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December, 2005
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because ... well ... why not ...?

it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

Tuesday, December 27th


Boxing Blues:

The day after Thanksgiving has gained the name "Black Friday" from the belief that the annual day-after-Thanksgiving sales frenzy will be enough to push retailers into the black for the year.

I guess it doesn't always live up to expectations, and this year was one of those years that disappointed.

So *then* they whipped up a new traditional shopping frenzy day, "Cyber Monday," which apparently was simply made up only a few weeks beforehand in the hopes that if people thought jumping online and maxing out their credit cards that day was a tradition (or at least traditional enough to have a name), then they'd do it.

That, apparently, didn't live up to expectations either. So this year, more so than I recall from years past, some retail outlets were really pushing their day-after-Christmas (also known as 'Boxing Day') sales, complete with "doorbuster specials" offered to consumers who were so enthusiastic (or crazy) that they'd be willing to go stand in line for the doors to open at 6:00AM.

I don't think I know any people that enthusiastic (or crazy), especially on the day after Christmas, which is normally a day associated with sleeping in, relaxing, and eating leftovers.

The worst part is, I don't need anything. I just had other people's wish lists. You know, the sort of people who were at home sleeping in, relaxing, and looking forward to eating leftovers.

To be fair, it's no big deal for me: being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 4:00AM and ready for sixteen hours of filming is all part of a day's is standing around in the cold, often enough.

To make a long and boring story short and boring, my early morning adventures bore plenty of fruit and I got the stuff on the list. I credit my success less to luck than to the fact that there weren't many people at all who were crazy (or enthusiastic) enough to be out shopping in the pre-dawn hours the day after Christmas. Good for me; not so good for the retailers.

I think that what they need is an official color for the day after Christmas. Personally, I think "Black and Blue" would be appropriate for Boxing Day, but black's already been taken by the day after Thanksgiving. So, how about blue?

The more I think about it, the more sense that makes: you've got the blue color of me and the other three shoppers standing around in the cold waiting for the doors to open, you've got the bright blue screens on the new TVs and monitors while people are trying to figure out how to get them hooked up and working with the rest of their newly unwrapped home theater gear, and you've got the fact that practically every single place I went to on that day there was somebody standing next to me who constantly coughed, hacked, and blue into a hankie, kleenex, or just out into space.

sun microsystems

Mercifully, I've remained symptom-free myself, and I've gotten all of my fine purchases of the day delivered and set up where they belong, so *I* don't have to worry about finding a place to put them. Whew!

Sometimes it's a lot more relaxing *not* to have leftovers.

Sunday, December 25th


Okay, You can Pout a Little if You Want:

I still don't know about this whole "down the chimney" idea. Most of 'em are dirty and more than a few of them are fake these days, what with the popularity of gas fireplaces and wood-burning bans.

Not that fake fireplaces are anything new; it used to be you could get away with a plastic "log" that covered an electric light bulb. If you wanted to spring for the deluxe version, you could get one that moved a piece of dirty plastic over the bulb to make it look like it was flickering.


At least the new "Naughty or Nice" software has some good new features. I particularly like the fact that "Naughty or Nice XP" includes actual videos of the naughtiness. I'm not sure why they thought I needed an animated dog to sit there, drool, and try to scratch itself most of the time, occasionally asking whether I'd like it to search through my pictures, rearrange all the icons on my desktop, or run around in circles for no reason. That dog always seems to pop up whenever Paris Hilton is on the monitor, which is pretty often.

There's got to be a "piss off!" option; I just have to find it, but as Christmas gets nearer, I get too busy to go poking around through the menus or go find what I did with the manual.

I guess the NSA has some new upgrades in the version they have, and I bet they know how to use all the options. Maybe I'll tune them in and watch over their shoulders; no shortage of naughtiness going on there.

... um, after Paris gets done. I have to be sure of the *exact* naughtiness level in special cases like this.

Okay...what was the "instant replay" hotkey in this version?

Honestly, with the way energy costs have skyrocketed in the past few years, I think a lot of people are doing it deliberately just for the coal. I may have to rethink this whole concept; that, or get those elves down in the mines working a little harder. Honestly, those guys would just sit around and drink beer all day if they could, but at least they're non-union. I can always threaten to make the slowpokes work at Wal-Mart instead next season; that seems to motivate them.

Oh, yeah, and that "milk and cookies" thing? Who came up with that? These chimneys are tight enough already and the last thing I need to do is load up on a mess of sugar and fat before trying to scramble back up. I shouldn't complain; I appreciate the thought and, to be fair, there are some special people who come up with much better treats to have waiting by the fireplace.

It's a lot of work, but it's rewarding, too. Every year I think that maybe I should just do it all over the net next time, but then I think that would lose some of that personal touch. There's something to be said for tradition, even if those new fake fireplaces are a pain to open from the inside.

Oh, dear--look at the time! Gotta run, gotta go check out some stockings. Catch ya later!

Wednesday, December 21st


Here Comes the Night:

It's only a few short days before Christmas--today having been the shortest of all--which means it's time for procrastinators the world over to start thinking about decorating.

Okay, I thought about it. Now's your turn. Done? Okay.

However, if you're the type who's not satisfied by merely thinking about it for a trice and you actually want to do it, there's still time.

Sure, you could run out to the store and load up on some off-the-shelf lights and glass thingies, but it can be more personal (not to mention cheaper) to make your own tree trimmings from the stuff you have lying around the house.

Some years I've relied mostly on computer parts: colorful ribbon cables, flashy hard drive bits, and many, many AOL CDs, either placed in their original, virgin form right on the tree branches, melted and folded into "angels," or diced and sliced with a Dremel tool into snowflakes.

as you can see to the right.

... or you would be able to see if I'd done a better job of photographing those shiny little blobs that are, really and truly, the computer-part-and-AOL-CD creations I described above in actual use. Honest.

There are some regular Christmas lights on this particular tree, too, but the rest is computer stuff. Nowadays, I wouldn't even have to rely on dedicated Christmas lights, what with all the light-up USB cables and accessories available. Give it a few more years, and I'm sure the trees themselves will come with built-in USB hubs to supply power to all your computer part based decorations, and you'll wonder why you'd ever done it any other way.

xmas tree

I've also used little "matchbox" space toys and models, some of which even come in glow-in-the-dark versions, something that ordinary glass ornaments don't, but should.

I've heard tales of people using food-based decorations: strings of popcorn or cranberries, even cookies and hard candies of various types. Right now I'm thinking that's not a great idea, though I'm sure that many strict traditionalists and practically all rodents would disagree. But, I've enjoyed a nicely mouse-free 2005, and I'd just as soon carry that trend into the future, so any popcorn around here is going to remain unstrung.

Tampon Crafts takes a different, lower-tech, approach to turning ordinary household items into Christmas decorations for the holiday season. I've never done any of these myself, so I'll just refer you to their site for decorating ideas if that's more your style. What they don't have--which completely mystifies me, 'cause it's such a natural--is a step-by-step guide on making a traditional Santa hat out of these fine sanitary devices. I don't know how they could have missed out on that one. I bet even Prince Charles has whipped up one of those a time or three.

(Admittedly, from a practicality standpoint, it's going to depend on what items are ordinary in your household. Mine has computer parts, so that's what I usually try to get creative with. Next year maybe I'll mold a seven-foot-tree entirely out of packing peanuts instead.)

But for now, I'm going to get back to work on putting it all off until next year.

Monday, December 19th


Hannah in the House:

hannah House

Fans across the pond of the creepy and the bizarre will be glad to know that the UK release of Hannah House is been scheduled for early next year--February 28th, to be exact. There's now an official UK Website for Hannah House set up by the distributor where you can pre-order it with a £5 discount.

If you haven't seen it, it's a compelling ghost story/horror film made in the style of a turn-of-the-century (the twentieth century, not the twenty-first) silent film, complete with old-style white-on-black words that fill the screen following the movement of their lips.

Think "weirder than Nosferatu, more plot than An Andalusian Dog, and the benefit of several decades of advancement in the art of cinematic special effects."

Hannah House isn't out on DVD in the US yet, though it's done its share of film festivals. Stay tuned and with luck it'll be out on the shelves for fans on this side of the Atlantic before long.

In the meantime, you can play or download (right click here and select "save target") the trailer (5MB -Windows Media). Cool stuff.

ghostly image

Saturday, December 17th


The Spirit of Elder Christmas:

It takes a special kind of person to look at a bit of wrapping paper or a generic corporate holiday card and see a vast, organized conspiracy dedicated to destroying our culture, the traditional family unit, and the purity of our bodily fluids.

Maybe there just aren't enough windmills to go around these days. If you gotta declare war on something, at least picking a fictional foe is a lot safer than going after a real problem.

But the Christmas holiday and how people observe it isn't any one culture or belief system's private creation. My guess is that every culture does *something* around the time of the Solstice. At least in the northern hemisphere, the time when the sun starts coming back and the days grow longer again is pretty significant. Everything from the date itself to plenty of the "traditional" symbols we use (the christmas tree, as an obvious example) has roots in other cultures and beliefs.

Still, there's not as much in the way of holiday trappings that's survived unchanged from the time of the elder gods. The only one that leaps to my mind at the moment is Egg'nog which nowadays bears little resemblance to the original soul-wrenching concoction of oozing greenish slime.

And, I guess, there's the tradition of putting colorful ribbons and decorations on things that have green branches, tendrils, or tentacles. (e.g., trees, wreaths, wraiths, or as illustrated in Hello Cthulhu at right.)

Hello Cthulhu

Some valiant (and/or doomed) souls have taken up the task of taking our modernized (and watered-down) Christmas carols and restoring them to their original words and meanings, back when they were Cthulhu Carols

It's not an easy task, given our limited understanding of the language barrier between modern day English and Precambrian G'lychnagh (to say nothing of our limited understanding of the sometimes all-too-permeable barrier between the dimensions). The languages spoken back then by the elder gods and their worshippers are pretty much incomprehensible except to the Welsh.

Still, in the interests of true multiculturalism, I'm all in favor of including Cthulhu Carols in any Christmas celebration or performance. I think they take a little extra practice to sing well: some of the lines just don't seem to scan quite right, and the incessant scrabbling sound that comes from under the furniture after the third verse gets distracting. I'll get better at them soon enough. You'll see.

Merry Cthulmas!

Thursday, December 15th


An Island in the Sun:

Looks like I'm not going to be in another horror film this January after all. The awful truth is that this is in large part my doing--going over the script, the shots, thinking about all the effects and set-ups involved, I was really concerned that it would be doable in the time scheduled for it, especially with only a couple of weeks left of pre-production.

During an earlier meeting I'd suggested that Mark Grove came onto the project, he might be able to pull it off, being a master of fitting a lot of shots into some tight spaces (both time and budget-wise) but his plate is awfully full right now in between two other movies. He was kind enough to skim through the script anyway and then today he and I went to breakfast with the producer to express these concerns.

As much as I have mixed feelings about this--yes, I really want to be doing another movie--I'm sure that postponing this project was the right thing to do. At least I still have one scheduled for February. It won't be easy, but I'll try to hold out until then.

In that one I'm slated to be a tenth-century Viking (who somehow ends up in the land of the red sun; it's complicated). Playing a Viking is always a fine thing--but this time since everybody involved keeps saying, "that sword looks like a toy in your hands," I think we're just going to have bigger weapons custom-made for me.

As much as they like to say, "size doesn't matter," it's not true.

Having audiences say, "your sword is just too small," would be heartbreaking. We can't risk that.

double blade

The only other possibility is to change the script a little so that I vanquish my on-camera foes by strangling them with a Slinky.

This may not be entirely historically accurate, but at least I won't feel so bad when they say, "it looks like a toy in your hands"...because it would be.

...and the sound effects during the fight scenes could be really interesting....

In the meantime, just to be different, I thought I'd do workouts with a hundred reps per set (or as close as I can get to a hundred) for a couple of weeks. It's not easy to keep going sometimes, but that's kind of the point. That, and it's a different kind of stress to put on my joints while keeping them moving for a longer time.

Doing squats like that did make my legs feel a lot like Slinkies yesterday. I'm sure the experience will come in handy if the director decides to go that route on the February/March shoot. Guess we'll see.

I think I'll walk down stairs . . . for another workout.

Tuesday, December 13th


New Baby:

Wurlitzer Kingston Baby Grand

Yes, there's a new resident here at the treehouse: a Wurlitzer baby grand piano. Tonight will be its first night here and it seems to be settling in comfortably.

Except when you're playing with it, it's pretty quiet and I'm hoping I won't have to be getting up every few hours for those middle-of-the-night tunings I've always heard about.

I haven't absolutely decided where to put it, but this spot will do for now. I'll have to see how it feels before I try moving it around much. Except for the rare Murphy piano, grand pianos of any flavor do take up a bit of floorspace and deserve a certain amount of thought before you start experimenting with them in different parts of the room.

While the piano is new to the treehouse, it's not new to me--in fact it's been in the family quite a bit longer than I have. I've even got a hand-tinted photo of my mother playing this very piano back when she was a baby.

You can recognize the logo, the trim, etc., of the piano in the picture. My mother looks a bit different now, however.

Unfortunately, it hasn't been tuned since way back when I lived at my mother's house, so it's a little off-key right now. (But not as bad as you'd think.) I used to have it tuned at least once a year back then, but now it has a little catching up to do. I'll let it settle for a while first, though, since it's probably tired right now from the trip out here.

baby at the baby grand

my mother playing this piano

Monday, December 12th


Some Assembly Required:

I had a "table reading" of the script of an upcoming movie over the weekend. That's where the actors all get together and read the script through out loud. It varies quite a bit how much different people get into it: I like to hit the ground running and be in character (at least how I see the character) from the first word (or noise, as the case may be). Most people will warm up to it soon enough and we'll have a whole room full of people who have gotten into their characters without leaving their seats. That's always a learning experience because the voice they have for their character and the meaning they bring to the lines may not be at all what you had in your head from reading it solo.

But I do prefer to indulge in a solo read-through beforehand if I can rather than doing it cold. The voice that my character has by the end isn't generally the same as it was when I'd first opened the script, and I'd rather do my gear-switching silently in the privacy of my own head instead of out loud in a room full of other actors.

It's more fun that way anyway, at least for me. Intead of trying to figure out how the character feels or what his inner dialog is saying while you're reading, you just feel.

At the end, one of the actors said, "hey, we should have been taping this." Hmmmm...I think not. It's exciting enough when you're in the middle of it, but actually watching it--especially for anyone else--would be breathtakingly dull. I think we're all much happier people left with the enthusiastic memory of the experience intact and un-dispelled by any objective record of what it really was like.

Charlie Brown Pathetic Tree

Getting back to out 2005 holiday guide, you're almost out of time to order a Charlie Brown Pathetic Tree and have it delivered in time for Christmas.

I love this product idea so much I'm almost tempted to get one. Almost. Just not $24.00 (plus shipping and handling) worth of tempted.

I am, however, amazed at the entrepreneurial spirit behind it: it's a fake stick, one glass ornament, and two scraps of plywood. To add to the amazement and admiration, it's a fake stick, one glass ornament, and two scraps of plywood that the customer has to assemble themselves. You throw eighteen cents worth of parts in a box and the buyer pays twenty-four bucks (plus shipping and handling) to put it together.

Now that's the spririt of Christmas present.

So far (today, at least) the only "some assembly required" holiday product idea I've come up with that has a chance of topping that one is my idea of selling "snowman kits" by mail order. You ship someone a box of snow, some bits of coal, and a suitable small root vegetable of your choice, and they do the rest. Shipping the snow intact would present the biggest challenge, but thanks to the synergistic wonders of styrofoam, dry ice, and Federal Express, I'm confident that it can be done.

If I had any sense at all, I'd be selling those on ebay right this minute.

...but I don't.

Oh, well. Maybe I'll click better with the spirit of Christmas future.

Wednesday, December 7th


As Soon as Forever is Through:

If you're feeling a little more flush this holiday season, or just want to leave a package under the tree that's almost as odd-shaped and mysterious as a python that's swallowed an elephant, the remarkable Toto Apricot N5A high-tech toilet might be just the thing:

toto apricot toilet

No ordinary lavatory fixture, the Apricot N5A features:

  • Electronically heated seat
  • Intelligent automatically self-lifting lid with exclusive SoftClose™ operation
  • Ultra-powerful "Cyclone Flush" triggers automatically when needed for a veritable tsunami of cleanliness
  • Integrated Bidet, featuring gently aerated warm water, dual action spray with cycling movement and massage
    - 100% guaranteed not to short-circuit electric seat-warming coils
  • Wireless LCD control panel allows hands-free operation from a safe distance
    - surprise and delight friends and family when (and where) they're least expecting it
  • High-fidelity MP3 playback; integrated Secure Digital card slot allows for easy memory upgrade
  • Manual override function

The documentation doesn't mention whether the Apricot N5A relies upon "Fuzzy Logic" to decide when to open, close, and initiate flushing operations. I'm guessing it does, eventually, at least if you go long enough without cleaning it.

And, speaking of cleaning, my Japanese is a little rusty, but I think there was also something in the description about an "easy-clean" surface; either that or "huge quivering tentacles that thrust suddenly out from the bowl." I'm pretty sure it was one of those.

In a use of modern internet technology that's singularly appropriate for the advertising of plumbing fixtures, Toto even has streaming videos you can watch of their toilets in operation. (Whee!)

I don't know why, but there's just something about including a "manual override" function that makes me think that the Apricot N5A should be featured in a Star Trek episode where the crew discovers some sophisticated alien toilet technology and everything looks good and everybody's happy...until the inevitable plot twist where something goes wrong and the alien toilets start running amok. Or just running over. With "Cyclone Flush" technology, an overflowing toilet could be potentially life-threatening.

By the way, the little girl in the picture was never seen again after this ad.
(Not that I'm trying to give you nightmares about this toilet or anything.)

Tuesday, December 6th


May Your Holiday Season be Filled with Flying Blue Bunnies:

I don't usually follow video game news or have any idea what titles are likely to be hot for the holiday season, but here's one that's definitely worth a spot under your Christmas tree:

According to

lapis the bunny

Lapis the bunny wants to play with you

Lapis, the blue-hued main character of a prototype video game by Heather Kelley, a designer with Ubisoft, wants to help women take a "magical pet adventure" to their "happy place."

The prototype teaches how to reach orgasm by simulating the affect of pleasurable sensation on the cartoon. Players tickle, touch, tap, and stroke Lapis using the touch screen of the Nintendo DS, a hand-held video game device. They can also talk, sing and blow on the bunny's fur using the device's built-in microphone.

The more they stimulate the bunny, the happier he becomes until eventually he begins flying through the air. But Lapis is also an unpredictable creature who needs a variety of sensations. Sometimes, no amount of stimulation is going to work.

You can Download or Play a demo version for the PC. (and you don't even need a joystick to play) According to the developer, the winning strategy is complex and creative:

The way you play with the bunnies in order to win is patterned after the VARIETY of female sexual response This is the overall pattern but it can't be achieved in the same way every time - different things work for different bunnies, at different stages of the game For instance you may need to use tickling at first, and then humming into the ears. But after a while that stops having an effect, and you have to start tapping on its nose.

It's about time that video games started teaching you valuable lessons you can apply to real life. I never knew about the "tapping on the nose" technique before; I may just have to try that out sometime.

But what I really need are the cheat codes.

Monday, December 5th


Six Degrees of Filmmaking:

Cold days out here, not least of which because I've been on a shoot in an unheated warehouse the last few days. Movie wardrobes are no respecter of climate; you dress for the script, not for what the thermometer *really* says, and this was no exception.

Being cold is usually better than being hot: it's harder to disguise sweat (though I could try rolling a deodorant stick across my forehead sometime to see if that helps) and the effects of the heat wreak more destruction on the makeup and hairdo.


Vroom Vroom

Now that we're getting into the home stretch of the holiday buying frenzy, I'm sure you're looking for some exciting gift ideas for those hard-to-buy-for people on your list. Today's fabulous idea is the amazing VroomBox, now available for a mere $159:

VroomBox utilizes a powerful microprocessor to digitally recreate the sound of 15 different cars and fantasy vehicles, and play them through speakers under the car. It even includes special effects such as screeching tires and turbo blow-off valves that trigger automatically. And you can download more cars and effects from the web.

If you're sick and tired of the lack of roaring and screeching coming from your car, this could be the perfect thing for you. True, it is more expensive than a bad muffler and some bald tires, but it does have a lot more options.

Simulated vehicles include Shelby Cobra, Nissan 350Z, Camaro SS, Barracuda, Pontiac GTO, Harley Davidson, Lambhorghini V12, Shelby Mustang, Stingray, and Vespa Scooter. Personally, I think they're missing the boat by not including "diesel locomotive," "Queen Mary," "Alien UFO," "metal-on-metal worn out brakes," and "running on just three cylinders,"

I haven't figured out my own gift list yet this year, but "heat" is kind of nice, so I'm already enjoying some of that without waiting for the holiday.

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