January 2008

+mOdOk+ Blysse and Ellie performing

My friend Elyse Ribbons is a dynamo. Not one to sit around twiddling her thumbs, she is also likely to challenge others to step up and deliver. I met Elyse when we were both extras in a movie, “Beijing Taxi”, part of which another friend of mine, Nora Wong, was directing, and we talked about acting, writing, producing, et al, and I lamented the fact that I could never seem to finish a script, my enthusiasm always fizzling out shortly after the first plot point. That’s where she challenged me. “Do you think you could finish one if it was only ten minutes long?”

“10 minutes?”

“Yes, as in a one act play around 10 minutes in length.” It turns out that Elyse was at that very moment looking for acts for her ShiFen Theater Festival due to take place a couple months hence through her Cheeky Monkey Theater production company. Never one to refuse a challenge I believe I can meet, I had to take her up on it, and it turned out to be the single most rewarding experience of my life thus far.

+mOdOk+ Blysse and Ellie performing

I knew immediately that the play would absolutely have to star my little darlings, as well as myself, but was unsure what to write about. Something about our life in Beijing, but what…? Well, I didn’t have to wait long. Blysse came home from school and told me an amazing story that brought home how wonderful it is to live life in foreign country, in “Expatia” as I like to call it, and experience things that you just plain wouldn’t back “home”. The play actually wrote itself.

Now the fun part was taking my two talented but untried and tested daughters through the rehearsal process, and somehow get them to deliver, on stage, in front of over 400 people. The rehearsal process was not only easy, but it turned out to be some of the best quality time I have ever spent with them. They took my script and, adding in their natural ham factor, developed it into a much richer more enjoyable play than I could have imagined. I suppose it helps that I was writing dialog that they, playing themselves, were easily able to embrace and augment. The first few rehearsals led to quite a few re-writes, but by the time the festival approached, we were ready.

+mOdOk+ Blysse and Ellie performing

The biggest challenge came right before our performance. Blysse, who had by far the most lines, was so nervous she had tears welling up in her eyes. Daddy director to the rescue! “Blysse, you know your lines. We’ve practiced it so many times, you will not forget your lines. It’s your story! Even if you mess up, just remember the story…”

“But there are soooo many people out there!”

“What’s your first line?”

“What!? It can’t be time for bed already!”

“See! You’ll do great! After that first line, it will all just flow, just like in rehearsal.” And it did! Blysse and Ellie not only delivered all of their lines as well as they did in rehearsal, but they projected their voices well and could be heard all the way at the back of the rather large Yan Club Arts Center at the Old Factory 798 Art District. Feedback has been great, but that is absolutely secondary to the thrill of the best daddy-daughter event ever.

After the show, I thanked Elyse for challenging me. “Great!” she said, “Now you can write a 40-minute play!”

Hmmmm. I like a good challenge.

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Magic 8-ball

My very first occult fetish was with the Magic 8-ball. I first encountered the 8-ball at a friend’s house, hiding in the bottom of his closet. “What’s this?” I asked. “A Magic 8-ball,” he replied. “What do you do with it?” He looked singularly uninterested, and said, “You’re supposed to ask it questions, and it tells you the answers.” Really, I thought, that’s amazing! “You can have it if you want,” he said, “I never use it.” So began my love affair with the Magic 8-ball.

As time went by, it seemed I eventually invested more time in trying to trick the 8-ball into revealing an answer that was obviously inaccurate. The 8-ball was appallingly good. While not always giving up pearls of wisdom, it would skirt just shy of any glaring falsehoods. I’m not sure what eventually became of it and it retreated to a mere memory. Until Facebook.

I must admit I spend too much time on Facebook. I try to justify it by telling myself time spent on Facebook is “research” for that killer Facebook application I’m working on, but the fact is, sometimes I just like to kill time there. Most of the applications developed by third parties are at the very least boring and stupid, and at worst make me want to strangle the developers, especially the ones that won’t work unless you spam all your friends first, or worse yet, fill up my Inbox and notifications as they spam me. Not so with the Magic 8-ball application. It installed without a hitch and didn’t even have all of my friends checked to invite by default. Nice!

The first question I asked was about a certain Facebook friend, one of my “hottest friends” and whether there was any prospect of anything interesting developing between us. “Doesn’t look good” was the reply. Hmmm. Let’s ask again. “Highly unlikely.” What about any of my Facebook friends, “hottie” or not? “It is better not to say at this time.”

Hmmmmm. Is there truly not one of my “hot friends” with whom I have the slightest chance?

“Outlook not so good.”

Magic 8-ball Outlook not good

Now, here’s where I always tried to outsmart the 8-ball in my youth, to prove that it is far from an infallible oracle, and that I am therefore free to ignore its dire pronouncements.

“So, Magic 8-ball,” I begin coyly, “Do you ever give positive answers?”

“To be sure.”

“Can I really believe a word you tell me?”

“You may rely on it.”

I never could get the 8-ball to give me bad advice in my youth, at least not obviously so, and it seems to have retained it’s potency in its digital incarnation. Of course, now that I’ve been around the block a few times, I surmise that it is I who actually empower the 8-ball with its divinatory powers, my subconscious Self manifesting through this quirky interface.

And that is exactly why I love it!

Thank you Magic 8-ball.

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Just a note of caution for any WordPress users out there…

I recently updated my original WordPress 1.5 blog to a WordPress 2.3.1 blog, reproducing the site on another hosting server. For the most part, it went well, and appeared to be a mostly seamless transition. While I appreciate the greater security and additional functionality of the WP 2.3.1, it has not been without some suprises.

For instance, previously, I had no problem at all displaying Japanese and Chinese characters, either in the post itself, or in the title. Now, all I get is a bunch of question marks. The irony is that the characters appear without a problem as I write or edit the content, and it is only when they are published that the dreaded question marks appear. I tried a workaround by installing a multi-language plug-in, but this isn’t exactly what I wanted, and the plug-in itself seemed to cause more problems without enabling the offending characters to show up. Hopefully, I will find a solution soon.

Then there is the matter of a marvelous new function that offered to convert my Categories into Tags. Now I must take the blame for what happened next, as I most certainly did not read the manual before using what appeared to me to be a very cool new function. I applied the converter, and convert it did! All of the categories were indeed converted to tags on each of the posts. What I wasn’t expecting, is that all of the posts were then filed as Uncategorized. Which means that I’ve had to go back through each and every one of over 130 posts and reassign the categories. Actually, I’m still only about half way through…

I guess that teaches me to leap before I look! Hopefully, this will spare someone a similar fate!

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