May 25, 2008

Viva Los Angeles

Friday was a very full day that had us up early and on a plane at 6:00 am from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Coach seats on airplanes these days aren't very conducive to computer work, so as soon as we arrived and got on the 405 toward Century City, Palaniswami was off to work on his MacBook Pro captioning photos from our last few days in New York and San Francisco for TAKA. This whole trip was in the mode of "Go! Go! Go!" from the very beginning, and our day in LA was no exception.

The year-old crystal-and-marble palace at 2000 Avenue of the Stars is the home of The Annenberg Foundation, our first stop, as well as the notorious Creative Artists Agency (the largest in LA) and other Hollywood firms. It's like nothing we have ever seen before. We learned that the elaborate marble stairway (not the one pictured) leading from the street level up to CAA's offices cost $8,000,000 alone. Certainly nothing like this exists on Kauai!

The lobby at The Annenberg Foundation is a beautiful representation of the enormous amount of resources this great organization has to do their charitable work. On their website, they define their mission: "Established in 1989 by Walter H. Annenberg, the Annenberg Foundation provides funding and support to nonprofit organizations in the United States and globally through its headquarters in Radnor, Pennsylvania and offices in Los Angeles, California. Its major program areas are education and youth development; arts, culture and humanities; civic and community; health and human services; and animal services and the environment. In addition, the Foundation operates a number of initiatives which expand and complement these program areas. The Annenberg Foundation exists to advance the public well-being through improved communication. As the principal means of achieving this goal, the Foundation encourages the development of more effective ways to share ideas and knowledge."

We came today to visit Douglas Thompson, who is head of production for the amazing documentaries of the foundation's Explore project, an initiative of trustee Charles Annenberg Weingarten. Douglas is an accomplished video documentary producer at the top of his field. His work is simply amazing. We came to know him through a Kauai journalist, formerly working in LA, who also has a love for making documentaries and hopes to continue her work on our tropical island. Palaniswami begins with a gift of chutney.

The Explore project is taking Charlie all around the world looking deeply into how compassion and giving manifests in various cultures. They have done documentaries about Africa, China, India, Bali, several regions of the US and Costa Rica. Now, Douglas is working on post production for a very involved piece about the Middle East. We were the first to watch his draft cut of a powerful, moving section of the documentary about a community theater for Palestinian children run by a Jewish man.

Next, Douglas took us to the conference room to watch part of their documentary about India (available in its entirety on their website, here) on a big screen. After the showing, Douglas was abundantly generous with his time as we discussed with him our next major video documentary initiative: transforming the 47 chapters of What Is Hinduism? into videos. This is a momentous project for which we need great assistance on many levels, and Douglas was full of insights, answers and expertise about all aspects of documentary making. It was a glorious and productive meeting.

Then we were off to the home and studio of Ben Patrick Johnson, Hollywood's foremost voice-over actor/narrator, as well as author, activist and commentator. We got connected with Ben when we saw en episode of his webcast, Life from the Left Coast, about religious fundamentalism. He made such a clear and concise summary of the phenomenon in many of the world's religions, we had to compliment him on it. We also loved the webcast's motion graphics so much, we wanted to find out who did them so we could get similar graphics made for our online videos (which we are now doing). Right from a professional sound studio in his Hollywood Hills home, Ben works live, via a special high-quality-audio-over-ISDN connection, throughout the day for such networks as CBS and Fox doing voice-overs for television show promos, ads, and for movie studios as the voice on many movie trailers.

While we were there, we watched Ben as he skillfully went back and forth from conversations with us to performing in the sound booth within seconds. Ben will do around a dozen of these sessions each day (once did 23 in a day), sitting before the mic as he reads, re-reads and re-reads little sound bytes, slightly varying inflection and tone of voice until the producers in the production houses on the other end of the connection feel they have just the sound they want.

All throughout our travels, Palaniswami was evangelizing a great tool he has found for taking quick notes by phone while on the go. Jott allows you to make a free call from your cell phone, say whatever you need to say, and then within a few minutes their system transcribes your voice message and e-mails or texts it to you. It's fast, easy, and often far more convenient than writing on paper. Plus, when you get back to your computer, your note is right there in your e-mail, and you can copy and paste it into a calendar or a to do list. As we had a delicious lunch at a vegan restaurant on the border of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, Palaniswami demonstrated Jott to Ben. Later, back in his studio, we had fun writing a spoof advertisement voice-over for Jott. Have a listen:

Palaniswami, Ben and Senthilnathaswami pose for what Ben likes to call "our MySpace photo."

Note: Other photos from our time in the San Francisco Bay Area earlier in the trip (before we started this blog) can be viewed on our main monastery blog, Today at Kauai Aadheenam, here.

May 24, 2008

Lots of Travel

We have been flying and meeting for the past two days and are now back
on Kauai. Stay tuned for a detailed post about our last couple of days.

(Sent from my iPhone)

May 23, 2008

Meet Joe Russell

After our meeting at Adobe Systems, we interviewed a marvelous gentleman from San Francisco for the position of monastery remote IT help desk engineer. The monks have done all their own IT work in-house for many years, and with today's computer and network systems, one can imagine how complicated and time-consuming it has become. Since the monks are monks, and not IT engineers, we've decided to try to get some outside help. Thanks for meeting with us, Joe! Another great outcome of this marvelous, whirlwind voyage to the mainland.

Adobe Systems in San Jose, CA

Yesterday we took the subway from Midtown all the way out to Queens to
JFK airport for our flight back to San Francisco. Upon arrival, we
drove straight down to San Jose for a meeting with some folks in the
Globalization, type and InDesign groups at Adobe Systems, Inc. It was
a productive and enlightening meeting. InDesign and Adobe type
technology are at the core of our communications ministry, and the
opportunity to meet with the publication software giant's engineers
and managers to discuss some of the ways we use and look forward to
using their fine publishing software was a fantastic opportunity. They
thought it was a great chance to meet with some pretty experienced and
sophisticated users and appreciated our visit as well.

An exciting part of the conclave, which included video conferencing
with some team members at Adobe's offices in Seattle, as well as a few
by telephone, was introducing them to an olai, or palmyra palm leaf
page of an ancient Sanskrit manuscript from South India. Jaws dropped
and eyes widened as one of humanity's first forms of type and
publication made its way around the table.

May 21, 2008

Discovering the New York Subway

It was Senthilnathaswami's first adult visit to New York, and since we stayed at Times Square, we had to take the subway morning and evening to and from Soho.

A great adventure if you have not been in the Big Apple before. Monks from Kauai are also quite a sight for locals here, as this girl's gaze reveals.

Siva is everywhere here. This is among His most energetic and kinetic creations. We are off at dawn to get our flight to San Francisco. More on the MediaBistro from the plane. AUM NAMASIVAYA!

Second Day of Our Seminar on New Media

So many marvelous meetings today.

We met two editors of the New York Times digital edition and spoke briefly with them about some of their presentation ideas and samples of how they are presenting information, in this case about the election. Their online interactive tools are truly amazing and have given us great ideas.

Heard hours and hours of talk from the smartest, highest-end people doing things on the web (Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Google, Microsoft, NBC, Razorfish, Kite, The Economist's main editor, a George Lucas team member, Harvard Business editors, Wired magazine editor in chief, Washington Post, Nielsen, etc, etc.) Learned much about how the leaders are thinking, what the future looks like, many little things we may be able to do ourselves back on Kauai in the next year or so.

Walking the West Village

What a beautiful city this is. Greenwich Village is sure a lot
mellower than Times Square!

This place is so... SoHo

User Experience Design

Jon Wiley of Google, Shiv Singh of Avenue A/Razorfish, Tjeerd Hoek of Frog Design and RĂ©gine Debatty of talk astutely about user experience design at Mediabistro Circus day 2.


Palaniswami previews the afternoon sessions while we have lunch.

New York Times editors at Mediabistro Circus Day 2

The topic: Taking Politics Online--A Digital Transformation for The
New York Times

NY Ramakrishna Mission Visit Retrospective

Swami Yuktatmananda is the head of the New York mission, and past editor of the Ramakrishna Mission's major publication. He greeted our traveling swamis with great warmth, saying he has read Hinduism Today for many years. Swami, who was initiated in 1988, shared some precious spiritual advice with our newest swami, Senthilnathaswami.
Swami Yuktatmananda of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center on the upper east side greets Palaniswami on Monday

May 20, 2008

Elisa Camahort Page talks today about how blogging can change how we take action in the world

In the ring at the Mediabistro Circus

Mediabistro Circus- Day 1 Paramacharya Palaniswami and Sannyasin Senthilnathaswami are in New York attending the Mediabistro Circus, "a two-day summit about the digital platforms and trends that are changing media." (Photo: Paramacharya Palaniswami speaks with folks from Texterity about their digital edition platform just before the first session)

Palaniswami is the Editor-in-Chief of Hinduism Today Magazine, published from Kauai's Hindu Monastery in Hawaii. Senthilnathaswami is an Assistant Editor. Hinduism Today has been publishing since 1979, and after evolving through the small-form newspaper format to the multi-color broadsheet format, became a glossy, full-color magazine in late 1996. In 1994 the monks opened a website which has since become one of the premier websites on the Hindu religion on the planet. In 2006, the magazine launched its Digital Edition, a simple, PDF-based edition available for free online.

The monks are confident in their abilities to produce print media after almost five decades of serving the broader, billion-strong global Hindu congregation through this two-dimensional format of little black characters, and the images that prevent them from bumping into each other, vying for position on flattened pieces of wood pulp. Currently, they see the need to make their materials available to the current generation of Hindus who, as members of nearly every nation in the world, are no less technosavvy than their peers of other faiths, and nonfaiths. With the ever-changing atmosphere of Web 2.0 technologies being embraced by today's webocrats, the editors of Hinduism Today recognized a need to get up to speed listening to the experienced speak on what they have done, what they are doing, what is working, what isn't work, and the exciting new directions in which web-based media technologies are going. That's what the Mediabistro Circus, put on by the fine folks at Mediabistro, is all about.

Today's sessions were:
  • Publishing: From Print to Digital
  • Blogging
  • Keynote: Chris Anderson
  • Video
  • Social Media

Mediabistro Circus-Day1Photo: Anil Dash, Elisa Camahort Page, Eric Hellweg and Noah Shachtman answer questions after the session on blogging

Needless to say, we are excited about blogging and other Web 2.0 technologies presented today, and here we are writing a blog about our journey here.

Stay tuned tomorrow as we post photos and short reports directly to this blog from our iPhone (yes, monks with iPhones).

Photos courtesy Mediabistro Circus flickr set here.