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John Ott
Sine litteris omnis aetas caeca est
Sine litteris omnis aetas caeca est

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Trying my hand at another translation of Rilke, inspired by the Stephen Mitchell book. The poem is untitled, but begins "Du im Voraus".

You who never embraced me,
darling, lost
from the very beginning,
whose taste in music
I never knew. I've given up
trying to find you
in Time's demolishing ocean.
All my most vivid memories–
the faraway, weighty landscape,
cities and towers and un-
anticipated twists in the plotted course,
talismanic lands
where gods once dwelled–
swell up inside me,
spell out the name of
you, my elusive one.

Ah, you, the garden,
ah, I long for.
A little country cottage,
an open window,–
and you nearly came out,
demurely, to greet me.
I have followed you down
alleyways and found you
vanished, though sometimes
I could still see your reflection,
spinning, in the windows
next to my own astonished
face. Who knows, perhaps, on opposite
ends of the earth, last night,
we heard the same bird singing?
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Reading Stephen Mitchell's translations of Rilke [], I glanced over at the German original of a poem called "Klage". I don't have much German, but I got to thinking about some alternate ways of rendering the text. Before I knew it, I had my own translation.


Man, it's all distant.
The star glittering overhead
is long ago dead.
I believe there were tears
and tragic things said
in the car that veered
away into the distance.
That house with the clock--
what's the address?--
has ceased its tick-tock.
I'd like to undress
from my heart and go for a walk.
I'd like to pray.
I'm certain there's a star among
the dead and distant throngs
still glittering today.
I believe I know its identity:
a white city
at the end of heaven's last infinity, sitting.

My thanks to +Joshua Fulton .
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The Resolutions - November - Help Others.

What are The Resolutions?

I picked the month of Thanksgiving for my month of good deeds.  It isn't over yet, but I doubt I'll be able to top what happened tonight...

First, a little about my goals for this month.  No spending money or donating goods.  I had to be spending my own time and effort.  And I wanted these to be good works in the Kantian sense -- it doesn't count doing nice things for people I know.  Strangers only.  So there's no question of whether an act is done out of self-interest.

Yes, Kant even thought a feeling self-satisfaction after doing something nice meant you had a personal stake.  And of course I'm sharing with you now, which means I might hope to gain esteem in your eyes.  But the point of these resolutions is that I share them, so here I am in an ethical bind.  I'm too tired to untangle the Kantian knot, so I'll just hack my way ahead.

At the beginning of the month, I was quite discouraged.  I wanted to do one good deed a day.  But you can't just walk up to a stranger in Los Angeles and say, "Let me do something nice for you."  Well, not without slaps in the face.

But then I realized there were plenty of nice, anonymous acts, if you think small and just keep your eyes open.  For example:

- Going out of your way to open doors or carry things for people who have their hands full.
- Creating free document templates and graphics elements for the internet public.
- Editing a Wikipedia page.
- Writing a nice note to a waiter on the check.
- Picking up public garbage.  I have yet to find a bathroom that didn't have some paper towels on the floor I could pick up (in a sanitary way).

My biggest triumph, up to today, was moving my car, when I didn't have to, to free up a parking space for a person having an art show.  They didn't ask me to do this and they didn't know I did it.  I just saw ahead that they could use the space.

My biggest failure was two-fold, because twice this month I was asked by strangers for directions to places I should have known.  Maybe it was the pressure, but I did not give good directions.  Lillian was with me one time, when I pointed a couple towards the Griffith Observatory in a way that was confusing.  (Which she pointed out after the fact.  Thanks, Lil.)  The other time I was driving, and a guy asked me which way to Normandy, and I pointed 90 degrees off.  I felt terrible as soon as I realized, and tried to follow him in traffic to correct myself, but he was gone.  So yeah, whiffs on the slow pitches.

Then there was tonight...

After a long day at work I go to pull into my garage.  There's what looks like a blanket on the side of the driveway - black.  The drive slopes down, so I couldn't see it until the last minute.  I almost ran over it.

I get out to take a look.  The only clue that this is a person is the shoes sticking out the back.  And then I hear snoring, so at least this person is alive.  In all likelihood, I surmise, this is a homeless man, passed out drunk.  I give him a shout and then kick his shoes to try to wake him up.  No dice.

I don't want him to get run over, so I look around and find a traffic cone.  But that's no guarantee, knowing how some of my neighbors pull into this driveway.  And, without telling a different story, today is a day that has made me feel karmically connected to this poor man.  So I call the LAPD non-emergency line.  They transfer me to the paramedics.

"What is the nature of your emergency?"

"Well, it's a sort of non-serious emergency."  I explain about the man snoring in the driveway who won't wake up.  The 911 dispatcher asks me lots of existential questions about the man, including asking if his breathing is normal.  "I don't know him," I say, "So I don't know if he usually snores like this."

The paramedics roll up.  One of them approaches the guy and manages to wake him up.  He recognizes him immediately.  "Pedro.  No dormir, buddy.  Cars come through here." 

I was struck by how compassionate this EMT was.  He had his fellow EMTs get some blankets out of the ambulance.  (It is cold tonight, for L.A.)

As Pedro is gathering himself together, one of the EMTs tells me that he is a well-known "local transient."

"It's a sad story, actually.  His son is LAPD.  He's been like this for years.  There's nothing we can do."

You could tell this is routine for them.  "Pedro, you've got to find someplace to sleep where people can't see you.  Or they are going to keep calling all night."

The other EMT told me, "This happens all the time.  They're looking for someplace sheltered.  They sleep in driveways.  We do get calls where they've been run over."

I thanked them.  They rolled away.  Pedro stumbled off down the block and I stumbled inside.

Maybe I kept him from getting run over tonight.  Or maybe I just interrupted his sleep.  I'm not saying anyone in my place would have done any different.  (Well, most people would probably have tried the paramedics before the traffic cone.)  But, in any case, it was me that had the opportunity to help a stranger.  And no, Immanuel Kant, I won't apologize for this feeling of satisfaction.
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In Rocky one,
He loses but wins Adrian.
In Rocky two,
With Apollo, follows through.
Rocky Three:
Mister T.
Rocky Four,
Cold War.
In Rocky Five,
Tommy Gunn goes jive.
Rocky Balboa:
Fights, even though older.
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The Resolutions - The Zombie Run

What are The Resolutions?

This month the original goal was to train for a "Warrior Dash" -- a 5k with obstacles and a sort-of viking theme.  But when Lillian discovered there would a "Zombie Run" within striking distance, I switched the plan to that.

The official name of the event was "Run for Your Lives".  It's 5k, with crazy (really crazy!) obstacles and, oh yeah, people in full-on zombie makeup.  You wear a flag belt with three flags on it, and the zombies try to grab your flags.  To find out whether I survived the zombies, read on.

I have to start with my training plan.  Back during last month (Style Month I resolved to run 50 miles in training.  Turns out, this is not that difficult of a goal, so long as you run a few miles every morning and longer on weekends.  So I made it with more than a week to spare, even with a flu that kept me from running for a week.

Training mistakes: I should've actually done more hill training.  Normally I like to run in Griffith Park, with all the hills.  The zombie run turned out to be exactly like that terrain, and it began with an epically brutal hill.  Second mistake: I should've played some touch football.  A big part of the course is avoiding zombies taking your flags, which is all about sprinting and quick changes of direction.

So, the day.  Lillian and I got up early and drove through some spitting rain to a park outside of Temecula.  The event turned out to be enormous, with 6,000+ runners participating, hundreds of zombie actors, volunteers, spectators (like Lillian) and some poor thrash metal bands that were playing on a giant stage for about four runners.

After checking in, I lined up with my "wave".  You are put inside one of three dark tunnels labeled "Appetizer," "Entree," and "Dessert".  I went in the middle, selected by judging the fitness of those around me.  They ended up making good bait.

At the top of the big hill at the beginning of the course were the first zombies.  I got around them no problem.  Then there was a long stretch of the course with no zombies or obstacles.  But we didn't know that, so every blind turn in the course meant people slowing down cautiously to check if they were about to run right into zombies.  As it was, we got through one run of zombies and ended up at a fork in the trail.  Our defacto leader had become a runner dressed as Abraham Lincoln (Zombie AND Vampire Slayer?).  Another runner, dressed as a National Guardsman -- or maybe a real guardsman, for all I know -- addressed him as "Mr. President".

To the left of this fork was what appeared to be a wall of zombies.  The trail was not marked off to the right, so we all went thataway.  Too bad no runners were dressed as Admiral Akbar, because we should have known -- it was a trap!  Around a blind turn of the trail was a sign that said Dead End.  The zombies had herded us right where they wanted us.

I managed to run out through them, leaping over another fallen runner for the second time already in the run.  (A lot of people were tripping while executing zombie-juking maneuvers.  Many ankles were twisted and groins pulled, especially when it got muddy.)

The first obstacle came pretty late in the course, about half-way through by my estimation.  It was the most fun -- a series of muddy hills that you had to scramble up, then slide down.  There was no going down in a controlled manner, and at the bottom awaited a muddy pit, which had to be waded through to get to the next hill.  Repeat six times.

By the end of that, I was gloriously exhausted.  My glasses were half-splattered in mud-water.  And I was looking at a run of zombies as far as the eye could see.  I held back, waiting for a big group to build up, then charged...

All flags intact, but soon we were funneled into a bottleneck, again filled with zombies.  These zombies meant business, even chasing you and stealing your flags off your back.  I made it almost all the way through this run when -- wham, wham! -- two zombies came at me, grabbing a flag each.

There were several more runs of zombies and a maze obstacle.  Having one flag was actually an advantage, since I could wear it to one side and just try to keep that side of my body on the outside of a zombie run.

About 2/3 of the way through was the course's second water station.  I wasn't thirsty, so I opted not to stop.  In retrospect, a mistake.  Not because I wished I had water, but because the group I was with was now small.  We didn't know it, but the course was going to be all zombies, mud and obstacles from then on out.

At the next zombie field, I saw a clever trick.  Just as we charged, a zombie who had been hiding in the shrubbery just off the trail lurched out.

I went into the center of the trail to avoid him, thus exposing my flag.  It was gone in a flash -- I'm not even sure what zombie got it.  But once I had lost my last flag, it took me a moment to decide what to do.

I was no longer running for survival.  I decided to go for time.  I dove into the next obstacle, a cabin-like structure which had to be entered through a hole the size and shape of a window.  Inside was pitch dark and filled with smoke.  I could see wires were hanging down from the ceiling.  The wires were live!  As I was taking some painful shocks, people were shouting. "It's electrified!  Get down!  Get down!"

I dropped to my belly and crawled under the wires.  I'm pretty sure this is where my knees got all shredded, but at the time I didn't feel a thing.  Adrenaline.

There was another run of zombies, in the most slippery mud yet, a crawl under barbed wire and then another run of zombies, among some sort of moguls like you see in skiing.

At this point is where spectators could start seeing us, and I looked to my left and saw Lillian cheering for me, which gave me renewed strength.  There were several more obstacles, including a giant slide into a water pit and an electrified fence which you had to crawl under.  (I didn't test this one.)

The few people around me who still had a flag did not make it through the final zombie runs, which featured the most evil and rage-virus-infected bunch yet.

I finished strong and was immediately processed to remove my belt, my tracking marker and get my survivor medal.  (I guess everyone got a survivor medal, not just people who made it through with a flag.  Honestly, I doubt anyone was finishing with flags, given how thick the zombies were at the end of the course, and how the mud meant you couldn't really do any fancy moves to avoid them.)

I was filthy.  But I didn't feel tired or sore.  I felt like I could've run it again.  It was really fun.  Great obstacles and the makeup and acting on the zombies was terrific, really selling the idea that you are running for your lives.

Now the complaint.  My tracking marker must've been dysfunctional, because my results didn't show up online.  So I can't say for certain where I finished.  I do have the pictures to prove I ran the course.  And from the time stamps, I can roughly estimate that I finished the course in the top 40% of entrants.  I'll take it, considering I only trained for a month.

All in all, I really enjoyed fitness month, and it was a bonus that it included something so random and awesome as a zombie run.
The Resolutions - The Zombie Run
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My dream of being published in the New Yorker is a reality! Check out the caption contest finalists:

If you think my caption is the funniest, I would love it if you voted for me.
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The Resolutions - Style Month

What are The Resolutions?

Wulp, yet another resolution where I quickly learned I was in over my head.  Fashion has always mystified me, and it still pretty much does.

First of all, I learned that it is not really "fashion" that I am interested in.  Fashion is what changes, but "style" is always good.  So in that spirit, I re-dubbed this month "Style Month".

The goal originally was to figure out what clothing elements suited me and to create a 'uniform' I could wear, much the way Steve Jobs determined the exact jeans and turtleneck he liked and always wore those.  I subscribed to an RSS channel of Fashion news on my favorite reader, Zite, and made it a point to read through the month.

Zite was not able to surface much on current men's fashions, and what it did I found both confusing and unappealing.  Am I wrong, or is 99%+ of fashion journalism for women or gay men?  Who are the deep theorists of fashion?  Who is fashion's André Bazin?

So the journalism I found was mostly disappointing.  Profiles of designers were often fun to read, but when I came out of them excited to browse the work, I found they mostly have terrible, flash-heavy, hard-to-navigate websites.  And forget finding images of men with the body shapes of mortals, representative of how the clothes will look on my own body.  Now I know how women get body issues.

This article on Fashion Week gave me a little bit of footing as to how a professional eye approaches current men's fashions:  

I also, based on the excellent New Yorker article (full version not available) about its founder, went to -- a high fashion web vendor based out of Italy.  I found a few things I liked, but nothing I liked enough to bookmark and come back. Likewise with the sites of many other boutiques and designers I looked at.  There seems to be a barrier to entry that involves not just big $$ but also a whole vocabulary of search terms, including a menagerie of size measurements, which I don't know but clearly need to research further.

My impression after a month's cursory study is that the fashion world has no consensus, trends emerge at random when a few people have the same idea at the same time, and particular gatekeepers arbitrarily choose who wins and loses based on personal relationships rather than artistic taste.  (Or maybe that was the plot of Devil Wore Prada.)  The high fashion world's clothes bear little relation to what the average person needs for practical use.  Much of it seems to be about wealth signaling, rather than style per se.

I knew anyway I wanted to avoid anything 'trendy' -- what seems hip now, but will look dorky and uncool in a year or two -- and judging by history, that would be pretty much everything that is not 'retro'.  You can't look out of fashion when you are intentionally looking way way out of fashion.  So I took my search for clothing ideas back to the early-1960's through early 1970's.  The films of this era are my favorite, so I thought it would be a good place to start.

Fashion, it seems, is like linguistic patterns.  It flows from areas of high status to areas of low status.  So rather than fight that, I went looking for celebrities and movie characters I admired.  Borrowing or referencing their iconography is a way to quickly, visually, subliminally communicate my own values.  (Or that's the idea, at least. Also, I like the idea of reserving my greatest admiration for people who are dead, since they can never put out a new movie or album that will make me ashamed to have supported them.)

Reference Points

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) I don't think the desert robes will be appropriate for most situations, but they are pretty cool.  I tried to look at other looks for star Peter O'Toole from around that time as well as director David Lean, whose rugged, practical clothes I found appealing.

8 1/2 (1963).  Marcello Mastroianni's main look in this film doesn't feel at all dated to me.  The hat he wears in some scenes is a bit funny, but I've always been interested in finding a hat with a full brim that isn't a cowboy hat.  Since I don't know anyone who is wearing this kind of hat right now, it could be a good unique iconic element.

Dr. Strangelove (1964) Knowing Stanley Kubrick, his suits were likely as precisely tailored as his shots were composed.  I didn't look so much at the costumes in Strangelove, which are mostly military uniforms.  That isn't what I meant by "uniform".  I looked more at Kubrick's own look when he was on set.

Cool Hand Luke (1967) Star Paul Newman has long been a fashion icon of sorts.  His looks in this movie come in two flavors: shirtless and dirty chaingang dude.  So I also looked up some of his looks from around that time outside Cool Hand Luke.

Chinatown (1974) This is a bit of tricky one to reference, since it is set in the 30's.  But Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) wears a range of suits throughout the film, dark and light.  I found myself drawn to the lighter ones, surprisingly.  For a more contemporaneous Nicholson look, I also looked at his styles in Five Easy Pieces (1970), which range from roughneck to anguished pianist.

Jorge Luis Borges I though I might also look at a literary celebrity from this era.  Borges would be my favorite, I think.  But obviously basing your fashion on a blind man's may not be the best idea.  Still, he wore a bold blue suit when he was older and blue is my favorite color.  I get more complements on my eyes when I wear blue or green, so that internal preference has been externally and positively re-enforced.

The Results, Such As They Are

I should also say that another important component of fashion/style beyond function and status signaling seems to be its effect on the opposite sex.  This reddit thread on what men's clothes women find attractive is a real eye-opener:  TL;DR - Leather jackets, uniforms and henleys.  TIL what a henley is.

To that point, the one item of clothing I actually bought this month was with Lillian's help.  While we were travelling, visiting Lillian's sister in Northampton, Massachusetts, I found out we were invited to a nice restaurant in D.C.  I had not planned on needing nice pants, so I packed light.

We tried The Hempest, an all-hemp outfitter.  (Yes, Northampton is that kind of town.)  I got a pair of cargo shorts there a few years ago and have been happy with them.  But alas, they had no pants that I liked the fit/look of.

So we ended up at J. Rich.  Based on the name of the store, you will not be shocked to hear that the pants I ended up buying there were $125.  By my best calculation, this is at least three times what I have ever spent on a pair of pants, probably four times.

They are Rodd & Gunn Regular Fit "five pocket trousers" (the saleslady have me a tutorial on trouser nomenclature).  The legs are way too long, and we didn't have time to get them tailored before heading to D.C.  So I wore them cuffed under for most of the rest of the trip.  They served me well, and I have no doubt they were the best pants for me in J. Rich at the time I visited.

That said, I've now washed them and they still feel looser around the butt and thigh than I would like.  I regret spending so much money without researching what pants I actually like and fit the style I'm going for.  This is just like all my other fashion purchases in my life, arbitrary, with no larger goal in mind.

So, like I said, one month was not enough time to change my entire approach to clothing style, or even do more than just preliminary exploration.  Still, I had fun with it, and I notice that I am able to appreciate my more stylish friends, knowing the amount of work and thought that goes in to creating a stylish wardrobe.
The Resolutions - Style Month
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The Resolutions - The Final Dinner Party

Dinner Party Month came to a great close last week with +Ethan Shaftel Shelby Radloff, Malissa McLaughlin & Christopher Fernandez.  It was the biggest and grandest dinner party yet -- we even managed to print up some menus.

Sadly, I forgot to take pictures during the party, so a few prep photos is all you're gonna see.

On the dariy-free, gluten-free menu:
- Bora Bora Coconut Balls
- Blue Ribbon Chicken
- Mashed Cauliflower with Dill
- Farmer's Market Fresh Fruit in a Watermelon Bowl

Great discussion of filmmaking & fashion followed by a screening of Hello Ladies... Live, a Stephen Merchant stand-up special, which pleased all the anglophiles in attendance.

HUGE THANKS to Lillian, who made Dinner Party Month happen, really.  She did so much menu planning, shopping, cooking and hostessing-with-the-mostessing!

On to Fashion Month -- or, as I'm redubbing it Style Month.  I've recently learned that 'fashion is what changes, but style is always good.'
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3D for Indies

I'm in the middle of writing up everything I know about stereoscopic filmmaking on a budget.  Anyone out there have experience, tips, equipment recommendations?
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The Resolutions - Dinner Party #3

Last Sunday, we hosted Chris Punsalan and +Autumn Proemm for a more 'experimental' dinner.

On the menu:
- Sparkling Mango Lemonade
- Paleo Borscht with Creme Fraiche and Chives - the classic cold beet soup improvised by Lillian with only paleo ingredients and creme fraiche
- Grassfed Fikel Family Farms Steak
- Sauteed Farmer's Market Rainbow Chard with Herb and Mustard Butter Sauce
- Paleo Cheesecake - another Lillian culinary experiment, using goat's cheese instead of cream cheese, and with an almond meal and date crust

Dinner was followed by a few spirited rounds of Apples to Apples and Catchphrase.  Autumn crushed the competition in Apples, and, with Lillian, did the distaff side proud in Catchphrase.
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