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January, 2006
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demon sword

because ... well ... why not ...?

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

Friday, January 27th



I've been spending a lot of quality time with microphones this month, in between doing foley work (sound effects), recording a movie-full of growly noises, and now finishing up with my debut on internet radio/podcasting.

It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing; I didn't have anything planned or have any clear idea of what to expect, so it ended up being more a case of taking a seat in the recording studio and coming up with something off the top of my head (or pulling it out of some other anatomical region).

Having spent most of my time lately working on horror and action movies, what popped to mind was, unsurprisingly, quantum mechanics and the large-scale structure of the universe.

I'm hoping I didn't say anything *too* appallingly dumb. I have a decent memory for physics terminology as well as names and dates--which is more important for this subject than most, since cosmological observations and theoretical models have undergone huge and radical revisions in recent years.

But that also means that whatever I said this week will probably be completely out-of-date in a few years anyway, so that makes me feel less self-conscious about it. :)

With luck, it won't be the last time I get to do that.

Oh--I don't mean babbling about geeky physics stuff. I do that all the time; you're stuck with that. I'm referring to my royalty-free use of that smiley up there (":)"). Now that Cingular has filed for a patent on the use of symbols or punctuation marks to express mood or emotion, our right to use text or graphical smilies may be nearing an end.

Unless we can strike some kind of royalty deal. Trouble is, all the accounting work necessary to keep track of my smiley usage (and the cost of paying for it) may dramatically cut down on the number of times I'm in the mood to use a smiley.

But the clever patent-authors at Cingular have thought of that, too. They aren't just seeking a patent on happy emoticons, they're also including (without limitation):

:-) or :) Smile ;-) or ;) Wink :-D or :D Big smile :-)) or :)) Very happy :0) Big nose smiley |-) Cool! >:-) or >:) Evil grin >;-> or >;> Evil grin with a wink :-X or :X My lips are sealed }:-) or }:) Devilish :-{circumflex over ( )}) or :{circumflex over ( )}) Tongue in cheek :-P or :P Sticking out tongue :-& or :& Tongue tied :op Puppy face 0:-) or 0:) Saint :-)8 or :)8 Happy wearing a bow tie 8-) or 8) Happy with glasses #-) I partied all night %-) or %) Drunk :-###.. or :###.. Being sick %-( or %( Confused :-0 or :0 Shocked :-o or :o Surprised :-| or :| Indecision :'-( or :'( Crying :'-) or :') Crying of happiness :-( or :( Sad

(yes, that's cut-and-pasted from the actual patent application)

At least they aren't patenting the use of sounds to express emotion or mood. Even if you couldn't use punctuation marks or graphical symbols for that purpose any more, you'll still be able to make happy and sad growly noises if you want and, with modern technology, embed them into your writing. I'm not sure how to make that work on a printout, but as long as you're reading it on the computer, I think it'll work.

and that, at least, I've now got professional experience in. :)

(oooops--I guess that should have been <happy growly noise> instead)

Thursday, January 26th


Suite, Suite Thing:

Last week I finally got around to finishing up a DVD-authoring project that had been sitting on the back burner for way too long. You can tell that leaving a DVD on a back burner is a bad thing when you start smelling the disctinctive aroma of charred polycarbonate in the air.

The reason for the delay was twofold: 1) I thought I'd use it as an exercise to learn Adobe's Encore DVD authoring software and, 2) I'm lazy. Adobe Encore is completely and utterly different from ReelDVD, a mid-range product from Sonic that I've been using for the last few years, but it will do a whole lot of things that ReelDVD doesn't, despite being a substantially less expensive product ($349).

It was a learning experience, and one of the things I learned is that it's got enough quirks and bugs that I probably ought to get a new version.

Which made for interesting timing, since, as it turned out, Adobe announced the release of new updates to its graphic design and video editing suites on the 17th, just about the moment I started looking for them. I'm guessing their software now includes a "I really should get the updated version" urge detection feature that automatically triggers a new software release.

You can see how the shareholders in particular would appreciate this new feature.

No sign of the new video suite yet--I'm not even sure if it's already shipping--but the "Adobe Creative Suite 2" graphic design collection showed up yesterday. One notable feature is that there aren't any printed manuals any more, making the box much smaller and lighter than previous releases. That's okay; the line of Adobe software boxes along the top of my bookshelves already stretches more than a yard in length--and that's not including any of the old stuff (like Aldus Pagemaker, which I still have in a closet somewhere) or any of the boxes where it had come bundled with hardware (which has happened quite a few times).

I'm sure leaving out the printed manuals saves on shipping costs and it's a timesaver for the end user, too. Half the time, what's printed in the paper manuals is, "for information about X, see Photoshop (or whatever) help." Not that "help" is necessarily any more informative, but at least this way you can go straight to the online documentation, give up, and get back to poking away at the software until it finally does what you want--no more of that "get up and walk to the bookcase" step in the middle.

At least it still comes in a nice cardboard slipcover--and though the box is only half as thick as the older versions, it's still just as tall and as deep. After a few more years, I won't even have to bother with a bookcase any more. I'll just connect all the slipcovers together with velcro and assemble them into a "bookcase" all by themselves.

Friday, January 20th


I Heart My Dog Head:

It's a fine snoggy morning out here at the treehouse. Well, "snog" in this case being all wrapped up in a mix of snow and fog, where everything near is coated in fresh white stuff and everything beyond just vanishes into a blanket of white.

It's the kind of morning that makes it seem like the rest of the world has gone away, when it seems especially silent out there, and when it's nice to know that I don't have anywhere I need to go today.

We've made it through another holiday season and into the new year, which means that next up on the horizon (not that I can see any sign of the horizon--or, for that matter, the neighbors) is Valentine's Day, but it's still far enough off that there's time to do a little planning ahead.

One great product idea is that you can now express yourself with your own Custom Printed M&Ms with whatever's on your mind...well...almost whatever's on your mind. I think it's a super idea--you can pick the message, you can mix-and-match your favorite M&M colors, but M&M does impose some pretty strict rules on what they're willing to allow you to say with their confections. Apparently they have an "image" they need to maintain, and that image isn't just "round."

custom heart printing

For example, they won't print any pornographic or sexually explicit words, acronyms, or symbols. Okay, that's not all that restrictive. And, since you type in your custom inscription into an online form, you're limited to letters, numbers, spaces, and punctuation marks. Heretofore, I wasn't even aware that there were sexually explicit punctuation marks, since those are the only "symbols" available. Does an open parenthesis ( "(" ) have a sexually explicit meaning that I didn't know about? Who knows how many innocent readers I've been unknowingly offending all these years with my flagrant and blatant use of explicit open parentheses?

If I'm going to be offending innocent readers, I'd much rather do it knowingly.

Alas, the M&M company is no help at all here: they don't include a list of which punctuation marks are considered sexually explicit, presumably because any such list would itself be obscene.


The restrictions on what you can put on an M&M don't stop there, though. They also won't accept any M&M-sized inscriptions that would infringe on someone else's patent rights. What, exactly, can you write on an M&M that would violate a patent?

I shouldn't be making fun of that; some of the patents that Microsoft has been granted lately embody ideas so trivial and obvious that they actually could be expressed on the back of an M&M. Twice.

You're also forbidden from using religious or political phrases, writing anything that could be construed as misrepresenting something of a factual nature (?), or that refers to a landmark.

A landmark?

Yes, any reference to a landmark is against the rules. In their gallery of forbidden M&Ms, one example is a picture of an M&M inscribed "Mount St. Helen" acompanied by the statement that referring to landmarks is unacceptable. (And where is "Mount St. Helen"? Is it anywhere near Mount St. Helens? Apparently they don't even have to be real landmarks.)

Personally, I would have thought they'd have barred that under the "no sexually explicit content" dictum, but I guess there's no reason something can't be verboten under more than one rule at a time.

I think Elmer's Candy Corporation is a little more flexible on what they'll let you have on your Custom Candy Hearts. They may not be as good-tasting as M&Ms (at least to those with a fondness for chocolate), but they're certainly an appropriate confection for Valentine's Day.

Except that I still need to come up with some suitable inscriptions.

- though, now that I think about it, adorning each of them with a single, sexually explicit punctuation mark is awfully tempting.

Let's about:

no longer contagious
thinking about it
eat me
we need 2 talk
no, it's not poisoned
test came back positive

Ah, I obviously need to work on my inspiration. Maybe I'll think of some in time for next year. I guess I'll just sit back and enjoy my snoggy morning and see if inspiration strikes. It could happen.

Sunday, January 15th


If I Only Had a Beaver:

Well, the salami didn't see any action after all.

If I'd had a beaver, maybe it would have been different. Hard to say.

With my collection of pipes from Friday ready to go and the batteries all charged for my handy-dandy Tascam DA-P1 portable DAT deck, I thought I'd start off this fine Sunday morning with some foley work.

- after it was late enough that I probably wouldn't be waking up the neighbors with said foley work. Not that I have any neighbors all that close-by, but, still, this kind of thing gets noisy.

I needed to assemble a small library of the sounds that steel pipes make when dropped, rolled, or otherwise hit on the ground. At first you'd think that I'd be able to find something like that in one of the commercial sound effects libraries I have on hand, but that was not the case.

The thing is, metal pipes sound amazingly varied, depending on the diameter, the material, the thickness, and the length. Even fairly small differences in construction make a *huge* difference in how they sound when dropped, hit, or in some other way abused. You really could devote a whole SFX library to the sounds that metal pipes make.

steel pipe
it takes a lot of work to look this good

And that was the plan. I set up a couple of microphone stands and hooked up a Shure SM58 cardioid microphone on one side of my staging area and a Beyerdynamic MCE 86 shotgun mike on the other.

Out here's a decent enough place to do foley; there's no traffic noise to speak of and most of the time the biggest worry is that, after a while, some of the horses get curious and come over to see what you're doing. Most of the time, the horses are well-behaved and quiet spectators, but they do occasionally feel the need to interject a comment or two of their own, usually when you're recording something especially critical.

big pipe
my, what a big pipe you have!

But it's hard to keep the wind under control, at least for me, and after I'd been crashing and banging the pipes on the concrete for a while, the wind started to pick up a little, and the shotgun started to pick up the wind a lot. Unfortunately, my beaver had been stolen--along with a lot of other pieces of my equipment--on a shoot some months back.

A beaver, if you're not familiar with the term, is a big, furry cover that you put over a microphone like the Beyerdynamic to keep out the wind noise. It looks a bit silly, but it does the job. I had a smaller windscreen suitable for the Shure, but nothing big enough to cover a shotgun, which was the one picking up a lot more wind noise to begin with.

Oh, well. So I only have one good channel on some of the takes. One's enough.

I had considered setting up the mike stands in a different configuration to capture the sounds of hitting a large salami with a pipe--I'd wanted something that sounded like hitting a body, but a bit firmer than human bodies usually are--but with the wind picking up, the horses getting down, and no beaver in sight, I decided I'd leave it at pipe-versus-pavement and not worry about the rest. I *do* have plenty of body hits in the SFX libraries that'll work. Those must be easier; I guess people sound a lot more alike than pipes do.

At least when you hit them.

Friday, January 13th


Pipe Dreams:

Traditionally, Friday the 13th is supposed to be unlucky, at least for some people. It wasn't for me (though I suppose there's still time), but you may not get off so easily. You see, in yesterday's entry, I'd promised I'd be back today to write something...but, unluckily for you, I didn't make any promises that it would be something interesting.

Okay, yeah. Why should today be different from any other day?

The most notable event of the day for me so far has been spending far more time than I'd planned shopping for pipes. Long enough that I don't have time to use them in my nefarious plans tonight, so said nefarious plans will just have to wait until the morrow.

I needed to charge the battery packs, anyway, so it's no big deal.

I haven't decided whether or not to pick up a salami at the deli. I guess there's still time if I determine that I do need one after all. I have decided that I am definitely not going to use a watermellon again. As much as that seemed like a good enough idea last time, it just didn't work.

Decisions, decisions.

Thursday, January 12th


Alice, Poor Yorrick

Alice in Wasteland

Late night last night, in between the Denver premiere of the sexy action-thriller Alice in Wasteland and the fabulous after-premiere party.

It's always great to get to see these things on the big screen, and it's a different experience to be sharing it with a packed theater full of an appreciative audience and most of the cast.

If you weren't lucky enough to be with us last night (and even if you were), you should absolutely grab yourself a copy of the DVD, available from Amazon.Com and other fine retailers. While you're waiting for your copy to arrive, you can check out the Alice in Wasteland trailer. online.

I wasn't in Alice in Wasteland myself, but I know half the cast, and they all turned in great performances. There were a few interesting visual effects that I haven't seen used before in film that really worked; kudos to the director, editor, and the rest of the post-production team. It's funny, sexy, and high-energy from start to finish with a delightfully understated sense of humor that comes from everybody being just a little (or, sometimes, more than a little) off-kilter, but playing it straight. It's completely my style of humor, one that's tremendously funny without being based on repeated digestive mishaps or needing to beat you over the head repeatedly with a giant cinematic mallet labeled, "that was a joke, get it???"

Cliff's Notes: Terrific movie--Get it!

These lovely ladies I'm shown here with are Roxane Sondrup and Michelle Beisner, our eponymous hero and her evil nemesis. I've worked with Roxane on other projects (and she'd hosted a talk show that I was a guest on). I think this was the first time I'd met Michelle, though I'd seen her on screen a few times before, but at least I got to spend a little time with her before she heads off to LA on Monday for some projects out there.

Roxane Sondrup and Michelle Beisner

Right after this shot, somebody else at the party remarked that I might not have been wise to have gotten photographed with these two, since just about anyone who stood next to either of them during the movie very quickly ended up getting shot or otherwise killed.

I pointed out that I wasn't in any real danger because, being a frequent evil nemesis myself, I get shot or otherwise killed often enough anyway...and I just keep coming back.

So I'll be back to write more tomorrow. You'll see.

Sunday, January 8th


Call of the Wild Trygve:

I've done a bit of voice work before--voiceovers, commercials, and, of course, ADR for movies.

ADR stands for "Automatic Dialog Replacement" even though there's not a whole lot that's "automatic" about it. Normally you stand in a recording booth, watch the movie, and when it gets to the parts they want to record new dialog for, you talk. Sometimes the original location sound was noisy, unclear, or even missing; sometimes they want to change a word or a line (but you still want to make the sound match the movement of the lips, head, and body that are in the film); sometimes they want a different voice for the part than the actor who'd played it for the camera.

But this time it's a little different. I'm up at Derryberry Audio standing in the recording booth, ready to go at it, except this time there's no script, not even any scribbled notes to work from.

The reason being that they aren't looking for dialog, per se, but for enough growling, snarling, tooth-gnashing, and howling to fill a horror movie. Hey, sure; I'm not really good at screaming in terror, but I'm sure I can growl and snarl with the best of 'em. Or the worst of 'em, depending on your point of view.

Come closer. I'll show you. :)

There's something a little weird about snarling and howling two inches away from a $3500 Neumann condenser microphone, and there's something a little weird about trying to get into a "wild and uncontrolled" mood without moving, lest I change the tone of the vocals (except in those moments when they wanted a deliberate change in the proximity effect on the microphone).

I guess that's like a lot of acting--getting wild and uncontrolled in a very controlled and repeatable manner.

Compared to more conventional ADR sessions, it does make my throat sore, but I think it's good practice.

Good practice for what, I'm not sure--but good practice it is. I'm sure of that.

Wednesday, January 4th


I'm a Centerfold Again:

No staples in my belly this time, just in my arm.

I'll deal. I heal pretty quickly.
Indie Slate, Issue 42

The January 2006 issue of Indie Slate Magazine is out on the stands now, and I was pleasantly surprised to see myself in the magazine's center spread, profiling me and the rest of the cast and crew of The Shadow Walkers.

Around town, I know Borders and Newsland carry Indie Slate. I'm not sure offhand which other bookstores carry it, but this copy says it's also available at Tower, Books-a-Million, Barnes & Noble, and Hastings. (I didn't see any copies in B&N the last time I looked, but that was a year or two ago.) I'm sure they won't mind a bit if you ask for it at a place or two. :)

That was a major bright spot in an otherwise more time-consuming than successful day. I started out this morning making another attempt to get in some parts to fix a few computers--now that I'd received email notices from the vendors I'd ordered them from recently, telling me that no matter what their website said, they were out of stock and were cancelling my orders. If you don't have them, why list them in stock on your website?

This morning, however, was a different story. Mostly I had people's shopping carts crash with a server error when I tried to check out. That's not really an improvement.

My running-around type errands weren't a whole lot more successful either, but at least going to the bank was more interesting than usual. I got up to the teller with a couple of checks and a deposit slip and the teller looked up from what he was doing and as soon as he looked at me, he reacted with sudden and inexplicable shock. I set down the checks and slip on the counter and pushed it towards him; he continued to sit there with a deer-in-the-headlights look.

And I wasn't in monster makeup. I didn't even have any visible staple holes.

"I'd like to make a deposit," I said, after three or four awkward moments had passed, and eventually, he looked down and slowly pulled the papers towards himself. And then just stared at them.

After a few more awkward moments, it was like he abruptly remembered what a teller is supposed to do with checks and a deposit slip and so that he did. Then he gave me my receipt, still acting like I was some kind of alien lifeform who, at any moment, might decide to grab his heart (or some other bodily organ that he wasn't finished with) and rip it out of his chest.

But I didn't. He added everything up correctly and deposited it to the right account, so I figured I'd leave him with all his internal organs intact.

See, I can be reasonable to work with. :)

Sunday, January 1st


Three Degrees:

We finished up 2005 with the warmest New Year's Eve on record for Denver--66 degrees, which isn't *all* that warm. It's three degrees cooler than last week's warmest Christmas on record for Denver, which, at 69 degrees, beat the previous record by three degrees Fahrenheit.

Not quite three weeks before--on December 7th--the records for the coldest recorded low and high temperatures for the day were broken, with thirteen below and only three above...*also* breaking the previous record by three degrees.

Mere coincidence? Or an indication of some deeper secret political conspiracy? My money's on the former.

But the most memorable weather-related event of the month for me broke no records and had nothing to do with the temperature; it was the result of nothing more than the wind.

I ought to pause for a moment and explain that I've yet to see a giant inflatable holiday decoration that I've liked. In recent years I've seen piles of these things appear and subsequently disappear near the entrances of grocery stores and Wal-Marts, like the symptoms of some unpleasant veneral disease that primarily affects warehouse stores.

But since they *do* disappear, I have to assume that large numbers of people, upon seeing a nine-foot, bloated balloon made in the shape of Santa Claus, Frankenstein's monster, or a football player, think, "my, wouldn't that be charming to have blocking my front door?" Or "Hey! That would look perfect with its head squished up against the ceiling as it fills up the north half of my efficiency apartment!"

To be fair, I shouldn't be finding fault with these kinds of things: my decorating style has its share of quirks, too. And there are some positive things you can say about nine-foot, bloated, inflatable holiday decorations. They're pretty easy to take out with a crossbow, for one thing.

- however, I am not fair, so I'll just go on finding fault with ugly inflatable decorations anyway. So there.

Getting back to December's weather, not long after Christmas, I was heading off to (appropriately enough) a Wal-Mart and happened to drive past a business that had one such giant inflatable Santa Claus proudly displayed in the parking lot in front of its entrance.

I think this was an extra-big, commercial-grade model, which normally would have stood more like fifteen feet tall. I say "normally" because (yes, this really does have something to do with the weather) this afternoon, the area I was in was experiencing fairly steady winds in excess of forty miles per hour. That's pretty speedy. When I did eventually get to the Wal-Mart, the shopping carts were blowing out of the "cart corrals" and windsurfing themselves out towards the street.

Giant inflatable Santa, on the other hand, remained firmly anchored to the pavement by his feet, and was blown flat onto the ground by the wind, where his entire body waved in the wind almost like a flag.

*Almost* -- The shape of this inflatable product, combined with the speed and direction of the wind, particularly brought out the bucking motion of his hips and, in fact, produced what was absolutely the most lifelike simulation of a sexual act by any inflatable device that I have ever seen. Flags normally *don't* do fact, even doing that *to* a flag is probably illegal in most states.

If I'd had a video camera with me, you'd probably have seen it yourself already, because I'm sure a video clip of it would be all over the net inside of three hours, tops. I didn't. If you're really curious about it, you could try re-creating a similar experience with some balloon animals; I don't think it would measure up to the unexpected sight of a fifteen-foot humping Santa next to the street, but I'm sure it could still be emotionally rewarding in its own way.

*And* you could have the foresight to have a video camera handy while you're doing it.

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