White House, the prospect of who will be running the federal government is an even more chilling prospect. Are we setting up to live in an autocracy? It certainly seems feasible with a pliant and spineless Republican Congress who will choose party over country every time. Our only hope is that the petit bureaucrats in Washington do their thing and bring sensible inaction to their jobs, but when did they ever come through for us?

Around here, the election and the aftermath has been a lot like a death. Many of us are in mourning, knowing that a lot of the the progress we made in the last decade will almost certainly evaporate. Many us fear what will come in terms of deportations, anti-semitism, rampant racism, misogyny, science denial, and good old fashioned crony capitalism. And we are stung by the unthinkable reality of an uncertain future as a failed state. As in mourning, emotions overwhelm rational thought.

But once we start to think more clearly, weren’t we unsatisfied with Hillary Clinton as the standard bearer for not only the Democrats but also for American women. Back in the spring, I wondered whether the ascendance of Bernie Sanders as a viable candidate was partly due to women supporting him—not Hillary Clinton—because they were hoping for someone better to be the first woman president. Sanders was more aligned with their interests, despite being a man, than Clinton was simply for being a woman. It reminded me of the days when the Democrats would try to put forward someone like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton as the first black presidential candidate of their party. We deserved better. And in time, we got Barack Obama. We deserve better than Hillary Clinton and someday we will know who that better candidate will be.

And after this mourning period, we start to move on and begin to see silver linings. One such bright spot Trump’s victory is that the Democrats and the nation have finally gotten rid of the Clintons and their moderate liberalism. They not pulled this country so far right that Richard Nixon could be a liberal Democrat today, as Lawrence Lessig pointed out last Wednesday morning, they unabashedly [sold the party out to Wall Street]. He published that piece hours after many of us awoke to realize that Trump would be the 45th president of the United States, and, at the time, it was cold comfort for what the future could hold. In time, we’ll excitedly move on.

And that is what must happen after the death of a loved one or a similarly stunning loss. We will move on. Things will never be the same again, but we will cope, and as a country, we will get through it.

That Time All Three Summer Softball Teams Went to the Finals…and Two Won!

It only felt like it took us 108 years to win.

It only felt like it took us 108 years to win.

What a difference a year makes!?!

Two years ago, I was ready to give up on softball. I had become more enamored with cycling, and the postgame conviviality—hanging out with teammates and rivals for hours on end—helped contribute to the end of a long-term relationship because Sarah was not part of that world.

One year ago, there were a few health issues that made playing difficult. First, after crashing my bike on East Third Street in March 2015 and banging up my knee, I was unable to sprint for about six months, meaning I was unable to play well for the entire summer softball season. Second, that nagging ingrown toenail surfaced again, causing great discomfort for a few weeks. Ironically, cycling didn’t aggravate these issues. I often joked that although I could cycle for 100 miles, I couldn’t run to first base.

But this year, I found a renewed excitement for playing. My injuries were gone, and I was able to contribute more than in the past. It also helped that all three of my summer softball teams went to their respective league finals.1

Ball Busters

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This year’s Ball Busters was an entirely new team, and I found myself playing a greatly reduced role throughout the year. I didn’t complain because we amassed an impressive record and made it to the finals. My biggest role on the team was pitching the third and deciding game of the finals, after not having pitched at all for that team all year. We won that game, 3-1, and won the league title for the first time since our “franchise” did so in 2012 and 2013.

Gibson Robots

I’ve been on this McCarren Park team since 2004, and it’s been a very successful team in terms of making it to the finals. We have done so eight times. Winning, on the other hand, has not been easy. We’ve only won once in 2011.

This year, we struggled throughout the season, barely amassing a .500 record. However, we played well enough to get a sixth seed, and when the playoffs started, we upset the #3 seed and the #2 seed in the first two rounds, allowing us to advance to the league finals. However, we got off to a rough start, giving up five runs in the first inning, and then not producing at the plate. Although I settled down during the game to keep them off the board, I went down in the fifth inning with a strained calf. I could barely stand up on two legs, much less play. I came out of the game and watched helplessly as my team lost 11-5 (or something like that).

Librarians

This is the most unique teams I’ve ever played with. Our games are in the middle of the week, during the day, and over the years, since I took over the team, I’ve stocked it with a lot of players from Williamsburg.

I’ve been with this team since 2007, about the time I started dating Sarah. At first, she thought it was cute that I played softball in the middle of the week, during the day, but by the end, she was less enamored with the idea: “you loser! Why are you still playing softball in the middle of the day!?!”

But running this team is very challenging because the games are in the middle of the day, and I have to find people that either have flexible schedules or can take a day off work to play. Also complicating matters is that we need three women to play. And in addition to those challenges, the competition is very good. One of our players once noted that this league must be very hard because the players we have are really outstanding but the team can’t win a championship.

Of the teams I’ve been with, this is the one I’ve been with the longest without winning a league title.

That changed on Friday, after we beat the defending champions, The Wolf Pack, in four games in the best-of-five series.

A photo posted by Walter Pluff (@walterpluff) on

We started the series last Friday. We lost the first game, 7-4, but won the next two, 4-3 and 5-4, coming back late in the game, despite trailing the entire time. We played the fourth game a couple of days ago, on Friday, and won that game decisively, 12-1.

It was a true team win. We all played splendidly in the field, and although we struggled at the plate in the early games, we battled to remain competitive and win each game. It was heartening to watch the team play the entire game and not give up until it was over.

And now, in early November, summer softball is finally over!


  1. I did sub on a few teams, but those don’t count, right? 

Demagogues at Film Forum

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Just in time for the General Election next Tuesday, Film Forum is starting a very timely, weeklong film series tomorrow: films about demagogues.

While I would highly recommend against watching all of the films in the series, simply because it would be too emotionally and spiritually draining to see all these exercises in mass persuasion over and over again, there are some really great titles in the series you really should see. And a good number of them are packaged as double features.

My favorite aspect of this series—other than the timing—is the range of causes for the demagogue’s rise. Newspapers empower them in Meet John Doe and Citizen Kane, while the then-nascent medium of TV is to blame for Lonesome Rhodes, played by Andy Griffith in his first film role, in A Face in the Crowd. The plots get a little more dark in films like The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May with full-on conspiracies at work.

Update: I just noticed that TCM aired a lot of the same movies on Friday, November 4.

Details

  • November 4 – November 10
  • Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St, NYC
  • $14.00 General, $8 Members
  • Buy Tickets