Friday, September 25, 2009


Every now and then something work-related leads to something humorous and shareable with non-work colleagues and friends...

One of my job duties is to serve as Privacy Officer. You might think that means keeping the company's secrets secret, but in fact it means safe-guarding sensitive and protected information about individuals that comes into the company's possession. Though that might sound glamorous, it's really not and amounts to little more than "reviewing voluminous documents" (a favorite catchphrase among lawyers regardless of specialization or practice) and redacting, where necessary. I recently had to do some research on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and, on a lark, I "wikipediaed" FOIA.

It's a fairly long, fairly dry entry about this otherwise important legislation. But if you scroll down to the subsection on Barbara Schwarz, you're in for a real treat.

Apparently, Ms. Schwarz maintains the dubious distinction of having filed more FOIA requests than any other person on this Earth. Why? Ms. Schwarz claims that, instead of being born in Germany in 1966, she was actually born in 1956 in a "secret government submarine" base under the Great Salt Lake. If you didn't think the story could get any weirder, it does, as Ms. Schwarz also claims she is the daughter of L. Ron Hubbard.

Ms. Schwarz has managed to tie up the docket of a U.S. District Court or Court of Appeals since 1993 with her requests for information, and much to no avail. I could go on and recount every single fact mentioned in the wiki article, but that would make for lazy writing. (And let's just ignore the fact that's all I've really done here.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Memo to JJ Abrams

To: JJ Abrams
From: Brian O'Rourke, A Moviegoer Of Little To No Importance
Date: 9/20/09
RE: Mission: Impossible IV

There's been a lot of buzz recently about two sequels: Star Trek 2 and Mission: Impossible IV. Mr. Abrams, you are no doubt receiving more advice, ideas, and feedback than you know what to do with regarding Star Trek 2, so I won't burden you with more of the same. I was wondering, however, if you'd care to listen to some advice on how to make the next installment of the bumpy and uneven series that is Mission: Impossible into a really good movie.

To begin with, let's recap the series thus far. 1996's Mission: Impossible turned the concept of the TV series on its head. In the first twenty minutes of the movie, Ethan Hunt, our hero, watches helplessly as each member of his team dies pretty a horrific death while on a very important mission. To make matters worse, after Hunt has seen all this happen, the brass accuse him of the murders and of being a double agent, selling secrets on the side. I say this movie turned the series on its head because Mission: Impossible the TV series had always been more of a team show. The better episodes employed intricate plotting, where each character had an important role in the mission, and thus the stories had many moving parts. This really amped up the suspense and the fun of the show. By virtue of killing off Hunt's team in the beginning of the 1996 film, the movie necessarily became more of a one-man show. On the whole, the first film is well-shot (of course it is, because the underrated Brian DePalma directed it) and well-acted, and the opening thirty minutes of the movie create a real sense of paranoia in the spy world of smoke and mirrors. There is a great set piece in the middle of the film, too, where Hunt manages to break into the CIA, which has been parodied time and time again in the ensuing thirteen years. It's a decent film that comes off the rails toward the end because of hopelessly convoluted plotting and the ridiculous final action set piece.

Without exaggeration, MI: II is one of the worst movies I've ever seen in the theater. The sequel essentially turns Hunt into an American James Bond, a somewhat roguish agent who bickers with his handler, and who of course manages to find the time while on a mission to meet and fall in love with a beautiful woman. John Woo sticks to his own rule of having at least three chase scenes in every movie he makes, and really does little else. The mask trick is overused in this movie and that unfortunately carries through to the next film. And gone again is the team aspect that made the series so cool: Hunt, a larger-than-life super spy, braves it mostly alone throughout. and the usually cool Ving Rhames is along for the ride only to remind us of how dangerous and cool Hunt is.

MI: III is the best of the series. Its plot is more plausible than the first film; the action, while over-the-top, isn't overblown like in the second film; and Abrams allows most of his characters to develop into people with real interpersonal relationships. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laurence Fishburne make the most of relatively small parts, and the plot has some really good turns. Still, though, Cruise dominates the story, and much of the plot is devoted to Hunt balancing the demands of his career with a normal married existence. The film could have been called Family Life: Impossible, and the title would have been just as appropriate.

So, what do I have by way of advice for MI: IV? If you haven't already guessed it, here it is: go back to the concept of the TV show. Make the mission the most important thing going on in the plot and allow it to dominate the second act. Make this next film into more of a team effort, where every character has an important job to do, as opposed to just waiting around for Hunt to work his magic and scrambling to keep up with him while he's working. Put all of the characters in danger. Make us think the mission could go wrong at any juncture, not just when Hunt is involved. Make it so the mission really does seem impossible.

Each movie so far has shown Hunt at odds with his administration. Let's not go there again. Let the focus be on the enemies from without, as opposed to the enemies from within. A good old-fashioned good guys versus bad guys scenario will actually be a breath of fresh air in this series.

Finally, you transformed super spy Hunt into a seemingly real person in MI: III. Bravo, well done. That was a nice counterpoint to the cartoonery of MI: II. But we don't need any more of that. If you want to continue the spy managing a real home life thread, by all means do so, but don't make it the point of the movie. If you want, turn Hunt into the next Jim Phelps, a character the series has been sorely missing, a true leader, not a maverick agent who occasionally needs help from other spies.

Or, just go ahead and do what you want because you seem to know exactly what you're doing, if Star Trek's box office is any indication.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wikipedia's 16th Biggest Blunder

Contrary to what the Brian O'Rourke wikipedia page may claim, I am not an Irish lord from the mid to late 16th century. I have never offended Queen Elizabeth (and it's a good thing too), and I have also never been extradited within Great Britain for treason "over the seas"...

Okay, obviously the wiki page is not about me but about someone much cooler, Lord Brian na Múrtha Ó Ruairc, an Irish dude who apparently did all these things. According to the article, he was a fairly learned Irish chieftain, though also addled by the sin of pride and brazen enough to assist the Spanish friggen Armada after one of its battles with the Royal Navy.

The O'Rourkes were the historic rulers of Breifne, and I've heard the old castle is still over there, somewhere in County Leitrim. On our sole trip to Ireland, the wife and I did not make it to Country Leitrim unfortunately. But, according to a very drunken Irish fella who once stood at the urinal next to the one I was using one night in Union Jack's Pub in Glenside, PA, "Leitrim? There's f----ng nothing up there." So apparently I wasn't missing much. The merry fella had a good laugh at his quip, and by the time I figured out exactly what he said (the accent coupled with the alcohol made his speech nearly incomprehensible to me), he had already exited the bog.

But now I'm rambling. Anyway, the title of this post refers to this article, which lists wikipedia's greatest blunders of all time. It's pretty funny. I especially enjoyed the eighth entry, which claimed that "The University of Cincinnati's former president is a whore." Wow.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bill Gates Owes Me Money

And with the baby girl on the way, it couldn't come at a better time!

As part of some marketing tool, Microsoft and AOL are running an email beta test. I received the email in question today and discovered that for every person I forwarded it to, I would receive $245.00. For every person I forwarded the email to who later forwarded it to someone else, I would receive $243.00. Etc, etc.

So what did I do, you ask? Promptly, I forwarded the subject email to 20 friends. Yes, that means I have at the least $4900 coming to me. Pay up, Mr. Gates, I want my money. Baby Girl O'Rourke will be here soon...


Yes, this isn't real. Nate Green, one of the unfortunate souls I sent this to on a lark, was quick to send me this link explaining the origin of the hoax.

Am I dupe? Yes. Did it give me something to blog about? Yes. Fair trade. Matter of fact, I think that puts me ahead.

Thank you, Bill Gates and all you Internet pranksters out there.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

1 Equals 0.999....

This post concerns the weirdest, and possibly the coolest, thing I ever learned when studying math in high school and briefly in college.

Did you all know that the number 1 equals the repeating decimal 0.999...? Or, another way of saying it, did you know that the repeating decimal 0.999.... denotes a real number equal to 1?

I'm not making this up. For a more detailed (and better) explanation, check out the wiki article.

If you haven't clicked through to the link yet, here's the short-hand explanation.

1/3 = 0.333...
3 x 1/3 = 3 x 0.333...
1 = 0.999...


You may be asking why I'm writing about this. Truth be told, I've always been fascinated by this "problem," and I encountered it recently during some research I was doing for a sci-fi novel. I won't begin to try and explain the real-world ramifications of this wonderful puzzle. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure there are any. What could it mean? Is this a problem inherent in our base-10 system of mathematics, or would this appear in all mathematical systems?

It's always cool to reexamine things taken for granted in a new light. Good fiction does this in many ways, one of them being the plot twist. A good plot twist is a plausible turn of events that forces us to reevaluate everything we've seen.

Still though, it's just crazy to think of the number 1, one of the very first things we learn, as being the same as 0.999...