Tuesday, August 12, 2014

...And 7 hours later, we'd built a playground in Oakland

Last Friday, I joined forces with many of my Disney-company counterparts from ABC7 News, Disney Store, Lucasfilm, Disney Interactive and more around the Bay Area to build a "dream playground" for the kids of the Millsmont neighbourhood in Oakland, CA.

Thanks to incredible organization and dedication of KaBOOM!, councilwoman Desley Brooks, the City of Oakland, and Disney VoluntEARS, we somehow managed to get it from (pretty much) start to finish in 7 hours!

A few weeks before, local kids from the Millsmont neighbourhood met with a "design team" to get their ideas on paper and design their dream playground. And last Friday, we built it!

We got there nice and early and got divided up into teams, and were immediately rollin' on our tasks. I was on the "Lettuce" team and our job was to spread gravel in the area which would eventually house the planters/vegetable garden. We also tamped the ground and made it nice and level, with expert guidance from the experts at the Oakland Parks Dept.

Let's do this!
"Oy, how are we gonna mix all these bags of 80lb concrete?!"
Nikki believes in us
Pre-work selfie
Making new friends from other Disney companies :)
Hard at work
Lynda taking care of business
Party time
Look, we see ourselves on the ABC7 News Live feed!
After a great morning of spreading and tamping, we were asked to go help the concrete mixing and pouring team; they had 30,000 lbs of concrete to get through, and it was incredibly hard work! This turned it up a NOTCH. This work was way harder but also super amazing. I was quite keen to use this time off to do some much needed away-from-my-desk-epic-exercise as well as donating my time to a local community service project... so the more intense the work, the better! And oh man, was it epic!

Mixing the concrete was a tough job but lifting the concrete bags was the hardest. They were 80 lbs each, and I must have lifted about 40 of them all afternoon! That rocked. "Lift with your legs!" As we continued the hard work with truly excellent construction workers supervising us and directing us, it was really satisfying to see the playground turn into reality. I moved around a lot after eating some very tasty lunch they provided, and tried the herb garden planting, shoveling, and ultimately went back to lifting concrete bags, pouring water and mixing concrete, and (my favourite activity), taking finished wheelbarrows of concrete from the mixing area and dumping it into the playground structure foundation.

The playground is turning into something real...
Epic dragon slide! And some of our fancy concrete work
Planters for flowers and herb garden
Lucasfilm gets the job done!
After an awesome 7 hours of work, councilwoman Desley Brooks told us that the building behind her was burned down 12 years ago, soon after she became the councilwoman for this district. She said one lady asked her way back then "when will it be rebuilt?" Desley told the lady that "there just isn't any money to rebuild this park" -- and she said she knew that was a bad answer and she would work hard over many years to change that reality.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks talking about her Oakland District and how they will benefit from our work
Later she not only got it rebuilt and did other work in the park, but she organized all the work for the grant to make this park build happen this past week. She seems like an incredible and dedicated lady (her banner says "tireless", that's a perfect adjective!) and certainly made true on her promise to rebuild this park.

I met a man at lunch who was participating from the Oakland community, and asked him how he got involved. Turns out he is a preacher at a church in Oakland, where "we get drug dealers, and people in gangs, and everything. We welcome everyone." What a bunch of amazing people. This man was really an incredible person too, really funny, and a kindhearted soul. It was awesome to meet people like him there, and people who came with the optimistic spirit of making their community better. He told me this park used to be overrun with drug dealers, and he was hoping this project would really help continue to turn it around and make it a welcoming, safe place for Oakland's children and families. The spirit and dream of making the world a better place is something I care a lot about, and it was beaming from all the smiles and sweaty brows at this great event.

We did it!!
Sweet rock climbing thing, and that slide rocks
Impromptu dance party
Planting some tasty basil
Concrete mixing
Before and after!
Dan Ashley and a whole lot of very recognizable faces from ABC7 News were there as well, and some of the news team REALLY got into it! One of the guys I recognized was mixing concrete for at least a couple of hours, the hardest job and the messiest. It was great that everyone really got into the spirit of the event.

As Dan Ashley says in the above video, "there is much more we could all do to lend a hand where it's needed... it's a drop in the bucket, but at least it's a drop. Volunteerism can change the world, literally. Good people did something good at Concordia Park today... but there is much more to be done, and we should all resolve to do our part." Beautifully put!

I loved this event and it was especially fantastic because of the extreme good nature and organization of all the people who planned it and donated their time and effort. We arrived, most of us had no construction experience, and we all worked hard together for the same cause, for a more positive future for some children and families that we will most likely never meet. This is the real aim of "tikkun olam" (lit. "repairing the world"), and as Dan Ashley so finely puts it, we should all resolve to do our part. There is a lot more work to be done, if only we make a small amount of time in our busy lives, get out, and do it. I was surprised with how much I was able to do with no prior experience, and I urge you, dear reader, to try joining a volunteer effort like this. It was awesome, and enjoyable on many, many levels.

Finally, here's some more great coverage of the day, courtesy of ABC7 News:

Monday, August 11, 2014

200,000 pageviews?!?!

Holy moly. When I started this blog in 2005 as a way to send pictures to family and friends who were interested in my work term and travel in California, who knew I would keep it going this long and over this many years so many strangers would swing by this page and come check out what I write. Thank you all for the many years of views. If you keep coming by, I'll keep writing. :)

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Batkid Begins interview for Business Insider (Extended)

Wow, the last week of press for Batkid Begins has been epic! It's great to see the story coming up in the news and people remembering how affecting the day was. Good times. :) Business Insider posted an excellent article based on an interview I did with them: http://www.businessinsider.com/batkid-begins-documentary-2014-8

Here's the interview in full.

On the Indiegogo page, the filmmaker mentions that the film will be about "what happens when an event unintentionally goes viral." Why do you think Batkid got as big as it did?

On the classic philosophical debate of Hobbes and Locke, I certainly side with Locke -- that humankind is "inherently good." I feel like despite the hate and war and violence in the world, when things look terribly grim and finger-pointy, that deep down there is still joy and hope to be found. We can do better.

Cynicism in this world spreads like a disease, but I think we're in a beautiful place here in San Francisco where people here look at the world in a much brighter, more childlike light.

When I worked at Pixar, the management spoke of the "yes, and" principle (rather than "no, but"), encouraging employees to enhance ideas from others rather than focusing on why something wouldn't work. Rather, building an idea upwards and working together to make it successful.

So was the story of Batkid. The entire city said "yes, and...", with SFPD, the Fire Dept, the Giants, and stacks of tech companies like Twitter jumping in and asking how they could plus it up and help Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area achieve this. It was a beautiful combination of motivated people and child-like enthusiasm for a noble cause. All the companies and officials donated so much time and positive energy to this, there was such a ball of good will and optimism, I'm not surprised 25,000 people showed up to experience it. Positive news is a powerful force too, we just don't pay attention to it as much as we should.

People talk of how this event "restored their faith in humanity"-- I think San Francisco planted a huge stake in the ground that other cities should measure themselves against. People here shouted from the rooftops: "Humanity can do better!" It made me incredibly proud to live here.

What did you do when you found out how big it got (couple hundred people vs. billions of people)?

Thanks goodness I have a girlfriend who can help me keep me from passing out from stress. :) Originally, EJ and Sue (Batman and Damsel) came to a BBQ in my backyard and asked me if I wanted to dress up as a bad guy and get chased around by a 5 year old. We expected it would be in a climbing gym or something. A couple weeks out it was clear this was going to have (what turned out to be) 2 billion eyes on it. No pressure!

I watched through Batman (1966) a bunch of times and studied Burgess Meredith's Penguin performance, practiced the "Wah Wah Wahhh!!!" laugh over and over, and came up with a good waddle. My chosen profession as a Software Engineer doesn't generally prepare a person for such an event, but I had some improv classes in high school somewhere way up my sleeve, which made me comfortable with the thought of not screwing it up.

My lovely lady put things into glorious perspective: "it doesn't matter that it's gotten bigger than you all expected. You would have all put in the same amount of spirit even if only 5 people were going to show up. It's not for the crowds. It's for Batkid." I was so concerned about the messaging and making sure I represented the spirit of the day and the bigger, deeper messages of the event. But, of course, she's right. It was all for Miles, and that remained my focus on the day-of. The most important part was that he had fun and kicked my butt and saved Lou Seal. This helped me swallow the stage butterflies and keep focused on the true goal of the day.

What was your reaction when you were told this was going to be made into a film?

I heard from Patricia (Wilson) that this was potentially going to happen and my first thought was "How can I help?" I work in film (at Lucasfilm/ILM in SF) and so I figured someone at work could help with storyboards or volunteer their time to edit or color correct etc. With so many people In my personal and professional life so passionate about storytelling, it was instantly exciting to help with a project like this in whatever ways I could. I got in touch with Dana (Nachman) and she came over to the Presidio Starbucks on our campus and we chatted for a few hours one afternoon. It was very early, before she even knew if the project was going to be greenlit. We talked about a lot of these concepts here, and she loved the "Yes, and..." concept. She joked she might even call the film that, if it wasn't so esoteric of a title. Fast-forward to now, many months later, and after a great Comic-Con Panel last week in San Diego... I'm so excited to see what story she's telling with all the great source material from Batkid Day. My hope is that this film is a way to continue reminding people that there is, in fact, a whole lot of beauty in the world.