Archive for June, 2006

Sad News day, the Response

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

Thanks, everybody for your response and condolences on my previous post. I felt I needed to thank each person personally, but instead of hiding the replies in the comments, I’m posting them out here in the open — so it’ll count as my overdue blog post!

First, though, I should make this clear: The third item wasn’t about one of my own dogs, but about Eddie from “Frasier”.

It was sad for me, but not catastrophic.

I think everyone eventually figured that out, but I thought it was worth pointing out again.

Now:

Pam: Yeah, it was a shock about Meg. I might not have known if Stu hadn’t left me a comment.

And we’ll miss my aunt, even though she wasn’t really herself in the past year.

Kim: Actually, missing out on travelling and funerals isn’t really that tragic for me, but I’ve missed way too much family stuff in the last couple of years even when I wasn’t missing half a lung.

Renny: Enjoy the “golf in the Nordic”! And thanks for coming back to my blog, after your initial visit for the solstice — it’s good to know I’ve got some reader retention.

Molly M.: Thanks for visiting! I’ve seen your website and your photos, and you’re doing a great service with Amazon Cares — keep up the good work!

And for everybody else: Let’s just remember to appreciate our friends and relatives (and pets! and pets on TV!), because we never know how much time we’ll have with them …

Molly M.: Thanks for your

Sad News Day

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

I received three sad pieces of news today:

1) My mom called just after I got to work today to tell me that my aunt Juanita, 91 and in declining health for over a year now, had died this morning. It wasn’t a surprise, since she had been hospitalized since last week, but still it’s sad. Unfortunately I won’t be going to the funeral — my doctor confirmed today that I still shouldn’t be travelling with my ribcage still mending — so I’ll need to remember to order some flowers tomorrow.

2) Later today a blogging acquaintance left a comment to let me know that our mutual friend Mandarin Meg had also shuffled off this mortal coil. Meg maintained a site full of tips and code for implementing HTML and CSS tricks, which were of greater help to many bloggers, including myself. Meg also maintained The Blog Quilt, a cool little grid of several dozen bloggers, in which she saw fit to include me after only two months of blogging (my square is the little neon cactus, which thereafter served as the official icon of my old blog).

Meg always raved about the shirt I was wearing in my Colorado picture, so I told her where I ordered it from in the late 70s, and she sent away for their catalog (I suspect that she had a hippie phase in her younger days). The last time I asked she still hadn’t ordered a shirt like it, and now I guess I’ll never know.

Anyway, she’s left her mark on the Blogosphere, and she’ll be missed by a lot of people. Check out Stu Savory’s blog for links to tributes by the other quilt dwellers.

3) And finally: Moose, the Jack Russell terrier better known as Eddie on Frasier, has died at the ripe old age of 16 and a half. He was rescued from an animal shelter, where he had been incarcerated for being too unruly, and went on to entertain millions.

I think there’s a lesson there for us all.

George Washington’s Hatchet

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

Let me axe you something ... There’s an old joke where someone is trying to selling an antique hatchet by saying, “This is the hatchet used by George Washington to cut down the cherry tree! Of course, the handle has been replaced three times … and the blade has been replaced twice …”

The reason I bring this up is that I bought my HP computer on New Year’s Eve day in 1999 — that’s how geek’s ring a new century! W00t! — and I’ve been using it ever since.

Of course, I felt compelled to max out the RAM (to 384 MB, from 128). And after 6 months I had to get a bigger hard drive (Napster, you know), and after another 3 months I added a second drive (I had started editing video, which also required the installation of a Firewire port). It wasn’t long before I found a great deal on a faster CD burner, and soon thereafter I replaced my original hard drive (17 paltry megs!) with a bigger one, and added a sound card.

This was, after all, the period when I was studying for (and passing!) my A+ certification, and you don’t get all that computer information crammed into your brain without wanting to put some of it to use.

Anyway, a couple of external devices, USB ports, USB hubs, and case fans later, I started having complete hard drive crashes while trying to install The Sims and its expansion packs. A couple of people on the tech message boards suggested that maybe my 185 watt power supply was overloaded, amd I figured that it was probably time to upgrade that as well, even if it turned out not to be causing the problem.

I soon found, though, that it was really hard to find another 4″ x 4″ x 6″ power supply — even new ones of the same wattage were bigger — and only the same size would fit into my cramped little HP case, where the IDE ribbon cables were already scrunched in like wadded up sheets of paper.

That was when I decided that a certified computer repair technician like myself deserved one of those huge, roomy 21″ Antec cases like I had at work. Those things were a joy to putter around in, with plenty of room for extra drives and fans, while still leaving space for the drive cables to stretch their legs, so to speak, and letting air circulate better, making for a cooler drive environment.

So, in early 2003, I got a new case with a 500 watt power supply, and, since I was starting with a newly-wiped hard drive, decided it was time to upgrade to Windows XP — which caused my HP-installed DVD-ROM drive to stop functioning, at least the DVD part, because changing the OS meant having to flash the drive’s firmware, and this drive was refusing to be flashed.

No matter, since I was ready for a writable DVD drive by this point, and I found one on sale.

Soon after this, I figured it was time for a new processor and even more RAM, which means also a new motherboard, one of the biggest rackets of the technology industry, since mobos are only designed to work with a narrow range of processors and memory, and unless your processor craps out on you a short time after you get it, chances are your older board won’t support much newer chips.

And at some point in all this, I also got a video card, for running Everquest 2, I think, and over the years have snapped up keyboards that CompUSA would offer for nothing or next to it after rebates.

And just over a year ago I treated myself to a birthday present of a new flat panel monitor.

That leaves just the mouse, which is the only remaining part of the old HP.

Or to go back to the axe analogy, I still had the HP computer I bought in 1999, except with a few parts swapped out.

Or I did, until tonight.

The HP mouse has been losing responsiveness lately, even though the ball and its rollbars seem clean, and the mousepad doesn’t seem to be the problem, so tonight I finally broke down and hooked up one of the spare mice I keep on hand (since we’ve got 3 other computers).

So now, after six and a half years, I can finally say: I have a new computer!

Back to the Video!

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Yes! Okay, I did three non-video posts in a row, so now we’re back to it!

Seriously, my job is so depressing lately that I’m really enjoying that rush of exploration and creation that I’m getting from dabbling in video editing and animation lately. It’s like a whole new world is opening up.

I finished the first rough-cut render of my light show project tonight, but I’ll be screening it for my friends and coworkers first — in fact, it’s so rough that only Todn8r gets to see it in its present form, because he has an understanding of the experimental stage our team project is in right now …

So until I have something to show the public, here are some more good examples of the great things you can find on YouTube:

I had to watch a lot of TV during my sick leave, including cartoons. I didn’t really care for The Angry Beavers on NickToons, but the theme song is mind-blowing — it’s like Tijuana Brass on way too much Red Bull. I’ve been trying to tell my wife about it, but it’s hard to do it justice with a description.

Then it occurred to me to look it up on YouTube, and sure enough, you can watch and listen to it here.

Along those same lines: Did you see Connie Chung’s bizarre farewell song on TV, and have been at a loss for words to describe it to your friends?

Now you can just email them to a link to the video, and they can see for themselves.

Friday I was listening to my MP3 player at work, enjoying the last day of New Boss in Training being out of town, and Bjork’s Isobel came up on random-shuffle, and that reminded me of the Bjork music video DVD that I got into last summer, and it occurred to me that I could not only find all of Bjork’s videos on YouTube, but I could add them to my Favorites and click to them anytime.

This is another instance of where mere words fall short, but pictures tell a multitude of stories.

Plus there are lots of Bjork interviews and parodies, so check it out.

Here’s a group video by several members of the YouTube community, most of whom don’t know each other personally: Lip-synching to John Lennon’s Imagine.

The Spook sends this: The First Male Engineer.

(Isn’t that a bit redundant? Like saying “the first female stewardess”?)

Anyway, when a company has one good commercial, it’s probably got several more, and you can see more ads from Volvic here.

And finally: Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation is getting in on the act, with The Corruptibles, a super-hero parody that illustrates how the entertainment industry wants to control everything about your entertainment media, from dictating worthless product design to prohibiting you from making a mix CD for yourself or your friends.

This is the same self-defeating industry that has had several videos taken down from YouTube, even though they only promote the studios’ product and don’t deprive them of any revenue.

So check out all the above videos on YouTube — before Hollywood shuts it down …

Whole Lotta Solstice

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

I’ve been reminded that I’ve been slacking in my blogging duties — something unthinkable a year or two ago — and I reply that I seem to have reached the point of diminishing returns …

… but still I feel a duty, so here goes an observation of the Summer Solstice:

The first day of summer isn’t that significant in here Dallas, since the high temperatures have been near 100 for a month now, but at least the change of the season means that the days get shorter from here, for the next six months.

Solstice in the Motherland! This is the day that the sun refuses to set:

From Flickr User GthB - Click for a larger view!

Check out the insanely larger view of the above picture — a panorama of the Midnight Sun in Reykjavik, taken just today/last night, by Flickr user GthB. (Yes, I know that’s a bad Anglicization of his name, but I don’t have the Nordic fonts, and I don’t know if they’ll show up on everybody’s computer …)

Iceland’s Summer Solstice

Solstice Folklore

Iceland Summer Solstice Marathon for the fight against breast cancer.

Iceland photos from the 2002 Solstice.

Okay, that takes care of Texas and Iceland, now here are the solstice happenings in the rest of the world.

And remember, new Solstice photos are pouring into Flickr every minute.

This is the day …

Sunday, June 18th, 2006

Remember when Paul McCartney sang “When I’m 64″, all those years ago, and it seemed like such a distant future possibility for the one-time rebellious young mop-top?

Well, today’s the day: The Beatle fulfills his prophecy by turning 64 today.

The whole world just got a little older.

NOT a Post About Video …

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

… Even though it pains me to post about something besides the thing that I’m so caught up in lately, but I feel I need to:

We finally got a little rain in the middle of the night; I would have slept through it if the low thunder hadn’t made Molly nervous. I got up to let her out, but she barely set foot on the grass when a mild instance of lightning scared her back in.

Speaking of weird dog behavior, Schotzy’s senility keeps getting worse by the week. When he’s awake, he rambles around the house, bumps into walls, and tries to wiggle behind shelves and couches, and often gets stuck.

One day this week, we came home to find that he had gotten tangled up in several of the cords by my computer — a lamp cord, telephone cord, modem power cord, and the cord to my new Logitech microphone headset, to be specific — and, when he couldn’t tangled or twisted any more, he gave up and went to sleep.

When I found him, the cords were pretty tight around his midsection, and the four cords were twisted around about 20 times, with his hair all knotted up in the snarl.

I was in such a panic to get him freed that I ended up cutting one of his cords (the lamp cord, after I unplugged it, balancing what would do the most good with what would be the easiest/cheapest to replace), along with a big chunk of his fur.

We’ve gotten to the point where we have to close up all the rooms at night and while we’re at work, and “childproof” everything else, plugging up everything he can fit into, and covering all electrical cords he could get to.

And I guess all of you with kids are reading this and saying, “Welcome to our world …”

=======================================

Okay, I did it: Not one mention of video. Are you happy?

I hope so, because it almost killed me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to it …

“Zim” City

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

Yes, I’m still caught up in Video Fever, so tonight, to illustrate just how many people are slapping together their own videos, consider the AMV — the Anime Music Video. People are taking cartoons — just about any cartoons — and splicing them together with songs to make their own music videos.

To give you an example of just how huge this is, here is a very small sampling of the different types of videos that are out there for just one cartoon, the excellent Invader Zim:

Mariachi Zim.

Honky Tonk Zim.

Complicated Zim.

Zim Gorillaz: FIFA 2002, and Dare.

And finally, here’s one especially for The Spook and Todn8r: What do you get when you combine Invader Zim, Bizet’s Carmen, South Park, and beer? The Beer Song.

And if all that still isn’t enough, re-watch the best of them all, the video I originally linked to a couple of week’s ago, the Zim version of Weird Al’s Devo parody, Dare to Be Stupid

Video Addiction Update

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

A progress report on my ongoing obsession with making videos:

Last week I ordered off Ebay a used copy of the Sony Vegas video editor version 6.0 (up from my current 4.0 version of Sony Vegas Movie Studio, which is the hobbyist’s edition).

Surprisingly, it showed up in the mail on Monday — which explains why I haven’t posted since Sunday …

At 60 bucks it was mega-mega-cheap, plus I can now do more things, especially backwards video, which is why I was looking for it to begin with. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but the extra features should make up for it.

So after successfully reversing some of my old stop-action footage, I switched to my Flash animation program (and Paint Shop Pro, and my clip art collection) to work on another piece that finish that particular video: An old-style “Intermission” clip (is there any other kind? I can’t when was the last time I’ve seen an Intermission in a movie theatre) using food clip art. It’s not exactly “Let’s all go to the lobby”, but it’s still fun.

I got the text finished and most of the pictures picked out the first night. On Tuesday I worked out the animation details, and last night I added two more food pieces and tidied up the production.

Man, this is fun — my head hurts from all the possibilities …

I’ve also been experimenting some more with putting a psychedelic background to the green screen footage I mentioned in the previous post. I’m branching out beyond tie-dye patterns, of which I’ve only found four, and using, among other things, photos of fireworks, which I’ve discovered become unrecognizable as fireworks and very trippy when manipulated with various video effects.

I’m also beginning to realize that I can create these psychedelic backgrounds — the kind used at parties and concerts — without using green-screen technology, or even video footage. Using the transitions and video effects of my various video editing programs, I can easily animate still pictures to make swirling hallucinogenic visuals.

I can’t help but be reminded of my first exposure to this kind of imagery. It was at our high school Halloween Carnival, where each class and club would set up a fundraising activity in one of the classrooms. My class’ project one year was a “psychedelic cafe”, where we sold snack food in a darkened room with Iron Butterfly and the Woodstock soundtrack blaring on the stereo — and a “light show” being projected on one wall.

I hadn’t been in on that part of the preparations, so I was intrigued to see how it was being done: On the glass surface of an overhead projector were two clear glass pie plates, with water and food coloring in between the two plates. Someone would sit by the projector and move the top plate up and down slightly, to make the colors pulse and swirl, creating a living wall graphic worthy of a Jefferson Airplane concert.

And now here I am, creating the same kind of graphics, probably using more computing power than all of NASA had back then.

Our digital pie plate technology has come a long way.

But you get the point: These new party graphics can be prepared ahead of time, and can have a wider range of visuals and be packaged with music and easily carried to other locations on a CD or flash drive …

And nobody has to squish pie plates together for two hours …

How Green Was My Screen

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

My video experimentation continues, with a slight detour:

I re-installed my webcam yesterday, with the intention to film additional footage for a stop-action animation I did a couple of years ago … but today I happened to be at Walmart for groceries, and I ended up buying a few yards of green cloth.

Intrigued?

Last week I figured out how to do green-screening on one of my four video editing programs (it was under “Chroma-Key”), so, since I was already at the store, I picked up the green background so I wouldn’t have to make a special trip back if I suddenly decided on impulse that I couldn’t live another day without doing some green-screen.

And then, having the background, I couldn’t resist filming a few seconds and trying out some backgrounds. The color didn’t come through at first, given the crappy nature of webcams and the poor lighting in the room, but after some adjustments, I finally got the cloth — and, um, pretty much everything else but my face — to fade out in favor of a background.

First, I used photos of Alaska and an Arctic ice flow — hey, it’s 100 degrees outside today — then I got creative, using four pictures I found of some tie-dyed cloth, and spun them in and out using those ridiculous transition effects — wipes, twirls, blinds — that I normally wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot cursor arrow.

The result is nothing I’d show in public, but it was a heck of a lot of fun, and it gave me lots of other ideas.

But in the future I’ll probably use my camcorder for any greenscreen projects …