Tag Archives: Facebook

“What’s This ‘We’ Stuff, Filmmaker?”

Dear Filmmaker,

I like your Facebook page and I’ve noticed that sometimes the posts and statuses use the first person singular and sometimes the first person plural. So, what’s this “we” stuff?


Dear DR,

It’s so nice of you to like A Life’s Work on Facebook, thanks.

It’s true, sometimes the first person plural is used. A couple of examples, “You know we’re all over this!” accompanied a link to the latest news about Voyager 1 officially leaving the solar system. “We like Tesla!” accompanied an infographic about Nikola Tesla.

You might also notice that some posts originate “near Roanoke, VA.”

Have I finally cloned myself and one of us relocated to the “Oke”? Or am I just going mad?

I’m afraid it’s nothing quite so spectacular. I am simply not the only person posting stuff on the A Life’s Work FB page. I have inveigled the awesome William Heffner and the awesome Christine Lofgren to help, and they do a wonderful job posting links, photos, and videos pertinent to the film, its subjects, and its themes. In addition to finding all this great stuff that I don’t seem to find, they bring new life and voices to the page, and by extension, to the project.

Though many people have worked on A Life’s Work, and many more will in the future, at times it is a very lonely endeavor. Among other things, William and Christine remind me that I’m not doing this alone, that there is a community interested in this work. And that’s invaluable. And I hope you don’t mind if Iuse this post to thank them.

Two flowers to thank you two.

Thank you. You two are awesome!

And thank you, DR, for the question and for liking. You are awesome, too.


The Filmmaker

If you’d like to join in the fun, send me an email [ d a v i d at b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {dot} com ] and we’ll make it happen. And like I’ve noted before, there are many ways to get involved with the film (including posing a question to the filmmaker), so why not consider becoming part of our little family. We ask next to nothing of you, unlike your real family.

Science Literacy, Carl Sagan, Jill Tarter

Did you read the Op Ed in last week’s New York Times about how our society has become “ambivalent, even skeptical, about the fruits of science”? (Read Welcome to the Age of Denial by Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester.) It’s a scary read, but one worth reading and getting riled up about.

I’d like to address a couple of sentences in the article.

“During my undergraduate studies I was shocked at the low opinion some of my professors had of the astronomer Carl Sagan. For me his efforts to popularize science were an inspiration, but for them such “outreach” was a diversion. That view makes no sense today… The enthusiasm and generous spirit that Mr. Sagan used to advocate for science now must inspire all of us.”

I shared the article with a scientist friend and we had an interesting exchange about it on Facebook. Here it is.


Me: It’s funny, I had an astronomy class in 1983 or 84, and I remember asking my professor about Sagan and he was dismissive, too. Like it was a bad thing to be a popularizer!

Scientist Friend: Well it was because if you were popularizing you probably weren’t doing research yourself or publishing in scientific journals.

Me:  I suppose. But it seems like tunnel vision to dismiss him and his popularizing. But I guess this is the case in many fields, not just science.

SF: Yeah, I guess it’s analogous to making a Hollywood film or having a hit on the pop charts.

Me: That’s exactly what I was thinking. Suddenly, you’re not doing the “important” work, you’ve sold out, and you’ve lost the respect of your peers.

SF: Although now he’s seen as an inspiration. And I think Neil deGrasse Tyson is everybody’s hero.

Me: He is. One of the most vivid memories I have of interviewing Jill Tarter was when I asked her about Sagan. (They were colleagues.) She said, “Carl was SPEC-TACULAR!” I think NDT has filled that void a little bit. His passion really comes through.

This article also inspired an exchange between me and another friend, DL, who posted the link on his Facebook page.2+2=5

DL: “we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe.” from the above link. Why? WHY? and as David Licata said, what to do about it? This is really eating at me.

Me: Somewhere in the last 50 years or so, some people started confusing science with faith. “Believe” in evolution? I fear mathematics is next. “2+2=4 for you, but I choose to believe 2+2=5, so there.” From there, it’s straight down the crapper.

DL: Yeah, if math goes it all goes. I think part of the problem is misunderstanding coverage in the press about the latest study and the trending hypothesis. These are confused with scientific “facts” and it creates the illusion that science is constantly being overturned, so in the long run nothing science tells us can really be trusted.

Me: I think you nailed it. And no one seems to be educating people about how science “works,” about the scientific method. Welcome to the Middle Ages!

Now if I may, I’d like to end this post on a more positive note and return to when I spoke to Jill Tarter about Carl Sagan.

I first met Carl at a really really special meeting one afternoon at the Lawrence Berkeley labs when Luis Alvarez and his son Walter talked about their results of finding a fine layer of iridium right at the boundary layer between the Cretaceous and the Tertiary geological periods where the dinosaur extinction happened. And their thesis that what had killed off the dinosaurs was an impact from a comet or an asteroid which has a richer, enrichment in iridium relative to terrestrial values. And that this had produced an cataclysmic explosion and a dark ages, a winter that had killed off the dinosaurs. And so that was the first time I ever met Carl, at that meeting, and it was the start of a wonderful scientific adventure story…

Carl Sagan was actually a member of the board of trustees of the SETI Institute at the time of his death and we talked to him about what it was like to do SETI. He was in a number of workshops with us on this question because if anybody was thinking about the idea of extraterrestrial intelligence Carl was always invited and we were, too. So it was a great opportunity to talk. And so he knew about the technologies we used. He knew about the look and feel. What it would be like. The kinds of signals that we were capable of detecting. And all of that went into the background for Contact. Which is why the science is so good in that novel.


And as we all know, Sagan based the Ellie Arroway character in Contact (Jodie Foster in the movie) loosely on Tarter.

What do you think? Is the world going to hell in a science-illiterate handbasket?


Sifting Through the Hullabaloo

I wanted to share this lovely comment a friend left on the A Life’s Work Facebook page.

This made my day!
This made my day!

Thank you, Friend I’ve known since the mid-80s and whom I did not pay to leave that comment. I try: here on the blog, with the film, with the stuff posted on the Facebook page, and with the writing.

If this blog ever helped you sift through the hullabaloo or made you smile or made you ponder something you might not ordinarily ponder,  and you felt like showing your appreciation, leave a comment here or on the FB page. If you felt like showing your appreciation monetarily, you can make a tax-deductible donation to A Life’s Work. The money (and the lack of money is the reason why this film is taking so long to complete) goes directly to the film through its sponsor, The New York Foundation for the Arts, and they make sure that the money goes toward the film and not a Las Vegas vacation. Now is a great time to make a donation. Click here if you’d like to give as little as $5. Every little bit helps this film get closer to living its life in the world and not just on m  computer.

Other Platforms, Other Comments

A Life’s Work blog has, at last count, 587 comments (since I reply to all comments, about half of them are mine). But many people are shy about leaving a comment on the blog but not so shy about leaving a comment on Facebook. Here then, a couple of great comments that might have slipped under the radar.

A Comment Regarding SETI’s Jill Tarter on Gender Bias in the 1950s: A Clip

One of my favorite clips from David Licata’s film, A Life’s Work, and a note to David, when I was in high school the choice was Home Ec or Vo Ag (vocational agriculture), I didn’t like the Ag teacher so I had to take Home Ec, the only class I ever failed. Still trying to write a poem about that!


M.E., I’m still eagerly awaiting that poem!

A Comment Regarding Steely Dan and A Life’s Work (wherein I went off on the guitar solo in Peg)

I love the geeky grandeur of this post. I have a lot of things like that in my head as I write, too, metaphors that (I assume) make sense only to me. It’s great to hear one explicated like this.

Related note: the great English stage actor Ralph Richardson was a classical music fanatic. From his favorite director (I wish I could remember who it was!) he would get notes only in classical music. “That moment is a little more Bartok,” that kind of thing. Worked perfectly.


PS – I embody all sides of the Steely Dan debate. I can change from loving to hating them within a single day.

There are lessons to be learned (or reminded of) in these old theater stories. Thanks for sharing that one, J.Y.

I used to try to convince people to leave comments on the blog and not on Facebook, but now I don’t care. I just like it when you comment. So please, keep them coming.

Crowdfunding and A Life’s Work: Advice from a Consultant

Back in the summer of 2010, when the A Life’s Work blog was just a mere baby blog, a reader took advantage of the Ask the Filmmaker feature to ask about crowdfunding:

Dear Filmmaker,

Have you considered using Kickstarter for A Life’s Work?


I get asked this about once a month, and the answer I gave then and the answer I’ll give now, even after working as a “crowdfunding consultant” on two films, Out on a Limb and Humble Beauty: Skid Row Artists (happening now!  campaign ends 11:59pm, Sept 15, 2012!) are pretty much the same.

Yes, but…

I still believe people are more willing to help out when the film is closer to completion. Or perhaps even completed and marketing and distribution funds are needed. That stuff costs a bundle and filmmakers are notorious for not budgeting for them. And the amount I need to get the film near completion is well above what I can raise via crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding Lessons Learned
David Licata, crowdfunding consultant
David Licata (right), crowdfunding consultant.

When I tell friends about my crowdfunding consultant hat (I’m available, email me), they often comment that I must be learning a lot that will come in handy when  I’m ready to fire up A Life’s Work’s campaign. And they’re right, I have. Here’s the short list.

  1. Start early. Like, yesterday. The one good thing about the pace of A Life’s Work is that it has allowed me to build an audience. (You, dear reader!) It’s also given me time to collect materials and jot down ideas that I might use during the campaign.
  2. Don’t even think of doing it alone. Enlist three, four, or more people to help, and those people should have skills that fill certain needs. Get a person who’s good on the phones to make calls to foundations and corporations. They sometimes have discretionary funds and if your project fits nicely with their mission, you might get lucky. Get a social media wizard, or two. These people know how to spread the word. Get a writer who can produce updates and eblasts (this is usually my role). All of these people  should be social media savvy and have large networks they can appeal to. And please pay these people. Well.
  3. Give away good perks. Every filmmaker gives away DVDs and posters. Try to think beyond that. A sci-fi graphic novel I recently gave to offered to name characters after donors of a certain level. A friend of mine who crowdfunded an upcoming artist residency to the Arctic Circle offered to send postcards from exotic stops on her way to the top of the world.
  4. Use a lot of images. On your fundraising page and in your pitches on Facebook, etc. A captivating image is more likely to be shared on FB than any text. The writer part of me dislikes this. The filmmaker part of me thinks this is just fine.
  5.  Make a great pitch video. Don’t be afraid to show your personality. Don’t go over five minutes. Do tell the viewer why your project is different and awesome and what the world needs now!

This is my starter list. More to come in a future post.

And Remember

Even though A Life’s Work is not crowfunding at the moment, you can still support the film monetarily. You can contribute as little as $5 and as much as $15,000 online, and since A Life’s Work is a sponsored project of the New York Foundation for the Arts, whatever amount you contribute is tax-deductible. To donate, click here. It’s super easy. Any amount is greatly appreciated and helps in many ways. And I’ll send you something nifty in return.





Designing SETI Institute Graphics: Guest Blogger Danielle Futselaar

(I’m thrilled that guest blogger Danielle Futselaar took time out from her very busy schedule to write the following post about her association with the SETI Institute. In her non-native tongue, no less.

I met Danielle through the wonderful world of Facebook. She somehow found out about A Life’s Work — drawn to it by SETI — and a correspondence began.  Danielle is a graphic designer and illustrator and owner of ArtSource Graphic Design. She has been — for a year now — the volunteer graphic designer for the SETI Institute. She lives in Arnhem, Netherlands.)

Is it not weird, how some things happen, and how you then wonder that things might happen for a reason, or how extraordinary it is that it happened at all?

My involvement with SETI and the SETI Institute has been such a thing.

I’ve always been interested in sci-fi and SETI. Who hasn’t wondered if we are alone in the universe? Many a time my husband and I gazed at the sky talking about stuff like that… (My husband has like 300 books on the subject.)

SETI reseacher Seth Shostak and I had communicated via email for a little while, and through him I learned more about his work, the Institute, Big Picture Science (their radio show). Two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Seth in person in San Francisco. He’s an inspiration when it comes to SETI research and the SETI Institute and all things astronomy.


Heeding SETI’s Distress Signal

When I heard that the Institute was in financial distress, and that the Allen Telescope Array was being put in hibernation because of that, I felt I had to come to their aid. So I digitally screamed out over the Internet how horrible their situation was, gave them ideas to improve their marketing and offered my help as a concept developer and graphic designer. My offer went unanswered.

Four months later I was ready to throw in my towel (and that’s the worst thing for a Douglas Adams fan like me). I wrote SETI again and they apologized (like a thousand times) and explained that they had not seen my offers and ideas, and if I still wanted to help, they’d be interested. That’s how it began, right when I thought it was over, it really only just began…

So I created some stuff, for TeamSETI, and for the Christmas membership appeal 2011. This led to designing a poster for SETIcon II (see image). When the people of the Institute saw that they were super excited. They LOVED it. I think they responded to the Drake Equation in the soap-bubbles…

Please Danielle, Can We Have More?

And then they said they really wanted three posters…This led to all the graphic work for SETIcon. I work alone and have for many years. I don’t subcontract or have employees. Needless to say, this turned out to be a lot of work for many months.

I designed a total of four posters, and everything else that needed to be done, from online-banners in many shapes and sizes, name-tags, directional signs, agenda boards, to eventually the program flyer… and I designed a lot of other stuff for the Institute as well, but that’s another story. I also created an artist impression of “Astroid Minerva and its two Moons,” a drawing based on the discovery by Franck Marchis, one of the SETI scientists.

The Rewards of Volunteering for SETI

They were so happy and thankful for everything I had done that they asked me to join a panel to discuss the topic “imagining exoplanets, artists getting it right” because of this Artist Impression. Franck Marchis will be the moderator of this panel. And I was also asked if I would like to have my illustrations in an exhibition! (Uhhh… Yeah!)

And that’s where we are now…

I am kind of nervous because I will finally meet those people I have worked so hard for. They will all be there — Seth, Jill Tarter, Frank Drake, Franck Marchis — all the graphic work I created will be there. Is it OK for me to be nervous?

To be continued …



Planting a Bristlecone Pine Tree: Interview with Christine Lofgren

Not too long ago I discovered that one of my Facebook friends, Christine Lofgren, had planted a bristlecone pine tree. I asked her if she’d grant me an email interview and she humored me, so here it is. Thanks, Christine.

I understand you had the privilege of planting a bristlecone pine tree. Can you tell me how that came about? When and where did you plant it?

In the summer of 1993, I was lucky enough to perform my internship for my B.S. degree in parks & recreation management at the Coconino County Fairgrounds located in Fort Tuthill Park in Flagstaff, AZ. Along with my work in the office helping to organize the county fair and learning how to properly pronounce “Coconino” when I answered the phone, my “long-term” project for the summer was to spruce up a run-down nature trail in the park.

While I was first walking the trail to give it the once over, I also decided that putting together a guidebook pointing out the different plants & features along the way would not only be fun & interesting, but would no doubt assure me an “A” for my internship. It was during my research for this guidebook that I learned about the bristlecone pine tree, and was very impressed to discover that they are the oldest living things on the planet, with some thought to be up to 5,000 years old. Later during the summer, I also found out that 1993 was the 65th anniversary of the incorporation of the city of Flagstaff, and I came up with the idea of planting a bristlecone pine tree at the nature trail in commemoration of this date.

What were you thinking and feeling as you planted this thing that could potentially live for thousands of years?

The tree was just a small sapling, and looked just like any normal pine tree would. It seemed very fragile for something with so much potential, and didn’t look anything like the gnarled and twisted older bristlecone pine trees I had seen pictures of. This was the first tree I ever planted, and I have a horrible track record of slowly killing any houseplants I’ve tried to care for, so I was also hoping I wouldn’t do the same with this little guy. I planted “him” (it seemed like a “him” to me by this point) near the end of the trail at the edge of an open meadow, with a picture-perfect view of the San Francisco Peaks in the distance.

After I had planted the tree in his freshly dug hole and wished him luck surviving my black thumb, I was thinking about how maybe hundreds, or even thousands, of years from now, long, long after I’m gone, this little sapling might look like one of those twisted and gnarled pines in the pictures, and might still be here, enjoying the beautiful view. It’s kind of difficult to put into words, but I guess I was feeling the sense of amazement you sometimes get when you can glimpse the big picture and understand how the puzzle pieces of life should fit together. As I’m writing this, I hope that my little guy has made it, and I’m envisioning that beautiful view I hope he’s still enjoying.

When I interviewed Jared Milarch, he said when you see a bristlecone pine, it’s a different “wow factor” than when you see a redwood, for example. Did you find that to be true? What was that “wow factor” for you?

Well, the tree just looked like any little pine sapling would, but, yes, there was a certain “wow” factor in that this small little tree could one day possibly be a strong & mighty tree; it might still be around not just hundreds, but thousands, of years from now, and who knows what it will see in its lifetime? I guess I felt a lot of respect for that little tree, and that the inherent wisdom it contained at this young age already made it far wiser than I would ever be in my lifetime.

Have you been back since you planted?

Unfortunately, no. Now I’m having thoughts of a road trip to Flagstaff with a mission to see if the tree made it and how it might look after all these years.

Did you have a favorite tree as a kid? Do you have a favorite species of tree now?

No, I never had a favorite tree as a kid, and I don’t have any favorite species now. I know it sounds corny, but they are each unique & special in their own way, and each has it’s own important role in the web of life.

Well, now that I’m thinking about it, we did have a tree house when I was a kid, so I especially loved that tree, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what kind of tree it was, except that it wasn’t a pine tree, and definitely not a bristelcone pine tree!

When we first communicated, you mentioned a project you thought you wouldn’t see completed in your lifetime. Can you tell me about that?

I could write a lot about this, but I’ll try and keep it short & sweet, I’m working on helping to end factory farming. I do what I can to educate others, and I’ve been working as an intern (volunteer really) with the Humane Society of the United States’ Farmed Animal Welfare Department, helping out with things like fact-checking papers, etc. I’m not a vegetarian, but the lives the animals on these “farms” live is truly horrific, from the day they are born until the day they die. There are a lot of other very serious concerns stemming from factory farming, including pollution & environmental threats, overuse of antibiotics & growing antibiotic resistance, putting small & healthy farms out of business, and the threat to a safe food supply.

Factory farming is not only extremely inhumane, it’s one of the biggest threats out there that a lot of people don’t seem to be aware of. For instance, a 2006 U.N. report states that livestock production puts out more greenhouse gas emissions that the entire transportation sector (cars, trucks, trains, everything). The list goes on and on, but this is a very complicated issue, with a lot of strong and very wealthy industrial lobbyists. While I do see small improvements in the welfare of these animals happening in my lifetime, I unfortunately don’t see a complete end to factory farming happening until after I’m gone. That thought can be depressing, but does that mean I shouldn’t do what I can and am able to do to help in my lifetime? As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” While the justice will happen after I’m gone, I’m doing what I can in my lifetime to help that arc in its journey towards that goal. (To learn more about Christine’s work, email her at c l o f 1 0 1 [a t } g m a i l { d o t ] c o m )

Here’s a clip of Jared Milarch talking about the oldest of the old.

The awesome Starlee Kine hipped me to this Radiolab story about the Prometheus Tree, which according to the ring count (4,844 rings/years), was older than Methuselah. It starts around 14:50 seconds in, but the first segment is worth a listen as well.