Saturday, January 31, 2009

"The Story of Stuff" Is Nostalgic

For the uninitiated: http://www.storyofstuff.com/index.html

I remember my first few years as an undergraduate in my University's Broadasting program. (I chose "Broadcasting," which eventually became "Television/Film," rather arbitrarily, but that's another story for another time.) "The Story of Stuff" touched on a few things that I learned years before, taking a few courses from Dr. Robert Vianello.

To make a potentially long rant short, the goal of TV (and mainstream Hollywood cinema) is to sell consumers to advertisers. Objectively, this is neither a good nor a bad thing; it's just a thing. In the video, it shows a loop of work > TV > shopping > work > TV > shopping > etc. Wow, this is just in time for the Super Bowl!

Anyway, in varying degrees of silly, here are three ways to break the cycle of consumerism that's destroying the earth:

1. Do the green, sustainable thing mentioned in "The Story of Stuff."
2. Build a rocket ship to an Earth-like planet or a time machine to the pre-human past to begin again. At the very least, it won't suck for the generation that begins again, unless the dinosaurs or planetary natives aren't so friendly.
3. Be a producer, not a consumer. Okay, that doesn't fix anything environmentally, per se, but it's better to be a sheep dog than a sheep.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

It's Official: Dogs Are Better Than Humans

On the way to Disneyland (where I hadn't been in, say, eight or nine years), I saw a trio of stray or feral dogs (without collars and tags, in any case) on the sidewalk: A Rottweiler-type dog, a dirty blonde Labrador-type, and a black Chihuahua-type. Anyhow, the two big dogs walked at a slow pace so their smaller companion could keep up. I thought that was the first of many beautiful things to happen yesterday. You could make it represent some notion of transcendence beyond ethnic differences or class struggles, but you'd be mostly wrong. That moment was symbolic of nothing: The dogs do not correspond to any human stereotype or achievement. The moment was simply about dogs looking out for the pack they made. I hope those badass "lost" dogs can forage all the food they need for a lifetime, and I hope they avoid animal control for the rest of their days. If I were a canine, I'd love to join their pack.

I'd like to see humans being good to each other more often than dogs doing the same, but that seems to be an impossibility. (Except, of course, at Disneyland, where all kinds of people from all corners of this round, round world were quite civil to one another.)

Be kind to each other. Cheers!

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Lost" Is Awesome

That's all I need to blog about right now. I don't want to give away any spoilers for those who haven't the time yet to watch the show (but are going to anyway). My puns aren't that good.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Netbook

I'm looking for a netbook these days. I just need to surf the web, check/write email, do minimal word processing, and pull up some essential PDF documents on something that feels more like a computer than a smart phone. The over $300 price tag just seems too steep for such a modest bit of technology.

That's all I have to write today. I actually wrote something a bit heavier, but I put it on time delay.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mutiny Universe at Three

I want to wish my up-and-coming film/video production corporation Mutiny Universe a Very Happy Third Birthday!

mutinyuniverse.com

We built this (city on rock and roll, I mean...) business from the ground up. We have two film-festival travelin' films on IMDb (Élan Vital and Outcasts), several web-ready works on the web (check 'em out on YouTube), and many developments itchin' to be produced.

Okay, I'll stop bragging and roll up my sleeves again for the hard work that's always been there. I'll see you at the movies!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

D.I.Y. Inc. & LLC; Re: IRS & FTB

It is definitely edifying to pay attention to one's companies' financial records in QuickBooks. It is also fascinating to import various records into TurboTax for an S-corporation, a C-corporation, and a limited liability company taxed as a partnership - and notice how all three are different animals altogether.

That said, it is almost certainly worth it to have professionals double-check your work (and by "your work," I mean the computer's work). Then you can spend more time running your business, whether in the arts or manufacturing widgets.

And by "you," I really mean me. Okay, I mean you, too, if small/medium/big business is your thing. While you might be tempted to defer all this heavy lifting to a qualified CPA (or two), it is worth it to know the in's and out's of your business(es), especially when it comes to tax time. Then defer away.

It's exhausting and at times mind-numbingly tedious, but it's worth it.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Cobbler," I said, "Make Me a Steam-powered Computation Device!"

"But, sir, I fix shoes," protested the Cobbler.

"How can I check my electromagnetic telegrams, then? By Pony Express?"

I happened upon an episode of MAKE: Television on PBS recently, and it featured the steampunk modifications of everyday objects by Jake Von Slatt.


Maker Profile - Steampunk on MAKE: television from make magazine on Vimeo.


Here he is explaining some of his creations on Wired Science:



At the very least, I want someone competent (probably not me) to make me a steampunk computer keyboard, as long as it makes loud typewriter clicks.

Someone else modified an old HP laptop to look like a music box when closed. See it in action, especially with the key and quill:





After watching the WSJ video, apparently this Datamancer guy creates custom keyboards for $700 to $1000. Or between $1200 and $1500, from the info in his website.

In conclusion, I want all these things inside my airship, and duplicated in my Nautilus. Post-haste!

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Today's Experiment: Rush Limbaugh in a Free Marketplace

Longtime media moneymaker Rush Limbaugh said he wanted our new President to fail. I'll leave all the criticisms of demagoguery and divisive ideology to other bloggers. I'm no economist, but if you take into consideration that Rush represents the pre-nostalgia approval rating of the former President, and what supply and demand look like in a theoretical "free marketplace," how much money can Rush (and similar ideologues) make for their bosses now?

In a "free" market, in this optimistically left-of-center American climate, extreme right-wing commercial radio would quickly go the way of the sitcom, filmed in front of a studio audience. And left-wing court jestery is less funny. There might be a resurgence of all three in the future. Then again, things are more complicated than that, and CBS still has laugh track comedy on Monday nights. For President Obama to fail in this failed economy means bad things for many Americans, and good things for the blowhards who are unpopular right now.

My point is, while blowhard conservatism is douchebaggery, nuanced scholarly conservatism is not. The same goes for liberalism, but I'll let them (okay, us) remained buzzed in the afterglow of the Inauguration for the time being. Here's a quick cheat sheet for the new American conservative minority.

As for me, my politics in this new world is simple: Liberalism for kids, and libertarianism for adults. While nowhere near a suitable replacement for nurturing parents, the government (Federal, state, and local) should provide all American children with opportunities, regardless of wealth at birth. Once that is done, an adult can fail or succeed in any way he/she wants. Obviously, we would have to wait at least one generation for this to actually work. Until then, it's bailouts and partisanship.

Not to be left out in my rant, social conservatism has a place in private homes and small religious communities, but it has a minor place in the public taxpayer forum. We're eight years behind in some scientific research, so let's GIT-R-DONE!

Did you see what I just did there? Unlike Mr. Limbaugh, I want President Obama to succeed.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Caffeine

I think caffeine's more dangerous than alcohol. I'll drink several glasses of good Scotch neat, several shots of Tennessee, basically I could drink mostly anyone under the table (the number was "everyone" forty pounds ago), but I'll only pour two fingers worth of Diet Coke with three large ice cubes in a Scotch glass. Even that amount will keep me up all night, which is actually useful right now, since it is tax season for company people.

Sigh.

Kids, don't try this at home...especially the running two companies part. Do that when you're all grows'd up.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Breaking News

I just watched the last minute of Nightline, and apparently, Caroline Kennedy quit her bid to become a Senator representing the state of New York. That's your breaking news for tonight.

I have to get back to my time travel (a la Lost).

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Christian Science Monitor: Billy Graham the Preacher Ain't Dead Yet

An article about the role of religion under Obama makes this reference: "Preachers such as the late Billy Graham typically struck a broad, ecumenical tone acceptable to a wide range of religious adherents." According to Wikipedia, that particular Billy Graham is still breathin'. Other public Billy Grahams are either living or dead.

Idiomatically, I don't recall prefacing a name with "the late" to refer to a living person.

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Any Publicity...

My friend Rama recently wrote a review to the recently-premiered Élan Vital at Rama's SCREEN. There might be some spoilers in the review, but I've seen the movie so many times in postproduction (and afterward) that I don't have an objective grasp on what constitutes a spoiler.

He wrote something cool about my score:

"DeRamos' score gives us that haunting mood, it reminds me of Michael Giacchino’s score for the popular TV series Lost."
1. I can't wait until the Lost premiere tonight!

2. Along with Jonny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood) and Eddie Vedder (songs for Into the Wild) and the boogie woogie, Michael Giacchino was very inspirational in the production process, especially in determining which instruments to use (and not use).

3. Check out "Somnus":



4. Check out "Élan Vital: Rebirth Deity; At the End of the Tunnel; Make a Sound":



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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration

The day has arrived, when the United States of America will have new president, President Obama. Today is a good day for symbolism, with references to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Obama being a representative of x, y, and z groups and ideologies and histories.

Today (and tonight) is for symbolism. Tomorrow (and several thereafter) is for getting stuff done. Congratulations, President Obama, keep up the good work (the transition was good), and good luck!

Cheers!

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Monday, January 19, 2009

A Boogie Woogie Compliment for Me Is a Compliment for You...

My parents weren't able to attend the Élan Vital screening two Sundays ago, so I showed them the movie via DVD recently. At the end of the movie, a tribute to old school rock 'n roll called "Do the Code" played during the credits. My mom expressed concern that we'd have to pay lots and lots of money to the publisher to use the song in the movie.

I revealed to them that the song was all me - the songwriting, the production, and the performance, down to the wannabe Elvis impression vocals and wannabe Jerry Lee Lewis boogie woogie piano (and wannabe Little Richard piano AND falsetto moments). They liked the song even more (I suppose), so I had to rewind the DVD to the start of the credits again. It's doubly cool because magician/actor/former Possum Dixon frontman Rob Zabrecky lip-syncing to my vocals. And actor Michael Onofri did an awesome job miming the piano playing.

I was happy that they were impressed. My parents grew up during the birth of rock 'n roll, so they know what old school rock 'n roll is supposed to sound like. In my book, this is the highest compliment I've ever received for my role in the film because (1) they're my mom and dad, and (2) they know rock 'n roll.

In lieu of the video of the end credits, here's a stream from the mutuni Podcast of "Do the Code" (the "station identification at the end is pretty loud, so be warned):



Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., Day! Rock 'n roll was once the embodiment of judging musicians not by the color of their skin - Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, and Elvis Presley are fine examples - but by how much they kicked ass doing the twelve bar blues with overdriven guitars - Cheers!

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Brick and Mortar Electronics Stores

As many of you have read and heard, Circuit City is soon to be gone for good. The last thing I bought at Circuit City (as run by Circuit City Stores Inc.) was last week to buy something nice for my dad's birthday. I suppose I will mosey on over there early tomorrow (technically, later today) to buy something from the liquidating company that took over. (At least that's what I think happens to a retailer that declares bankruptcy. A liquidating company takes over, right?)

So we have Best Buy. I was there a few hours ago to buy a non-dock USB cable for my little iPod Shuffle. I actually wanted the USB cable that plugs into an wall wart transformer, so I wouldn't have to use a computer to recharge my iPod. Best Buy's website has it for $19. The physical Best Buy store has that same item for $22. I went to the cashier to ask about this discrepancy, and he said that I should go to the Media Center and have a Best Buy employee price match the product with the Best Buy site before I go back to the cashier. Geez, man, talk about bad business...

I didn't want to go through this big process, as the "Media Center" had no visible employees (such is Best Buy), so I bought the $13 USB non-dock (without the wall wart). Maybe I'll find a wall wart adapter on clearance at Circuit City later today.

In any case, praise be to Amazon.com (for now)! I must check what MP3 album is on sale today...

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kudos to Captain Sullenberger

I just want to send some kudos to Capt. Chesley Sullenberger and his amazing water landing of Flight 1549 on Thursday, and also to the rescuers of the entire crew and passengers (since hypothermia was a-waitin' because the laws of physics harmed only a few with injuries). Cheers!

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Batman vs. Iron Man

I finally caught up with blockbuster movies involving wealthy, non-mutant superheroes. The billion dollar question (pun obvious) is who would win in a fight: Batman or Iron Man? I'm not much of a comic book reader, and I think I Wiki'd both characters a while ago, but I'll go with the recent movies for reference.

My thesis: Batman wins. (My brother disagrees.)

In one corner, we have Batman, who apparently has a martyr-messiah complex. He'll save the city, but he's a willing scapegoat at the end of The Dark Knight. He is willing to be persecuted for Gotham City's sins, so to speak. He's all brooding and dark and intense, and Bruce Wayne's playboy image is a facade. Cool.

In the other, we have Tony Stark, who apparently had a Siddhartha-like upbringing (shielded from the evils of his corporation) until he had a Buddha-like epiphany while captured in Afghanistan and became Iron Man in the process. Also cool, but Iron Man and Tony Stark are the same guy. (In this particular movie, Robert Downey, Jr., isn't the dude playing a dude, disguised as another dude.) I think Wikipedia or some other source said that Stark also has an alcohol problem. Hmm...the guy who keeps drinking Scotch (which I wholeheartedly empathize) or the guy who watched his parents get shot as a child? I think Batman wins in the intensity comparison.

Business-wise, neither Wayne nor Stark is fit to run their respective family business. Wayne was too busy training to be Batman, while Stark was too busy being a technology prodigy to care about big money decisions. Wayne has Morgan Freeman as his corporation's CEO and Stark has The Dude (albeit bald) as CEO. The Bald Dude turned out to be a bad guy who betrayed Stark, but Morgan Freeman saved Batman's ass in both Nolan films. (Yes, Wayne Enterprises had Blind Fury as the CEO in the first film, but he didn't betray like The Bald Dude and was more of a douche.) With Morgan Freeman as CEO, Wayne Enterprises would totally buy out all of Stark Industries' assets and leave Shellhead's corporation as an empty shell. Batman wins.

Assistant-wise, Batman totally gets stuff done because Alfred is his butler. Iron Man has Gwyneth Paltrow as his personal secretary. I wouldn't get stuff done if Gwyneth were my personal secretary. Batman wins again. Iron Man also has an Ask Jeeves-like operating system as his virtual butler, but we'll get to that later.

Hand-to-hand, with no external toys, Batman the ninja beats Iron Man, even though Iron Man has a super-charged pacemaker implant. Iron Man probably has endurance because of his pacemaker, but that just means Batman will have to pummel Stark longer. Batman wins again.

Toys-versus-toys, it seems that Iron Man would win easily by nuking everything and hoping Batman is part of the mess. Remember that Iron Man (in the movie at least) relied on the Ask Jeeves OS to do complicated stuff. Remember also that Morgan Freeman was able to synthesize an antidote for Scarecrow's poison, and Morgan Freeman invented the cellphone SONAR technology in the sequel. So, Morgan Freeman could create a computer virus to get rid of Jeeves. And then Batman could beat Tony Stark to a pulp soon after. Batman wins.

The moral of the story is that the real superhero is Morgan Freeman.

Anyway, speaking of The Dark Knight, I find it amusing that we have Batman, an actor who played Dracula (Gary Oldman), and the actor who played Bat Manuel in The Tick (Nestor Carbonell) in one film.

That's a lot of bats.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Steve Jobs and the Problem with Heirless Kings

Steve Jobs revealed a tiny bit more of his medical woes yesterday, saying that it's more complex than a hormone imbalance, and that he'll leave Apple temporarily for the next six months. I don't like when people are sick, so I hope he recovers to full health - regardless of whether his leave will become a retirement or not. My guess is that he will retire soon, and the next six months will be full of what Apple should have done in the previous ten years: Groom a successor. Unfortunately this will happen while the successor is on the job, stating the case for succession.

Apple shares (AAPL, which I own) will tumble later today. It's obvious. Apple (in the OS X and iTunes/iPod era) did a lot of things right because they rehired Jobs. Unfortunately, it seems they put all their apples in a basket named Steve Jobs. And that's the problem with kings-without-heirs-apparent. Co-founder Steve Wozniak is close to being as authentic Apple-wise as Jobs, but he hasn't been a higher-up insider in decades. At least Microsoft had Gates and Ballmer, even before Gates left his full-time post as CEO and handed it to Ballmer. At least Google has Dr. Schmidt and the two inventors/co-presidents. Apple? No such strategery.

In any case, I just might be loading up on Apple tomorrow. In this economy, I think it's good to go long in this market. The real bet, however, is having faith that the market itself will survive this economy.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

New "American Idol" Judge vs. Bikini Contestant

OK, last night, I watched probably around 40% of whatever season premiere of American Idol. I saw the part where the bikini-clad hopeful was arguing with the new judge, the pop songwriter. The pop songwriter tried to show the bikini contestant how to sing some song, and the bikini contestant said the judge didn't do any better than she. The bikini contestant was spot-on with her comment; the two were virtually indistinguishable during their vocal smackdown. That's why the new judge (Kara I'll-Google-Her-Surname-Later) has her career in pop songwriting and not in pop stardom (but I'm pretty sure she tried in the past). There's nothing wrong with a pop songwriter in the judging panel of a pop star-search singing contest. Along with the other three and their qualifications, Kara Whatshername? is up to par.

The session bass player, the former dancer-pop star (not necessarily iconic vocally), and the A&R representative know the score.

I would've written a snide comment about America's voting habits for American Idol versus the actual democratic process, but our collective action last November has stayed my judgmental fingers...for now. We'd better vote well for future elections, too. In the meanwhile, enjoy your televised distraction, media consumers!

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Warm SoCal January

The bad news: Southern California feels like early summertime, in the high 80s. I want my winters relatively cool, like in the 60-degree range!

The good news: Ice cream and summertime staples are on sale at the local grocery. It's a good time to eat ice cream for less money, I guess.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

"Élan Vital" Screening

Last night's Élan Vital screening (the Los Angeles premiere, if you will) was awesome. I am in the process of uploading snapshots from the event to my Facebook profile. I'm pretty sure my production company Mutiny Universe will post more official photos sometime soon.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ownership Class 2.0

I am a strong supporter of employees taking the plunge into ownership - either with stock portfolios or running a part-time business or going for it with one's own incorporated/organized company. I myself am doing some of the above. There are ways you can go about learning the ropes:

1. Formal education. In this economy, you'd be fortunate if you are in this situation.

2. Self-help books. They're great for general questions with which you don't want to bother the professionals in your life. They also give you enough context to have intelligent conversations with your lawyer and/or accountant.

3. Following examples. If you trade in publicly-traded companies, it would be a good practice (in most cases) to keep at least one share of a company when you sell. Your broker will often tell you about a company's shareholders' meeting and provide you with proxy statements and annual reports. Of course, you can find this info online for various companies without owning shares, but being invited to the meetings just makes it psychologically extra special to read up on these companies.

4. Going for it. It might be an instinctual drive for all the children of the Earth to just see how far you can go just by adapting to new situations. It has been my experience that a lot of reading leads to a lot of forgetting, and lessons actually stick when learned through mistakes and/or through actually doing stuff...well.

So, again, my friends, do stuff. In this unpredictable economic time, the Madoffs of the world are losing ground, and the most enterprising of underdogs can wind up on top - all this is possible. Here's to Ownership Class 2.0, and may the best and most ethical make it.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

FOX: Anti-American, Pro-Commonwealth

Other than The Simpsons and other animated fare, the FOX Network's biggest shows star British Commonwealth actors facilitating somewhat generic American accents:

Hugh Laurie, House, duh.

Lena Headley, Terminator, hot and English.

Wentworth Miller, Prison Break, British-born.

Now I was convinced of Dominic Purcell's blue-collar, Illinois, thuggish shtick in Prison Break, until he let his accent loose when he tried to say "anything and everything," but instead enunciated it with an Irish-Australian twang: "Ehnythin' 'n ev'rythin'."

Ana Torv, Fringe, Australian.

This doesn't really count, but Australian John Noble uses his Denethor accent in Fringe.

And I won't even list the Canadians!

This is yet another reason why Australian-born Rupert Murdoch is trying to subvert post-Revolutionary American progress, along with the requisite FOX News Channel. It actually might be the revenge of an undead King George III. And you thought I was going to criticize Bill O'Reilly (again). May the US always be the rebellious child to Mother England.

On my friend's blog Rama's SCREEN, I once defended why 007 should always be played by a subject of the Commonwealth, regardless of race or gender, and not an American (except perhaps for Gwyneth Paltrow). I used to feel that if the Queen can knight you, then you can be James Bond. Obviously, the Queen can't knight Americans (for the most part). Well, I'm reconsidering my position...

Be prepared for Adam West as James Bond. You all know I joke! I'm neither a xenophobe nor an Anglophobe! Cheers (and cheerio)!

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Friday, January 9, 2009

SoCal Earthquake Playlist, 1/8/09

iTunes was on Party Shuffle, I was trying to get some work done, a loud noise occurred, and the ground started shaking soon after. Considering no major damage I'm aware of, it was fun.

Pre-quake: "Darling Nikki" by Prince;
Earthquake: "In the Arms of Sleep" by the Smashing Pumpkins;
Post-quake: "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

The State of Public Education in California (Do Stuff)

I used to be an "educator," albeit for a private school. Anyhow, the Governator himself wants to cut five days from the school year. There's an elementary school near my home, and they apparently had the longest winter break ever (from pre-Thanksgiving to post-New Year). I don't think they're a year-round school, either. In my day, we had four days from 8:15 or 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM and one short day until 2:00 PM. From what I've heard, the long days now go until 2 PM (?) and the short days go until noon (?).

Who am I to say anything? I'm an uneducated businessperson and uneducated in Web design (although I've evolved since the members.aol.com pages in 1998), yet I faciliate those informal skills to support my college degree in film (via my film company Mutiny Universe). Don't get me started how unrefined I am in music; I just have several years under my belt of experience to justify how I can run a music company, too. I guess it's what you do with your time, and learning new stuff constantly is always a good thing. If you're not learnin', you're forgetin'. However, book-learnin' can only take you so far: You have to actually do stuff.

A wise man by the name of Lonnie Marshall (of Lon Ho and the Big Babies) has been known to say (paraphrased): "We ain't New Wave, we're Do Wave. 'Cause there ain't nothin' newer than doin'!" There's nothing newer than doing should be everyone's mantra.

My advice to the short-changed children of California is for them to learn something useful when they're not in school: the further away the subject from what's actually taught at school, the better. Learn the guitar, the drums, or the piano - like loud, easy, pop chords and go into classical-style later. Learn HTML and CSS and make templates for Blogger or MySpace. Actually, the money is in making apps for iPhones/iPods and Facebook - so learn how to do the code (in-joke italicized). And then do stuff.

I don't know what to say to the teachers, who will lose out on money to feed themselves. You can always start a business in your newly-found "free time." The hardest part is taking the plunge and learning the correct terms along the way, but learning and teaching go hand-in-hand. Join the ownership class. And do stuff!

It's a new kind of capitalism when everyone's in the ownership class.

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