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I have been writing in this space for a few years now. Visit the archives to get a feel for my style.
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Saturday, March 02, 2002
The inventor of modern voice mail died yesterday. His name was Gordon Matthews. He was 65.
One day, while standing in the rain near a dumpster, he noticed a huge pile of those pink "While You Were Out" slips. He thought "What if we didn't need those slips of paper anymore?"
He built prototypes, and eventually filed the patent (4,371,752) that was the birth of the modern voice mail era. His first systems were bought by 3M. Other companies soon followed. The company he founded to build and sell voice mail systems would eventually earn millions of dollars in royalties on this technology.
I am not a heavy voice mail user now. As it is, I only receive one or two messages a week. At my last job, however, I was a voice mail geek. I changed my greeting every day: "Today is Friday, March 1. You have reached Rick Umali." The five to ten people who left voice mail for me would know I was in. One of my colleagues configured his voice mail box to send a message to his pager, so he knew whenever a voice mail message arrived for him. Despite my dearth of incoming messages, I couldn't imagine working in an office without voice mail.
Gordon Matthews changed the way businesses work. RIP.
Tuesday, February 26, 2002
I really enjoyed Watching Ellie, a new television series starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
The show started with a potentially weak gag (running late, Julia's character, Ellie, finds that water is overflowing from her toilet tank), but the show used this device to introduce some funny characters. The show also had a timer, set at the lower-left corner of the television picture, faint, but noticeable. The timer emphasized the 'real time' nature of the show, and it was somewhat disconcerting. The timer started at 21 minutes, and ticked down to 00:00, like watching some sporting event.
The last time I watched something in "real time" was the movie Timecode. And that movie featured four simultaneous screens, each quite watchable. When I saw the first edit in Watching Ellie, I thought "how could this be realtime if there's editing?" But by the end of the show, you really felt late when Ellie finally arrives on stage at the end of the episode, knowing all she went through in the past twenty minutes.
I'm trying to think of a 20 minute block out of my life that would be worthy of television dramatization. I thinking the moments before my wedding (I smoke a cigarette while my brother Ron and great friend (and usher) James try to get to the church in a car that's running out of gas; we eventually stop at a gas station). I'm thinking the ten minutes before and the ten minutes after Mia was born. I'm thinking the twenty minutes I interviewed with the president of the first company I worked for after college.
It will be a challenge for Watching Ellie to match the perfect pacing of their premiere episode. I think it will also be hard to figure out moments in Ellie's life that are suited for a real-time presentation. Good scripts and good editing can help, but for how long?
Monday, February 25, 2002
I'll admit it. I rooted for the Canadian hockey team for Sunday's Olympic gold medal match against the United States. The Canadian's won 5-2.
I rooted for Canada for one reason: Paul Kariya. This stellar hockey star is plying his trade for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. It's not clear to me that he'll win a Stanley Cup with this team. I like to think that the Olympic Gold Medal would be a cherished hockey victory for him. During the telecast, the announcers said that Kariya was the fateful last shooter in the penalty shoot-out between Canada and Sweden in 1994. For the record, he was stopped (by goalie Tommy Salo).
I watched Paul Kariya way back in his college hockey days (early 1990s), playing for the University of Maine. One night, at Northeastern's Matthew's Arena, I watched as he buzzed up and down the ice with frightening ease. His slapper was hard and fast, and it was easy to see that he would be an NHL player. Alas, the Ducks haven't amounted to anything, but Paul is loyal (or biding his time). I'm glad he won with Canada at the Olympics.