Around the Dot

31 January 2006

Rock in the Desert

Joshua Tree National Park
Originally uploaded by Guillaume Rigal.
I organised a trip to the Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs (for once I really take credit) with seven other fellow exchange students at UCLA Anderson (namely Andrew, Bettina, Carolyn, Chris, Fred, Fernando and Sarah).

This was really great with the highlight being importing the London Sundowners tradition to the West, a moment captured by Andrew as the "Joshua Tree National Park Festival". We all climbed midway to the top of the Cap Rock with beers and sang and played music while the Sun disappeared behind the mountains.

Note: first time I blog through my Flickr account!

Update: another first, here is the video directly from YouTube!

27 January 2006

Smells like Week-End
On Fridays, the graduate residence I’m living in in Weyburn Terrace takes a nice fresh smell. Tide is the smell of the week-end: laundry time for most of us.

This week-end will have the smell of dust too as we head towards the desert, the Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs.

PS- I assume it is Tide because it smells like the pack I have and because it has a lot of shelf space in the local supermarket – but most soap must smell alike.

Soundstage 23
I had booked tickets to be in the audience of “Courting Alex”, the new show with Jenna Elfman (from Dharma & Greg). So, Ryan, Fred, Peter and I left Westwood around 4pm for Studio City where the CBS studios are located.

This was a good occasion to see the Los Angeles River from close as it runs through the studios – I think the concrete bed of the river has been used for Terminator and the episode of Jackass where Knoxville ruined his ankle (though I am not sure where these have been shot).

The recording took 6 hours (and we had to be there 90min before on top of that). This is quite long when you only get a slice of pizza, a bottle of water and some candies that the guy in charge of cheering the audience distributes. We had a great time in the breaks between scenes (indicated by a ringing bell) thanks to this guy, though the last 2 hours were a drag.

Fred and I participated in the animation as this guy asked who was from outside the US – I sang “La Mer” by Charles Trenet (known by Americans as “Beyond the Sea”) and Fred rendered “The Girl From Ipanema” in Portuguese. I think my performance was appreciated, with our host saying “I think I’m falling in love” and dancing with me. Maybe I should start a crooner career here – people who have ever heard me sing will have a good laugh.

Back to the show. We were first shown the pilot (which aired this month) and some material they had shot during the week for this episode. The crew then had 6 scenes to shoot. I think the show is quite good, even if neither hilarious nor very original, and the cast is “fantastic” (I have been brainwashed for 6 hours). Jenna Elfman is adorable and her husband, who was there, was fun. However, the problem with this kind of recordings is that by the third time you hear the same joke, you wonder why the other guys in the audience go on with their fake laughs... Another issue is that they almost didn’t use the main sets and shot in a corner of the soundstage that the audience could not see (though we could see the crew).

Overall, it’ a good experience and I’d like to go a bit further by seeing a more mature show like “That 70’s Show” with a “fantastic” well-oiled cast, crew, characters, writers, etc. The next step would be not to sit in the audience but being with the crew and better see how the ambiance (producers, writers, director and actors working!).

24 January 2006

Good Vibrations?
California’s spirit is growing on me. That’s the only explanation. But the place(s) and the people are so amazing and nice, you can’t resist.

So, what’s up? Well, first, I run every morning – a trend yet to be confirmed with more data points ;)

And then there is this incredible experience on Sunday: slack rope walking. I went to the beach at Santa Monica with schoolmates Sarah and Russell. At the Muscle Beach (composed of more acrobatic and gymnastic attractions than in Venice), a new-age guy was walking on a rope he had attached between two poles. He kindly offered us to try, which we did.

(Sorry, that’s the only picture I have…thanks to Sarah)

Walking on slack rope in Santa Monica

I could almost walk without help and really enjoyed the experience. As our new-age instructor explained, it’s a “mind game”. The key to prevent the rope to lead the dance is to concentrate and breathe. I’d really like to do that on a daily or weekly basis for concentration – that’s much more my thing than sudoku ;)

And who knows, I might get into the high flyers league… these “slackliners” are insane. Or am I just a slacker? – that’s a bad play on words but I had to do it because I saw a “slacker” tee-shirt in a shop in Santa Barbara the day before.

Speaking of Santa Barbara, a final note on California. My dear friend Nicolas de P. was right about one thing: UCLA is too intellectual. The concentration of beautiful girls is higher in UCSB from my observation in Main Street bars Saturday evening. ;) But that is so irrelevant given the concentration of lovely Californians in California.

Damn, I really am a slacker.

20 January 2006

Not Alone in L.A.
One of my most favourite bands of the moment – JET – is recording in L.A. I wish there was some secret small gig that I could attend. Meanwhile, I have bought tickets for Buddy Guy’s show at the House of Blues on Sunset and for Lenny Kravitz & Aerosmith in San Diego, both in February. I have also discovered that Guitar Center on Sunset has a well-hidden room in the back with vintage guitars. I know what to do with my signing bonus if I get one – after all, at $3,000 a Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Gold Top from the 70’s is a reasonable treat. Or a red 60’s Gibson ES335… (links to quite similar models). A Thunderbird would be nice too, or perhaps an old Fender too – Telecaster, Stratocaster, Jaguar or Jazzmaster. :)

17 January 2006

Sports Week-end
On Sunday, I discovered Australian Football with Peter, my Australian roommate. UCLA playground was transformed into a Little Australia for a promotion event: Sydney Swans and Melbourne Kangaroos, two top-teams, played an exhibition game. The ‘Roos defeated the Swans - who didn’t risk their top players.

It was interesting to see (and I quote here an American spectator who was also introduced to this noble game) “these crazy Aussies kicking the crap out of each others”.

I spent the next day (Monday was a holiday, the Martin Luther King day) at Venice Beach where this time I was on the field: playing volleyball with some of my fellow exchange students (Bettina, Carolyn, Ricardo and Steve) and then trying to decapitate someone from afar with an Aerobie (the only Frisbee I play since my father brought one back from a US trip in the 80’s). I didn’t use the famous “Muscle beach” however. ;)

The most memorable moment came when I took two quick swims in the cold Pacific Ocean. Just for the gesture and after all that sport, I had to! (Apparently there was some ocean pollution on that same day but I still don’t glow in the dark so I should be alright).

16 January 2006

Steven’s still hungry
I organised an expedition to Santa Ana (let’s call it that because it’s 50 miles from UCLA) with fellow exchange students to go to the Galaxy to listen to Adler’s Appetite, a band founded by Steven Adler, the original drummer of Guns N’ Roses.

We had to listen to four bands ranging from dreadful to not too bad and then came the guys. They started with “It’s so easy”, a classic GnR opening song, went on to play all the good songs from Appetite for Destruction, adding Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, a song that GnR used to include in their gigs before recording it as part as Use Your Illusions II. Also part of the set list was Civil War, the only song of the Use Your Illusions albums that Steven Adler is credited for and has actually recorded. As an encore, Adler’s Appetite delivered a great cover of AC/DC’s Sin City before closing by the awaited Paradise City.

Steven Adler!

My Aussie roommate Peter and I agreed that the band did great. It’s not easy ( ;) ) to render Axl’s or Slash’s parts…

The MBA in me couldn’t miss this great opportunity to observe the business model of a band playing in a bar. Apparently, the guitarist, who (shame, shame, shame) played a Yamaha guitar, needed cash (to buy a decent instrument): he repeatedly asked the crowd to get some drinks (he had several corona during the evening). Steven Adler must still make some money from being credited on the first Guns N’ Roses album because he just suggested once by pointing his beer that, yeah, we should have one. SO, in this business, you get a share of the drinks sold as part of your fees.

Steven Adler!

If you’re in Europe and are a fan of the great band that once was Guns N’ Roses, I think you might want to go see Steven Adler and his mates. Steven had a big smile on his face during the whole show. You can say that that’s the drugs from the GnR era talking but that would be mean. The guy was really happy to be on stage and enjoyed pleasing the crowd, the way it should always be but unfortunately, many bands realise that only once they “have been”.

Anyway, thanks to Steven Adler for welcoming us back in the Jungle. Awesome!

11 January 2006

A prolific author with a great and original online presence, Jasper Fforde has a new book coming in July. I have only read his “Thursday Next” series, so I have yet to discover the world of the Nursery Crime Division with Jack Spratt – a world spun off of the Next books and started with the “who pushed Humpty Dumpty?” mystery in the Big Over Easy.

In the upcoming The Fourth Bear, Fforde asks and, I guess, answers vital questions that I am sure kept most of us from finding sleep after our parents had close the fables book:

How could the bear's porridge be at such disparate temperatures when they were poured at the same time?

Ever wondered why Mummy bear and Daddy Bear slept in seperate beds?

Oh and if you think I have totally lost my mind, buy one of Fforde’s book.

10 January 2006

Lost with iTunes
I decided to catch up with the “Lost” craze during the Winter break and bought myself the DVD box of the first season which I hadn’t watched when it was aired in France during my summer internship (you know… dubbed version, better things to do with my time in Paris). This kind of stuff is addictive and I am a great audience so I have ended up a junkie, lost in lost (very overdone way of putting it I guess).

But now, there are the 9 first shows of the second season, which have aired in the US and are not available on DVD. How can I get my fix? How can I catch up to be able to see the new episodes?

To put it in eighties lingo style: Today, an Apple saved my life with this (i)tune. I am so glad that popular ABC shows are available on iTunes!

So, I bought a $25 iTunes gift card at a pharmacy store on my way back from class. I could have paid online if I had a US credit card –a requirement to access the US iTunes, the only one where the shows are available. I redeemed my voucher in a new account and started the download of the full season to date, i.e. 9 episodes for a total of $17.91.

The first episode took a few minutes to download and the others were there by the time I was finished watching the first episode.

To put it in Californian lingo style: That’s awesome, Dude.

I don’t think this is the future of television, but that’s for sure part of the future of TV. The TV business model is very different from the music majors’ and I think there is a great opportunity for the video content producers and broadcasters (for lack of a better denomination) who have made the right move to prevent/circumvent privacy and complement their offering while addressing their customers’ needs:

Because, after all, THIS IS “ease of use”! To be honest, I have downloaded TV shows illegally a couple of years ago, when Friends final season was not aired in France. But getting a show on iTunes is so simple, fast, reliable, safe and cheap that I much prefer to pay $2 per episode than go through the hassle of finding it and retrieving it on any p2p tool that is in fashion at the moment.

I wonder though if this will have an impact on international rights (at least in English speaking countries). In fact, TV is focused on big addictive shows more than ever (including Lost), thus generating a lot of demand which is not met timely outside US borders. In the same way that some of my fellow French citizens have been reconnected to their high-school English when any new Harry Potter book is out (roughly 3 months before the French translation), some (like me) don’t want to wait for the new episodes of a show if they are already available. I guess that’s all the more true if English is your mother tongue or one of your country’s official language!

So, in the same way that people in Australia were asking US friends to buy them iTunes vouchers when the iTunes music store was not available there, I guess we will see people asking for US vouchers to access new episodes of their favourite shows online.

05 January 2006

I’m a Bruin!
I just got my Bruin card.

This is orientation today so some people from Anderson explained to the roughly 20 exchange students of which I am important administrative stuff (that, you would expect) and more exotic facts:

  • how to duck under a table in case of an earthquake and try to avoid
  • steps put in place by UCLA to fight “crime” (there is an “escort” service – hahaha, seriously, that’s a good idea: you can call a UCLA officer to walk you to your car/home/etc.)
  • “Anderson has $900,000 of Art” (hmm, is not art measured in kilograms? Gallons? Square feet?)

More seriously and most importantly, a career service officer explained that we have access to their resources which is very nice because not all schools grant this to visiting students (London does of course) and because they showed us great database of alumni and one of all professionals visitors (something that London Business School should import!).

Finally, UCLA is a great campus. I can’t wait to discover all it has to offer. GO BRUINS! ;)