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June 29, 2004

Damn The Machine

Recently I placed an order with Amazon for a few goodies. The shipment arrived today. I got this cool Star Trek Star Chart book. (Ok, maybe it's pretty geeky, but it's also cool.) I've always been curious how it all fits together. Where's the Federation--Romulan border? In fact the Federation also has borders with the Klingons and the Cardassians. Where are they? Sure it's all a fantasy, but I have a great Atlas of Middle Earth which I love too. Those kinds of things always fascinate me.

I also bought the new Gun 'N Roses Velvet Revolver album. I was extremely disappointed when I saw the sticker on the front proclaiming that it was protected from copying. I hate that stuff. It needs to go away. So after several choice expletives, I slide the CD into my laptop, and held my breath...

All I can say is, you gotta love the Mac. iTunes had no problem ripping the CD. Despite the so-called copy protection on the disc I was able to make my own personal digital files. I didn't even have to hold down the Shift key to bypass the protection. (I've read that's the way around it.) And I didn't have to touch those stupid pre-ripped DRM-filled WMV files on the data portion of the CD.

The big thing that bugs me---well, the second big thing, the first is the copy protection itself---is that Amazon makes no mention on their website that the CD has the protection. They have a huge database with all kinds of field associated with each product. I really feel that they should make a note of the albums that make use of this. If I had been in a record store, I would have been able to see the sticker and decide if I wanted to buy the album. Online I had no such warning.

It all worked out, so no harm done I guess. But the big lesson of the day? Sucks to be a Windows user. :P

June 28, 2004

Quickly Adding Smilies To Movable Type

When I did some upgrades to my website a week ago, I added in support for smilies. I used Lisa's excellent tutorial to set them up on my site. I'd suggest you do the same. I can offer one extra bit to make things go a little faster.

Download one of Jason's Basic Sets of 17 smilies to use on your site. Create a directory /images/smilies in the root level of your weblog website and upload the 17 GIFs there. Then use the two blocks of code I've provided below instead of Lisa's code and you'll get Jason's Basic Set working without any extra typing. Pretty easy.

Use this code instead of the code in Step 3 of Lisa's Tutorial, and use this code instead of the code in Lisa's Step 7.

Of course you might be the kind of person who needs "special" smilies, in which case you're on your own. But if you want to get the basic 17 going quickly, this should help.

Update 6:30am --- I had to remove the code from the post and insert links to text files with the code. With smilies installed on my site, it was substituting the smiley graphics themselves for part of the code! Too smart for my own good sometimes---or maybe too dumb---still trying to figure out which.

June 27, 2004

Instant Karma's Gonna Get You

I stopped by Barnes & Nobles this morning and picked up a couple of books on writing style---the AP one, and Strunk and White. I figured it couldn't hurt if I refreshed my memory on the best ways to put things to paper (or screen, as the case may be). Maybe gussy this place up a little bit. Comb its hair, and slip on a nice button-down shirt.

On the way back to my car, a very pregnant woman in the garage asked me if I thought her battery was dead. I told her to turn the key. When I heard the rapid click click click, and saw the lights flash in time on her dashboard, I said, "Yup, it's dead." That's when I noticed her elderly mother in and young daughter in the car. None of them spoke English very well.

I showed her how to put her car and neutral and I rolled it out of the parking spot. I pulled up my car next to hers and got out my jumper cables.

I spent nearly 2 years driving a 1977 Jeep Grand Cherokee---a car which I nicknamed "Penance". (That's a story for another time.) It was definitely a tempermental old thing. If I got one thing out of my experience with Penance it was an appreciation for all the things that could go wrong with a car. I'm not too bad with the jumper cables now. And I've learned to always carry those along with a random assortment of tools, rags, and a first aid kit in my car.

So I went to hook up the jumper cables and I immediately saw another reason why I like my Honda CR-V much better than the Toyota RAV-4, which the woman was driving. My Honda has its battery right out in the open. Easy to get to. The Toyota's battery is up in the corner, nearly under the windshield covered by the big piece of plastic that you have to remove 6 plastic screws from. It's real pain. Especially since we were partially blocking traffic in the Burbank Media Center garage.

But I finally got that off and hooked up the cables, attaching the last black cable to her engine block like I was taught all those years ago when I took my first driver's ed class. We waited 5 minutes and she tried the ignition. More clicking.

"Damn!" I thought, and my mind immediately went to the burned out alternator that I once had to replace in Penance. This might not be as simple as I thought.

A man wandered up. My car was blocking his and he wanted to leave.

"Not working?" he asked.

The woman turned the key again but the car just made clicking noises. The man walked over to her engine and moved the black clip from the engine block to the negative terminal on her battery. She turned the key again and the car immediately sprang to life.

Everyone was saved. The woman had a working car. The man was able to get out of his parking spot and I was covered in dirt from a car that had not been washed in a while. Perhaps I got a few extra points of karma for that one.

One final note on all of this...

The woman offered me $5 for helping her. Of course I refused with a "Just glad I could help." But there was a little voice of annoyance in the back of my brain.

Take notes people:

When someone helps you, the proper thing to do is to offer to compensate them. And as the helper the proper thing to do is the politely decline. However this all falls apart if the helpee doesn't offer proper compensation. That's the game.

"But you wouldn't have accepted any amount of money from her, right? So why be annoyed?"

Because there should still be a proper value to things. If I had said, "Sorry, I can't help you." Or if I didn't have jumper cables, she'd eventually have to call a towing company to give her a jump. It would have probably cost $40 or $50. So in my book, a proper amount to offer someone who helped you with a jump would be like $20. I still would have refused it---even if it was $50. It's simply acknowledging the value of the help that someone just gave you.

When I lost my cell phone, and eventually realized that I had dropped it in the cab I took to pick up my car from the repair shop, I gave the cabbie $40 for returning it to me. And I made him take it. I might have given him more if I had it on me. The phone cost me $100. It would have cost me at least that much to replace it. He did me a huge service by just meeting me at a certain place and time to return the phone. There was value in the help he gave me, and I showed a proper appreciation for it.

So there you go. Your little polite appreciation lesson of the day brought to you by Uncle Jon.

Getting Ems And Ens To Work In Smarty Pants

This one's painfully obvious when you think about it. Unfortunately I had get the author to explain it to me.

The default behavior of Daring Fireball's excellent plug-in Smarty Pants is called mode "1". In this mode you can get an Em-dash ( --- ) by typing two dashes next to each other ( -- ). You cannot get an En-dash at all. You need to run Smarty Pants in mode "2" to have both active. Then you get an Em-dash ( --- ) with three dashes next to each other ( --- ) and an En-dash ( -- ) with two ( -- ). Here's the extra little (non-) tricky bit that I wasn't picking up on:

If you run Markdown and Smarty Pants together by using the pull-down menu in your Movable Type entry page, then you don't need to make any changes to your templates but Smarty Pants only works in mode "1" the default behavior. If you want to run it in mode "2", you need to add smarty_pants="2" to any MT tag where you want it to kick in and you need to set the pull-down menu to Markdown only. It's the "and" part that I missed.

Now it's all running great for me. I just have to go back and update my entries. For those of you who don't know what the whole deal is with the Em-dash and En-dash, this is a great resource.

Thanks John for helping me out with this.

June 23, 2004

Express Yourself In 10 Easy Steps

This is my new favorite smiley:

Don't Eff With Me

It seems to exude oh-so-subtly that idea of “Don’t Eff with me and I won’t Eff with you.”

Available along with many others—these are really meant to be used as avatars more than smilies—from those “Joy of Tech” geniuses, Nitrozac and Snaggy.

June 22, 2004

Qualification: You Are An Organic Meatbag, Master.

Knights of the Old Republic is perhaps the greatest game I’ve ever played. I literally spent a month last year trying to finish it. I was in the middle of doing the sound for a movie, I think it was “Honey”—might’ve been “SWAT”, but I’m pretty sure it was “Honey”. On a normal night, I don’t get home until 8pm and I’m usually off to work at 7 or 7:30 the next morning. Sometime during that short period of time, I try to catch my 8 hours of sleep too.

So there I was, working on this show during the day, staying late when I had to, working the occasional weekend, and every single second of free time outside of that, I was playing KOTOR. Every night when I got home, the Xbox was fired up, and I was fighting against the Dark Side like the good Jedi I was. Needless to say I wasn’t getting my 8 hours for that month. And there were a few weekends too—3 if I remember correctly. I’d have to stop occasionally for food, or do laundry, or things like that but otherwise it was about the Force.

Awesome game. So much fun. And the plot twist! Bioware, the makers of the game, always puts a cool twist in their plots about 2/3 of the way into their games. I didn’t see that one coming. It rocked my work.

So how cool is that I read today over on Wil Wheaton’s site that he auditioned for Knights of the Old Republic 2? Oh that would be the greatest thing ever if he got the part. Here’s my letter to Bioware:

Dear Bioware,

You rock. I have played nearly every one of your games. The Baldur’s Gates were awesome. Of course Neverwinter Nights is the best thing to happen to D&D since D&D was invented. But the greatest of them all is Knights of the Old Republic. You need to put Wil’s voice all up and down the sequel. That would kick ass. It was cool to hear Neelix in the original. But come on, we’re talking Wesley here.

So keep making great games and I’ll keep playing them. And don’t forget Wil. He rules.

Love,

Jon

And since I’m on the “my mind is making strange connections” trip today, the funny thing is Wil joked about the new game being called “KOTOR2: Electric Boogaloo”. Of course that’s a long standing joke about the name of any sequel every since the real one “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” came out. “Honey” the movie I was working on when I played the original KOTOR game is based heavily on the storyline of “Breakin’ 2”. Not that this is really saying much. Neither are particularly good. But “Breakin’ 2” does have Ice-T doing Old School before he went all Gangsta and before he went all L&O:SVU.

Ok, it’s probably just me. But I will say this: Han did shoot first.

Truly, Truly, Truly Outrageous

The iTunes Music Store has a new music Tuesday just like every record store in the US. Tuesday is the day that the new albums come out. Ever since the introduction of iTunes 4.5, Apple has offered a free track for download on Tuesday. Sometimes it’s rock, sometimes hip hop but it’s always free.

Today I popped over to the iTMS to see what they were offering up and momentarily I was in shock. The free track this week is “They” by Jem.

“Sounds normal enough to me.” I’m sure you’re all saying. But I am not always up on the new Top 40 pop bands. I don’t listen to the radio that much. (I have had my stints with Indie 103 here in LA but the point of that station is that they don’t play the same stuff that everyone else plays. I can hear my Ramones and my Clash, and a lot of other bands that don’t get a lot of airplay anymore.) Consequently I was unaware of the existence of an artist by the name of Jem.

“Still,” you say, “that is hardly an unusal experience.”

Then let me explain. When I was a kid in the early 80s after Reagan deregulated children’s televsion and made it possible for cartoons that were basically one big commercial for toys and other merchandise that parents could buy for their kids—like Strawberry Shortcake, Masters Of The Universe, and Transformers—there was a cartoon about an all-girl rockband, called “Jem and the Holograms”. They did amazing things and were in a constant struggle against their rival band, The Misfits. (No, not that Misfits. But that would be a pretty sweet children’s cartoon. :) ) Or something like that. I never watched it. That was definitely a “girl’s” cartoon and as a 10 year old there’s a distinct line between what a girl can do and what a boy can do.

“Again, not that big of a deal,” you continue. “Yes, twenty years ago there was a cartoon about a singer named Jem and now there really is one. Strange but no biggie.”

You’re probably right, but there is one little extra personal twist to this story. My middle name is Eric. My initials are JEM. And for those who my have forgotten, there is no torment like the torment that 10 year olds can inflict on each other. (Except for maybe the torment that junior high kids can inflict, but that’s another story.) Here I was 10 years old with the initials of JEM and there’s a cartoon about a girl named Jem. Oh the taunting! (Nearly as bad as the taunting that two other students got—a girl named Reagan, and a boy named Ronald. Since of course we all knew who our president was. Kids can come up with the weirdest things to be mean to each other about.)

Anyway, it was a weird feeling seeing that song. And then when I listened to it I was extra surprised to find out that I knew the song from somewhere. I’ve definitely heard it more than once and I never knew the secret connection.

Oh, and this is more than a little disturbing.

June 21, 2004

Using Another Weblog For Link Lists

In the course of the most recent redesign of my website, I setup the various link lists on my site—Your Blogs, Favorite Sites, etc.—as separate weblogs that are fed into my main weblog. Anyone who has gone in and updated the templates in Movable Type knows what a pain it can be. By using a separate weblog for link lists with one entry per link, it is very easy to make changes to those lists.

The proper way to do this uses PHP. If you can’t run PHP on your server, you’ll need to modify this process slightly. Plus it won’t be quite as easy to keep things up to date. You’ll need to rebuild your site every time you want new links to show up.

I got the idea for my link list from two places, vova’s “Manage Your Link List as a Blog” thread in the Movable Type support forums, and Mike James’ “Sideblog ‘Interesting Links’ setup HOWTO”.

These are both rather old topics and very likely someone has already come up with the same ideas I’m pushing pixels about right here, but just in case, I’m writing this. My version of the link list uses great ideas from both places with a little extra twist of my own. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Make an includes directory on your website. This process will create one or more files that will be included into your webpages. For the sake of being organized, I created this folder to keep these files separate. I called my folder “inc” and put it in the root level of my website with the permissions set to 755.

  2. Make a new weblog. In my case, I called it “MFTI Links”. Set the “Local Site Path” to the new includes directory you created, and the “Site URL” to your website’s URL, plus the includes directory. You can ignore the two Archive settings. But you should set the correct Timezone. Save your changes.

  3. In the Preferences screen of your Weblog Config, use the following settings: Default Text Formatting to “Convert Line Breaks”, Default Post Status to “Publish”, Number of Words in Excerpt to “0”, Preferred Archive Type to “No Archives”. Make sure all boxes in Publicity and Comment Configuration are unchecked. Set Allow Comments Default to “None”. Save your changes.

  4. In the Archive Files screen of your Weblog Config, delete all archives. Save your changes.

  5. Delete all your templates. Go to the “Templates” screen. Delete all Index and Archive-Related templates.

  6. Create categories for each of the different types of link lists you want. I created a category called “Blog” for my “Your Blogs” list and one called “Favorite” for my “Favorite Sites” list. Make as many as you want.

  7. Back in the Templates screen, make a new Index template for each category you just created. vova’s idea was to create one template and include all categories in it. This means when you insert your link list, everything is together. Sure it’ll be sorted with headings, but everything winds up together. So in my case you’d see “Your Blogs” and the list and then immediately below it, “Favorite Sites” and the list. If you create individual templates for each category, you can put them where ever you want. My “Your Blogs” list is in my sidebar while “Favorite Sites” is on my About page. As an example, my “Your Blogs” template is called “Blog Links” and the Output File is “bloglinks.php”.

  8. Use this code for the templates:

    
    <h2>Your Blogs</h2>
    <ul>
    <MTEntries category="Blog" sort_by="title" sort_order="ascend">
    <li><a href="<$MTEntryBody convert_breaks="0"$>" 
    title="<$MTEntryMore remove_html='1' $>"><$MTEntryTitle$></a></li>
    </MTEntries>
    </ul>
    

    Obviously you should change this to whatever is best for you. Probably the two most important things would be to put whatever title you want to the list between the <h2> and </h2> tags, and to change category="Blog" to whatever your category is.

  9. Make some entries into your new weblog. This is the format:

    Title = Name of the webpage (i.e. Monsters from the Id)
    Primary Category = The category mentioned above (i.e. Favorite)
    Entry Body = The URL of the webpage (i.e. http://www.idmonsters.com/)
    Extended Entry = The title that shows up when you hold your cursor over the link (i.e. Jon Michaels’ Weblog)
    Excerpt = An optional number or letter for sorting

    This last one is where my method really differs from the other ideas people had. In the code listed in step 8 above you’ll notice sort_by="title" and sort_order="ascend". This will display the list in alphabetically my the name of the webpage from A to Z. Changing the sort order to "descend" would list the links from Z to A. If you removed the code sort_by="title" entirely, the list would be sorted by entry date. The final option is to use the code sort_by="excerpt". This would allow you to order the list in anyway you wish. Use numbers or letters to rank importance. Want your friend’s site to be the first on the list? Put a “1” or an “a” in the Excerpt field.

  10. Add the PHP include to your main weblog’s templates. Use this code:

    <?php include('<$MTBlogSitePath$>inc/bloglinks.php');?>
    

    Change the “inc” to whatever directory you created in step 1. Change “bloglinks.php” to whatever you called the Output File in step 7. Then put the code in your sidebar or where ever you want the link list displayed. Make sure to include it in all necessary templates.

  11. If your site uses PHP files (with the .php extension), you’re all set to go. Rebuild all the pages and you’ll be up and running. If you have HTML files (with a .html extension) you’ll need to make a change to your .htaccess file. (Or create one if you don’t have it.) It should be sitting in the root level of your website. Open it in a text editor (or create it), and add these two lines:

    DirectoryIndex index.html index.htm index.php
    AddType application/x-httpd-php .html .htm 
    

    This will let you process PHP code in your HTML files.

If you can’t run PHP at all on your site, you’ll need to rework this whole idea. Probably using the <$MTInclude$> tag. And as I mentioned, you’ll have to rebuild your site every time you want new links to show up.

June 20, 2004

More Site Changes

I said it would be back, and it is. I’ve brought back my Monsters from the Id title graphic. In that previous post I said I wouldn’t bring it back until “all the bells and whistles” were in place. Well, as anyone who does their own website probably knows, all the bells and whistles will never be in place. But I did do some major upgrades.

First you will notice that the “My Links” section is gone and replace with “Navigate” at the top of my Sidebar. “My Links” has now moved into the brand-spankin’ new About page that you can access from said “Navigate” section.

I’ve also redesigned how my Archives work. I took the references to the monthly and category archives out of my Sidebar and put everything under a master Archives page. I’ve changed my monthly archives and category archives to only show the 40 word excerpt of each post. You can click the link for the full post. The main reason for this is that pages were getting too big. I’ve only been running this site a few months. But 50+ posts in my “Musings” category where I tend to get a little long-winded, made a huge page to load. What would it be like in a year? So all the data is still there, it’s just not duplicated on many different pages. Those you coming in looking for a specific item that you searched for on Google or another engine, can simply type in what you’re looking for into my search box and you should get the same thing.

I also added in the Referrers page that I talked about in my previous post. Less then 24 hours after putting it in, I had to make some major changes to it. For one thing I wasn’t stopping the bot spam that I first got. Vibehosting.com is now on my nemesis list. I had to implement both the BotWhack and IPWhack from this page. Even though I talked about how cool it was that it could track all pages at my website, I decided to shutdown referral tracking on “The Donnas — Rock ‘n’ Roll Machines” and “Right Turn Clyde”. Neither of those sites have been updated in about 4 years, but since they’ve been around that long, there are links to them from everywhere. They get much more traffic than this little weblog. I might setup a separate referrer tracker for them at some point but for now, I’m really just interested in Monsters from the Id.

I setup a very cool link list system using a second weblog and PHP. It’s based on a couple different methods that other’s have used with a few little changes of my own. I’ll write about the specifics at some point so others can make use of it. The long and short of this is basically no different for the end user. It just makes things much easier for me to add and delete links in my “Your Blogs” list and my “Favorite Sites” list. Plus I new and slightly more dynamically exciting list should be showing up in the not too distant future.

And what would any site be without smilies. I had to do. I’ve mentioned before—I can’t remember if it was in a comment on this site or someone else’s—that I try not to use them too much. I try to write in a clear manner so that my tone in inferred through my words. But obviously that’s not always possible. So the occasional smiley might be called for. Plus I turned them on for Comments. That’s more of a “stop in and have fun” area. People should be able to make cute faces. This too I did slightly different from the way that’s mentioned on other sites. I’ll post something on that as well.

But wait! There’s more! I enabled Markdown and Smarty Pants in the comments. That’s right folks! Now you too can benefit from the easy markup that is Markdown.

So enjoy all the new fun. I do have a few other tricks floating around in the back of my mind that might just pop up here one day.

June 19, 2004

Where Did You Come From?

It figures. I don’t know whether it was Murphy or the previously mentioned “narrative convention” but the very instant that I installed Dean Allen’s excellent Refer scripts to keep track of referrals to the various pages of my website, I was referral porn spammed by a passing bot. I have now made some changes to the scripts to reduce referral spam. Hopefully that helps.

Oh well. For those of you who might be interested there are some links to what is probably some hot stuff in my new referral page. At some point later today, I’ll update my various MT templates to include a link to this.

There are a couple of very cool things about these scripts. The first is that they are not a plug-in to Movable Type. This means that they’ll keep track of all pages on your website—even ones not served by MT.

The second cool thing is that by making a simple change to your .htaccess file (which the installer explains) you don’t have to insert any new lines into your webpages. Apache and PHP will take care of everything for you. Nearly instant on.

The third cool thing is that it only uses one table in a MySQL database so you can easily configure it to add the table into your existing MT database. (My ISP only allows me a limited number of MySQL databases. I wasn’t sure I wanted to use up one of those just for referrers.) Just make sure you don’t use one of the existing MT table names.

As you can probably infer from the text above, Refer requires PHP and MySQL to run. If your ISP doesn’t allow those things, you’re out of luck. Sorry.

Strange Things Are Afoot At The Circle K

I have a day off today. In fact I have this entire weekend off. I went from no work for 3-some-odd months to two weeks straight work including the weekend and it was a bit of a system shock. It’s nice to fart around.

Yesterday at work we were enjoying the fruits of our newly installed OS X 10.3. Doing cool things like labeling things with color. (Hey, when you’ve been using Panther for nearly a year on your home computer, trying to deal with Jaguar everyday at work is a real pain.)

We have a server in our office that holds our entire sound effects library. Any computer in our building with a username and password can get to the FX. It makes editorial much easier. We also have a drive that holds things like the digital picture files of the movie we are working on. Change notes to help conform edited material from an earlier version to the most current version of the movie.

Every editor who works with us also has a personal folder on that drive. A place to put your stuff. This makes exchanging files so much easier. Before we started using a central server 3 years ago, we had to rely on moving hard drives from computer to computer or [involuntary shudder] Jaz drives to transfer files. Now it’s a simple matter of “Hey, I put a mixdown of that line of dialogue you were looking for in your folder. You can get it whenever you want.”

So in our Panther-induced joyous mood yesterday we decided to drop Cameron’s personal folder into the Finder Sidebar—that list of drives and folder on the left side of every Finder window. That would make things really easy we reasoned. Need to get to your personal folder fast? Click on the folder in the sidebar. It seemed really cool yesterday.

Today during my day off I got a call from Cameron who decided to go into the office for a few hours to finish up on some sound design he had been working on. Anything he clicked on on his desktop caused the computer to hang—spinning beachball icon. The only way out was to Force Quit the Finder. He couldn’t open drives. He couldn’t open folders. He could run programs from the dock though.

I asked him to see if he could open a new Finder window. That didn’t work either. This time though it asked him to log into the server. He tried doing that but he got the spinning beachball again. But this gave me a clue to the problem. I suspected it had something to do with Cameron’s personal folder on the server being in the Sidebar.

Thankfully I always insist that we put the Applications folder in the Dock. By clicking and holding on it, he was able to get the list of all installed applications. After a little research on my end, this is how I had him fix the problem:

  1. Run Terminal. I keep it in the Dock so I would have been set. Cameron doesn’t but he had the Applications folder there so he could run it from that.
  2. Type cd Library/Preferences
  3. Type mv com.apple.sidebarlists.plist side.old
  4. Quit Terminal.
  5. Select Apple Menu -> Log Out
  6. Log back in.

All better. You can of course delete the offending plist file as well—the Finder will gladly rebuild it when you log in again. But if you had other things in there you wanted to save, it’s best to rename and fix it after you can work with your computer normally. You could also go in with a text editor and delete the lines from the plist about the remote volume.

If you aren’t lucky enough to have Terminal or the Applications folder in your Dock, but you’re on a network, you can remotely log into your computer and do the same thing. You’ll need to know the IP address of the non-functional computer. You can get it from the Network Preference Pane in System Preferences which you can get to from the Apple Menu.

Run Terminal on the other computer. Type in ssh username@ipaddress where “username” is your short name on the non-functional computer and the “ipaddress” is the address you got from the Network Preference. You’ll have to enter your password when it asks for it. If you’ve never used ssh before, it’ll ask you about adding the address or something like that. You’ll want to say “yes”. Now you’re logged into the non-fuctional computer. Do steps 1, 2, and 3 listed above. Instead of step 4, simply type exit to logoff and close the connection to the remote computer. Now you can do steps 5 and 6 on the non-functional computer.

I suspect there’s probably a way to get a folder on a remote volume to work properly in the Sidebar. Probably with a symbolic link of something. But my first mission was to get the computer working again. Thankfully I can say, mission accomplished.

June 18, 2004

Sound Convention

Terry Pratchett has a running joke in his Discworld books about narrative conventions. For example, due to “narrative convention” every carriage wreck (it is a fantasy-based series) ends with a lone wheel rolling down the street. On a similar note, after the “Star Trek: Enterprise” season finale, I mentioned how much I’m sick of the currently popular narrative convention that heroes can out-run an explosion.

Many people may not realize it but film sound is full of conventions as well. And some of them drive me crazy! Anytime a wide expansive shot of the ruggedly beautiful wilderness is shown (particularly if there are distant mountains), you always hear a red-tailed hawk cry out with a distant “Screeee!” In fact speaking of animals, pretty much anytime an animal is on screen it has to be yammering away. Non-stop noises from them. I can’t necessarily speak for everyone, but my two cats are quite content to not make a peep for hours on end.

But the one thing that drives me completely up the wall is that computers in movies have to constantly be making beeps and boops. If my computers made half as much noise as movie computers make, I’d have thrown them out the window and declared myself a Luddite.

The movie term for computer sounds is “telemetry”. It sounds all slick and cool, but the fact is in terms of sound, movie computers haven’t progressed far beyond the multi-colored flashing lights and the spinning reel-to-reel tape of the sci-fi movie computers of the 1950s. I am on a mission to get rid of computer telemetry in movies. Computers can make noise—they do in real life. But it should be the whir of the fan, the purr of the CD-ROM, the chatter of the hard drive, and the tick tick tick of the keys.

So it was with great pleasure that I spent today playing around with real-world computers sounds and making “Hollywood” computer sounds with them. Take an actual close-mic recording of hard drive chatter and mix it in with a quieter reversed version of itself to get an interesting effect. Run a broadband noise reduction on various fans to greatly reduce the white noise and to expose the unusual metallic tones of spinning motors. Things like that. Hopefully some producer or studio executive farther up the chain of command won’t say, “Hey! Where are the beeps?”

This is something you all can help out with. Next time you’re sitting in a theater watching a movie and you hear annoying noises coming out of the movie computers, jump up, hurl your tub of popcorn at the screen, and yell “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Ok, maybe that won’t help. But it would be pretty fun to see.

June 17, 2004

SCSI As You Wanna Be

Yesterday I finished most of the system upgrade I did on my Pro Tools workstation. I still have a few programs to put back on, but it’s mostly there. Probably the coolest thing about the upgrade has been the new driver for my ATTO ExpressPCI UL3D SCSI card. The new 3.10 driver for Panther is brilliant! Finally we can once again hot-swap hard drives like we used to do under OS 9. It doesn’t work exactly the same way but it is still much faster than a shut down and reboot.

You have to download the driver I mentioned above and the ATTO Configuration Tool v2.61. Once you have those installed, run the Configuration Tool. You turn down a few of the arrows on the left like opening folders in List View in the Finder, until you see the ExpressPCI SCSI card listed. Click on it to select it. Click the “Advanced” tab on the right side of the window. Then click the “Rescan” button. The software will look for any drives attached to your SCSI card and mount them. Very easy.

I did notice a couple of things to watch out for.

  1. Pro Tools grabs a hold of all drives on your desktop while it’s running. You have to quit it before you do any SCSI mounting.

  2. You have to remove all drives from the desktop before mounting any new drives. (Even if you want to continue using drives that are currently mounted.) Throw all drives into the trash or hit Command-E to eject them. Then do the steps I mentioned above to mount all the SCSI drives you want to work with. If you don’t eject all drives first you will get an error message when you run “Rescan” telling you that your drives were improperly put away and that you may have lost data. Better safe than sorry.

The ATTO 3.10 driver is (dare I say it?) “The Bomb”. I strongly encourage everyone running Panther with a UL3D SCSI card to check it out.

I'm Quickly Using Up My 15 Minutes

Would you look at that! I guess I’m famous now. I’ve been quoted in eWeek. :P :)

June 16, 2004

Zombies = Power Interruptions

This is an awesome article: When the zombies take over, how long till the electricity fails?. Those of you who’ve read my take on zombie movies know that this is right up my alley.

Thanks to Boing Boing for pointing it out.

Today Is A Good Day To Upgrade

Right now I am sitting at my desk in my office watching a little blue bar crawl across the screen of my computer. I’m in the process of upgrading my Macintosh Pro Tools workstation to Panther. The average end user might not realize it but tall these system updates wreak havoc with those of us in speciality hardware and software situations. Apple basically rewrote the underlying audio framework when they made OS X 10.3. Suddenly those of us with laptops or home computers were enjoying all the cool benefits that Panther brought, but couldn’t use it on our Digital Audio Workstations because nothing was compatible.

Even now, I’m technically setting my system up in an unsupported configuration. But I already tried it out on another computer with good success so I’m now doing it to mine—

Oh! My computer just restarted. Time to pop in disk 2.

Maybe I make it harder on myself than I need to with these upgrades but I’m paranoid about bad updates leaving lasting problems. So I left my OS 9 stuff untouched, but after making a copy of all of my files onto a firewire drive, I deleted my entire OS X 10.2 installation. I’m now putting on a clean version of Panther. Yes, they have that “archive and install” option but somehow I just feel better doing it all by hand. It probably takes we way longer than it needs to, but I know that I have a 100% Panther system this way.

Anyway, my computer now says I have 10 minutes left on disk 2. (And there’s still disk 3 ahead of me.) So I’m just sitting here waiting. Writing this. Surfing some websites, and listening to a CD I picked up recently, “The Greatest Hits of Jackie Wilson”.

June 15, 2004

New MT3 Licensing

Those folks over at Six Apart have updated their Movable Type licensing yet again. Personally I think they’ve got it perfect now.

There are three levels for Personal Weblogs:

  • 1 author / 3 weblogs / Free
  • 5 authors / unlimited weblogs / $70
  • unlimited authors / unlimited weblogs / $100

Simple. Makes it really easy for people to do what they want with the software for not much money. I’m really glad that I made the upgrade. The whole comment approval thing has already kept of ton of spam off my site.

Yay, Six Apart! You done good.

I'd Buy That For A Dollar

Actually I did.

Ok, so we never thought that the Pixies would ever reunite and starting touring again, but we were wrong. But that’s it, right? They’re just touring with material they wrote more than 10 years ago, right? Oh no.

Yesterday, the first new Pixies track, “Bam Thwok”, was released at the iTunes Music Store. In fact it’s the only place to get it. For a buck. This really isn’t something you should even have to think about. New Pixies song, one dollar. It’s easy.

In far less spectacular though still fun news, The Donnas have released an iTunes only track—their cover of the Generation X / Billy Idol tune, “Dancing With Myself”.

June 14, 2004

Giant Monsters From My Childhood

This one can be filed under “So bad, it’s good.”

Recently I was thinking about my childhood influences. Long before there was ever a “Power Rangers”, I was watching Japanese Giant Monster TV Shows. These definitely had a hand in my love of B-movies. And well, there’s also the obvious, the name of my website.

In the late 1970s, when I was three or four, a local TV station in Detroit used to show “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot” and “Ultra Man” back-to-back. I loved them and watched them everyday. (Though I’ll admit that the swirly colors at the beginning of “Ultra Man” scared me for some reason.)

These shows were actually made ten years earlier and were a direct response to the popularity of all the Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra movies. They featured the formula that is familiar to fans of Japanese Giant Monster TV Shows of any era. A team of good guys (often young and possibly with a kid) fight a constant battle against a team of bad guys (possibly from outer space). Both sides make use of Giant Monsters (read “guys in rubber suits stomping on models”) to battle each other for control of Earth. The good guys either have control of Giant Monsters / Robots or they turn into them, while the bad guys usually just pull the strings of their enormous minions from afar.

I decided to see if I could track these shows down. I found that NovaRose sells both series on DVD. Their prices are great and the quality is quite good for 1960s TV shows with rather low production value to begin with. (I can’t really comment on the legality of these DVDs. I don’t know and I didn’t ask. I know for a fact that neither show is actually sold on DVD or VHS in the US. But that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t own the rights. It’s up to you. I will say though that the guys at NovaRose are very nice and very helpful.)

Since the DVDs arrived in the mail today, I decided to sit down tonight and watch the first episode of each.

They’re definitely dated, and if you thought the special effects were cheap in 1950s Godzilla movies, these are extra cheap. But they’re a hell of a lot of fun. I smiled and laughed my way through both “Johnny Sokko” and “Ultra Man”.

Johnny Sokko is a young boy who just happens to get shipwrecked with Jerry Mano, an agent of Unicorn (the good guys), on an island controlled by the Gargoyle Gang (the bad guys) and Emperor Guillotine (the evil alien from outer space) when their evil Giant Monster sinks the ship the two are on. Got it so far?

Giant Robot

Johnny and Jerry discover that Guillotine and the Gargoyles are trying to build a Giant Robot to destroy the world. Luckily Johnny takes control of the robot and saves the day. Super cool.

Johnny and Jerry get a helping hand.

“Ultra Man” on the other hand is an entirely different kind of story. Science Patrol (the good guys) flys around in cool rocket planes protecting Earth from bad guys. When an evil meteorite with an evil Giant Monster inside crashes on Earth, Hayata of the Science Patrol crashes into a good meteorite with his rocket plane and is merged with the good Giant Monster, Ultra Man. Then the two Giant Monsters fight. (Ok, maybe it’s not so different.)

I did notice that with “Ultra Man” it’s actually geared towards older viewers. Something that my four year old brain could never understand. In fact I discovered that it’s actually a show secretly meant for fetishists. If nothing else you have the swell uniforms that Science Patrol gets to run around in:

Science Patrol in their swell uniforms.

But the real proof is in the blatant use of rubber-suited monster porn that is all over this show:

Ultra Man and the Giant Monster get get enough of each other.

I don’t know why my mother ever let me watch it. I can’t wait to watch the rest of the shows!

Oh Nigel, Wherefore Art Thou?

I am almost done reading the Discworld series of books. Or I should actually say, I am almost done “reading” the Discworld series. For about a year and half now I have slowly been making my way through listening to the audiobooks of all the Discworld books from audible.com.

Having completed “The Callahan Chronicals” on my morning drive to work yesterday, last night I started on Terry Pratchett’s “The Thief Of Time”.

It has been a very enjoyable experience to have someone read an entire series of books to me. Especially ones like this. If you like Douglas Adams, find Monty Python to be amusing, and are a sucker or subtle (or not so subtle) literary and pop culture references, then the Discworld might be for you.

But I’m not going to talk about the Discworld and how cool it is, or how much of a genius I think Terry Pratchett is. I’m going to talk about how much I miss Nigel Planer reading. This argument will (pardon the pun) fall on deaf ears if you haven’t listened to any of the Discworld audiobooks. (Sorry about that but I did just come off a stint with Callahan.)

Nigel Planer is the epitome of the Discworld. He is the Eric Idle, John Cleese, in fact the entire troupe of Monty Python in his readings. He “gets it”. The first twenty or so books are read by him. And they’re awesome. (Ok, there are a couple early witch books by a woman, but I’m going to ignore those.) Stephen Briggs, the reader on the later books, is ok. I don’t hate him by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s not as good as Nigel.

I bring this up now because like I said, I’m on “The Thief Of Time”. This audiobook features an ensemble cast including Stephan Rudnicki and Harlan Ellison. It’s just plain awful. I’m sorry but Americans should not be reading this stuff. I’m an American myself, I should know. It just doesn’t have the right tone from an American. The accent is part of it. But I also think there’s a difference in thinking. A difference in which words are important. By “which words” I mean that a British reader seems to emphasize words in a sentence differently than an American would. Avid watchers of Monty Python will understand what I’m saying here.

Well, it’s still Pratchett and it’s still the Discworld. I’m not going to give up on it. It still is a bit funny. (Though not as funny as it could be.) I just miss Nigel. And I’m definitely going to go back and really read all these books at some point in the future.

June 13, 2004

Lessons In Japanese

Now that I own a license to Movable Type 3, my weblog is listed on the “Recently Updated” sidebar at MT HQ whenever I post a new entry. This always results in a burst of traffic from Japan. I’m assuming that it has to do with the fact that I have Japanese characters in the name of my weblog. And it might even possibly say something meaningful.

I’m hoping that someone can answer a few questions for me. Is my Japanese even remotely close to something real? There’s an American perception (justified or not) that when you translate Japanese into English you wind up with some unusual ways of saying things. I was going for a bit of that idea when I used Apple’s Sherlock program to translate “Monsters from the Id” into “Monster Big Bad Brain” and came up with 怪獣大悪脳. I brieflly mentioned this in my comment to this previous post.

I know that 怪獣 is Kaiju. A giant monster like Godzilla. How do you write out the other characters in a Roman alphabet? And how is it pronounced? If I’m totally off base on this, how would you say “Monsters from the Id” in Japanese?

That One Person Who Spoils It For Everybody

Since I was talking about how much people can suck earlier, I thought I would share this with you. Ever been in a situation with a group of people and one of them totally sucks? I mean where that person can make things so miserable that you’re not sure if you want to shoot them or yourself first? My friend Ben recently got back from a two month trip to Japan and Australia. He relates his misadventures with a fellow camper in Australia:

I swear that as soon as he got on the bus I sensed a weirdo. He was a Canadian, not a bad thing, but right away I could tell he enjoyed refering to his homeland as a pretty important place. Over the course of the trip I learned that Australia and Canada are pretty much the same country according to ole Del, and so is New Zealand and so is Japan and so is Russia, on and on….

The next thing that became apparent was his instinctual desire to consume anything that was even remotely associated with food in such a gluttonous manner that it made me lose my appetite from almost the beginning of the trip….

As if the food and inconsiderate sharing wasn’t enough, there is one more aspect to Del that you readers at home must understand to get the full Del experience. He stank like the bejeezus….

The only good thing actually about having Delano on the trip was his ability to bring the rest of us together in our hatred…. So my new theory is that we can send him to all the places where there is turmoil, and both the warring sides, be it Palestine and Israel or Iraq and the US, Northern Ireland and England or India and Pakistan, will bond and unite over the hatred….

People Can Really Suck If They Put Their Mind To It

I got a call this morning as I was driving into work from Cameron. We are trying to finish up the sound for a scene that’s due in NY at noon on Monday. Since that’s 9am here, we basically need to get it all done tonight and load it up to the internet. (Just a side note, it was only a few years ago that this would not even be possible. We would have had to hire a courier to buy a plane ticket to NY and take a red-eye there.)

Cam is going to be a bit late coming in today because last night someone dumped an entire bucket of paint on his car! I cannot in begin to imagine what kind of person goes through life saying, “Hey, here’s an idea for someting fun…” Sure, when I was a kid we did our share of pranks—toilet papering a house or ding dong ditch—but nothing that did permanent damage. Annoying? Definitely. A pain in the ass? Probably. But throwing paint on a car is completely awful.

It’s not even like he’s driving a Hummer or something with no real value except to bleed gas and announce “Look what I can afford! Environment be damned!” He has a sporty little Jaguar. Definitely not a car that I would drive, or I should say that I would choose for myself. (Cam, one of the most generous people on the planet, let me drive his Jag for a month while my Honda was being fixed after an accident.)

Some people really suck.

Update: 9:40pm

Thankfully, the paint was water-based. Most of it is off Cameron’s car now. There’s still bits in the seams. Little spatterings here and there. Unfortunately his whole paint job on the car is scratched now since there was so much scrubbing for so long trying to get the paint off.

And in terms of the scene we’ve been cutting, we’re just about done. We’re meeting at the office at 7am to give it another once over, add in any little last minute bits, mix is down, and ship it off to NY.

June 12, 2004

Easier Text Entry And Formatting

I made couple of upgrades to my site which you may have noticed in my last post. I installed Daring Fireballs’ excellent Markdown and Smarty Pants plug-ins.

Markdown is the kind of Movable Type plug-in that I’ve been looking for for quite a while now. I think I’ve mentioned before that I use BBEdit to write my posts. And then I copy it into the MT web interface. In a little more detail, I actually type the entire document first. Then I check it for spelling errors and read it through for grammar problems. Only then do I go through and add in all the XHTML markup. This is what makes it look the way it should in the final presentation online with links to other webpages, code for embedded image files, other code for bold and italics. But once I add all this in, the once neat and clean document is damn near impossible to read.

Hence, Markdown. The basic idea is that you type up your document like you would in an old text-only email. You add simple things like *asterisks* around a word to turn it into an italicized word, asterisks. (Actually it adds the emphasis tags <em> and </em> since this has more to do with content than layout.) There are simple text-based “codes” for many of the most used XHTML tags, and best of all, it leaves you with a text document that you can easily read. (You can still add all the XHTML you want, don’t worry about that.)

The other plug-in, Smarty Pants, turns your 'this' into ‘that’, your "that" into “this”, your . . . into …, and your — into —. It gives you nice typographically correct text without any real effort.

A cool feature of these two plug-ins is that they work together and are implemented through the “Text Formatting” pull-down menu in the MT entry screen. With this you can turn it on or off for each individual post. Quite handy. I’m planning on going back and reformatting all my previous posts for Markdown, but that will take some time. However, I can start to get the benefit of Markdown right now without screwing up my other entries.

Great stuff.

Sci Fi And Fantasy Books To Read

This is a list of all the all the books in the Sci Fi Masterworks Series and the Fantasy Masterworks Series put out by the British publisher Gollancz. These books and stories are all considered to be “classics” by the Sci Fi and Fantasy community.

I am going to make the effort to read all of these books. (Though not necessarily these exact British pressing. They can be a bit more expensive.)

Books in bold I have finished reading. Books in italics I own but have not read, or have not finished reading.

I’ve got a lot of work to do!

SF Masterworks Series

  • “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman
  • “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson
  • “Cities In Flight” by James Blish
  • “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick
  • “The Stars My Destination” by Alfred Bester
  • “Babel Seventeen” by Samuel R. Delany
  • “Lord Of Light” by Roger Zelazny
  • “The Fifth Head Of Cerberus” by Gene Wolfe
  • “Gateway” by Frederik Pohl
  • “The Rediscovery Of Man” by Cordwainer Smith
  • “Last And First Men” by Olaf Stapledon
  • “Earth Abides” by George R. Stewart
  • “Martian Time-Slip” by Philip K. Dick
  • “The Demolished Man” by Alfred Bester
  • “Stand On Zanzibar” by John Brunner
  • “The Dispossessed” by Ursula Le Guin
  • “The Drowned World” by J.G. Ballard
  • “The Sirens Of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut
  • “Emphyrio” by Jack Vance
  • “A Scanner Darkly” by Philip K. Dick
  • “Star Maker” by Olaf Stapledon
  • “Behold The Man” by Michael Moorcock
  • “The Book Of Skulls” by Robert Silverberg
  • “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells
  • “Flowers For Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
  • “Ubik” by Philip K. Dick
  • “Timescape” by Gregory Benford
  • “More Than Human” by Theodore Sturgeon
  • “Man Plus” by Frederik Pohl
  • “A Case Of Conscience” by James Blish
  • “The Centauri Device” by M. John Harrison
  • “Dr. Bloodmoney” by Philip K. Dick
  • “Non-Stop” by Brian Aldiss
  • “The Fountains Of Paradise” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “Pavane” by Keith Roberts
  • “Now Wait For Last Year” by Philip K. Dick
  • “Nova” by Samuel R. Delany
  • “The First Men In The Moon” by H.G. Wells
  • “The City And The Stars” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “Blood Music” by Greg Bear
  • “Jem” by Frederik Pohl
  • “Bring The Jubilee” by Ward Moore
  • “Valis” by Philip K. Dick
  • “The Lathe Of Heaven” by Ursula Le Guin
  • “The Complete Roderick” by John Sladek
  • “Flow, My Tears, The Policeman Said” by Philip K. Dick
  • “The Invisible Man” by H.G. Wells
  • “Grass” by Sheri S. Tepper
  • “A Fall Of Moondust” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “Eon” by Greg Bear

Fantasy Masterworks Series

  • “The Book Of The New Sun: Shadow And Claw” by Gene Wolfe
  • “Time And The Gods Six Story Anthology” by Lord Dunsany
  • “The Worm Ouroboros” by E.R. Eddison
  • “Tales Of The Dying Earth” by Jack Vance
  • “Little, Big” by John Crowley
  • “The Chronicles Of Amber” by Roger Zelazny
  • “Viriconium” by M. John Harrison
  • “The Conan Chronicles: People Of The Black Circle” by Robert E. Howard
  • “The Land Of Laughs” by Jonathan Carroll
  • “The Complete Enchanter” by L. Sprague De Camp
  • “Lud-In-The-Mist” by Hope Mirrlees
  • “The Book Of The New Sun: Sword And Citadel” by Gene Wolfe
  • “Fevre Dream” by George R.R. Martin
  • “Beauty” by Sheri R. Tepper
  • “The King Of Elfland’s Daughter” by Lord Dunsany
  • “The Conan Chronicles: Hour Of The Dragon” by Robert E. Howard
  • “Elric” by Michael Moorcock
  • “The First Book Of Lankhmar” by Fritz Leiber
  • “The Riddle-Master’s Game” by Patricia A. McKillip
  • “Time And Again” by Jack Finney
  • “Mistress Of Mistresses” by E.R. Eddison
  • “Gloriana, Or The Unfulfill’d Queen” by Michael Moorcock
  • “The Well Of The Unicorn” by Fletcher Pratt
  • “The Second Book Of Lankhmar” by Fritz Leiber
  • “Voice Of Our Shadow” by Jonathan Carroll
  • “The Emperor Of Dreams: Best Fantasy Tales” by Clark Ashton Smith
  • “Lyonesse: Suldrun’s Garden” by Jack Vance
  • “Peace” by Gene Wolfe
  • “The Dragon Waiting: A Mague Of History” by John M. Ford
  • “Corum: The Prince In The Scarlet Robe” by Michael Moorcock
  • “Black Gods And Scarlet Dreams” by C.L. Moore
  • “The Broken Sword” by Poul Anderson
  • “The House On The Border Land And Other Stories” by William Hope Hodgson
  • “The Drawing Of The Dark” by Tim Powers
  • “Lyonesse: Green Pearl And Madouc” by Jack Vance
  • “The History Of The Runestaff” by Michael Moorcock
  • “A Voyage To Arcturus” by David Lindsay
  • “Three Hearts And Three Lions” by Poul Anderson
  • “The Mabinogion” by Evageline Walton
  • “Darker Than You Think: And Other Novels” by Jack Williamson
  • “The Call Of Cthulhu And Other Eldritch Horrors” by H.P. Lovecraft

June 11, 2004

Worldizing Sound With Altiverb

Recently we've been working on new movie and using Altiverb to place sound effects within their environment. What a great piece of software! There's a new version 4 that's recently come out.

Instead of grabbing all those sliders like Wet / Dry, Decay, and Pre-Delay and trying to find settings that sound like a real place, Altiverb actually takes the sonic characteristics of an environment and applies it to the sound. Using a starter pistol or a tone sweep to make some noise, and recording the sound inside a particular place like a church, a car, or your bedroom with one, two or four microphones, Altiverb will analyze that sound and make a church, car, or bedroom setting. This is called an Impulse Response. Then when you want to take a recording of something like someone singing and make it sound like it was done in the church, you selecting the "church" setting. Easy and very, very cool.

Altiverb ships with a lot of pre-set environments like various churches, cathedrals, music studios, auditoriums, and a whole slew of home and office places. You can download more from their website. And I've found a few other websites with other pre-sets that can be downloaded:

Altiverb.DAW-Mac.com

Fokke van Saane's Altiverb Impulse Responses

And of course you can go and record your own!

June 9, 2004

Goodbye Mr. Quine

I didn't see this one from Reuters:

Guitarist Robert Quine, one of punk rock's most daring soloists, was found dead Saturday in his New York apartment. He was 61.

That's really a shame. Robert used to hang out with the Velvet Underground back in the day. In fact a couple years ago, Polydor released a collection of unofficially official live recordings that he did of them "Bootleg Series, Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes". The quality is pretty much no-fi but it does really capture the raw power of VU.

Anyone who enjoys punk and hasn't taken a look at VU really needs to. There's a story about their first album, "The Velvet Underground & Nico": that it only sold 1000 copies initially but everyone who bought one of those copies went out a formed their own band.

Quine understood that. He was one of the founding members of Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Their 1977 debut album, "Blank Generation" is one of the truly great punk rock albums.

Robert went on to work with many excellent artists including Lou Reed, Lydia Lunch, Brian Eno, Material, They Might Be Giants, Tom Waits, Matthew Sweet, and even John Zorn.

He will be missed.

June 8, 2004

Automatically Sending Trackback Pings To Your Own Posts

If you're a repeat visitor to this website, you might have noticed that I have a few running threads. I make use of the Categories to "file away" posts in an appropriate area but I also link back to previous posts when appropriate and I have started sending Trackback pings to those posts so that people starting from the earlier post can continue the topic. A very recent example has been my look at various RSS newsfeed aggregators. (Well, to actually focus mostly on PulpFiction.) Even though I have Movable Type set to automatically ping posts that I link to on other servers, tt would not do it on my own. I would have to manually enter each of them.

No longer. Here's how you turn on automatic trackback pinging to your own posts on your own server:

In the directory that you installed Movable Type on your webserver, open the file lib/MT/Entry.pm in a text editor. Find the line:

next if $url =~ /^$archive_url/;

and comment it out. It should look like this:

# next if $url =~ /^$archive_url/;

Save the file and you're done. Now whenever you add a link to a previous post on your own website, it will "auto-discover" the post (as they call it in the preferences) and send a trackback ping.

A huge "Thank You!" goes out to Phil Ringnalda for answering this question for me in the Movable Type Support Forums.

Another Problem With PulpFiction

Ok, maybe I'm not using the program the way it's supposed to be used. Here's what I'm doing. I've subscribed to all the feeds I want. PulpFiction automatically checks for new posts every 30 minutes. They are downloaded to the Inbox on my machine. I read the posts and the ones I don't want to keep, I delete by hitting the delete key. For some reason though, I those same posts that I've read and deleted are sometimes re-downloaded a few hours or even a day later. It's very strange. It's not the end of the world. But it's a bit annoying.

More On RSS Feeds

I've been using PulpFiction Lite for several days now to keep up with the websites I read a lot and it's working out great. Once I got over the initial onslaught of hundreds and hundreds of posts to slog through it's fairly easy to stay up to date. One super important thing for people to do though: do not subscribe to more sites than you can handle. That was my initial problem. I added all the sites I read regularly to the ones that were already in the program and I got so overwhelmed so quickly that I almost gave up.

The best way to go about doing this is to only add the sites you normally read with your web browser and maybe one or two new ones. Try that out for several days and get used to it. If you can keep up with the volume of posts and want to add more, only then add a few more.

So I'm happy. I'm reading all the websites I read previously plus a few more and it's pretty easy. The new posts come directly to me. No more loading and reloading of websites to see if there's something new.

I have one big problem with PulpFiction Lite right now though. When it checks for a new posts in a feed--I have it set to check automatically every half-hour--it scrolls the preview panel where you read the post to the top. This is a big pain in the butt. Some RSS feeds like MacMinute only include a few words of the post, you have to click the link to really read it. Others like anything from Livejournal.com, include the full post. So I usually just read it right there in the preview window. Since feeds are checked every half-hour from the time they were last checked, if you leave PulpFiction running for a while, you might end up checking feeds every few minutes. This is a lot of interruptions when you're reading a long post.

June 7, 2004

To Read Or Not To Read, That Is The Question

I read a lot. Or let's put it this way: averaged out over the years, I have read a lot. It kicked in pretty hard when I was in third grade. That year I read "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien. The next year I read the complete "Lord Of The Rings". And I've never looked back since. By the time I was in junior high and all through high school, I was devouring books. Sometimes one every couple of days.

Things slowed down a bit in college. At least in terms of pleasure reading. But of course I had to do so much reading just for my classes that it more than made up for it. Unfortunately when I entered into the mythical realm of "real life" in January of 1996 and had to get a job, things slipped to nearly a crawl. Every six months or year or so, I would get the urge and for a month, maybe two, I would read many books. But in between those frenzied periods. I wouldn't read anything.

That isn't to say literally "nothing". Just no books. I remember all the efforts that educators placed on reading before I went off to college. They would often say things like "Read everyday. Read anything. Even if it's a newspaper." In those years since 1996. I've done more than my share of reading everyday--mostly in the form of the internet. Often news, much of it computer-related, but always something. Read everyday.

And I would still have my "fits". Those periods when something would spark and I'd voraciously consume another round of pressed sheets of bound cellulous. One sticks in my mind. October 2000. I was staying in a hotel in New Hampshire attending my friends' wedding, and visiting my family in Boston.

Late one night I was flipping through the channels and I wound up on a broadcast of "Interview With A Vampire". I stayed up late watching the whole movie, even though I'd seen in many times before. And that was all it took. When I got back to Los Angeles, I promptly went and re-read all the Lestat novels and tracked down all the ones that had come out since my last reading. I think I even got in a few bonus H.P. Lovecraft books before my literary zeal wore itself out.

Things changed for me in September 2002. That was when Cameron and I set up the deal we have with Fox Studios. Suddenly I found myself driving an hour across town from Burbank to Century City every morning and another hour on the evening return. I quickly found myself wishing for something to fill up the time. I don't mind driving. In fact I quite enjoy it. I just felt that I could be doing something even more constructive with the 10 (sometimes 14) hours I spent in the car every week.

In my dream world we would have voice activated computers installed in every car that would be tied into our own personal "data-space". All my files--documents, pictures, MP3s, movies, everything--would be in this "space". It would be accessible from any computer anywhere. I would be able to work with those files even from my car. But my dream world doesn't exist and I digress from my story about reading.

In September 2002 with 10 hours to fill every single week, I signed up for an account at audible.com and started to enjoy the world of books on tape. Or in the case of Audible, books on MP3.

There has always been a part of me that feels that listening to a book is somehow cheating. You're taking the easy way out. It's like Cliff Notes or something. You're not reallly putting the effort into the event and aren't getting the true enjoyment out of a good book if you aren't reading it. Well I quickly got past my internal objections by telling myself that I've read so many physically real books over the years, that I've earned the right to listen to 10 hours worth of literature every week. I'm glad I did.

Since that time I've "read" (translated: listened to) a lot books. It's great. When I'm really into one I can't want to get back into the car so that I can continue the story. Over at my page at Amazon, I've created a few lists to keep track of the books I've read. Most of the recent ones I've actually held in my hands since I've had the time, what with not working much recently. But many of the early ones I "read" via my iPod in the car. In fact right now, I'm listening to "The Callahan Chronicals" by Spider Robinson during my commute and actually reading a collection of the first four Lankhmar books by Fritz Leiber when I'm at home.

And today I discovered this place when it was announced on MacSlash that they now offer AAC files for download. Telltale Weekly: The Spoken Alexandria Project is an effort to put audiobook versions of 50 public domain texts online a year. They're very inexpensive now, and will be offered for free after 5 years under a Creative Commons license. It looks like a great site.

June 6, 2004

Cool Song Intros

The other day Retrocrush posted their list of 50 Coolest Song Parts. Since it was listed on Fark I'm sure that everyone and their brother has already seen it. It's really a fun list to go through. I don't agree with some of their choices. (They are completely crazy with the whole Lionel Ritchie thing.) But it will definitely bring a smile to your face.

I thought I would gather up a few of my favorites. I have a hard saying anything is my "all-time favorite" so these are just some of mine.

My favorite jangly, reverb-saturated, vibrato-laden, guitar-riff driven, song intros.

"Meat Is Murder" Album Cover

"How Soon Is Now?" by The Smiths from "Meat Is Murder" (1985)

The pulsing stereo guitar goes straight from the speakers and latches itself onto your brain--refusing to let go. Not even a sudden burst of what can best be described as a "space harmonica" can save you.

"Disintegration" Album Cover

"Pictures Of You" by The Cure from "Distintegration" (1989)

The glistening chimes and doubled-up melodies from the guitars will make you want to fall in love.

"The Wedding Album" Album Cover

"Come Undone" by Duran Duran from "The Wedding Album" (1993)

You've just fallen overboard and are drowning. You can tell by the phasey riffs coming out the guitar and the occasional plopping noises. Once the bass kicks in you know you've hit bottom.

My favorite bad-ass R&B song intros.

"Shotgun" Album Cover

"Shotgun" by Junior Walker & The All-Stars from "Shotgun" (1965)

The blast of the gun is just the start. When saxophone starts wailing all hopes of getting away from this irrestible tune are in vain.

"Greatest Hits, Vol. 2" Album Cover

"Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today)" by The Temptations from "Greatest Hits, Vol. 2" (1970)

The relentless bass line and the continual building of this song--echoey riff, shanking guitar, classic Motown harmony--make you want to jump out of your seat by the time the first "Ball of Confusion" hits in 4-part glory.

"Shaft" Album Cover

"Theme From 'Shaft'" by Isaac Hayes from "Shaft" (1971)

This song epitomizes "cool". It never stops building on to itself with high-hat, waka-chika guitar, piano, bottom-heavy bass, and a horn section that won't quit. Shut your mouth!

June 5, 2004

Fun With High Definition Television

I wound up in Long Beach today at my aunt and uncle's place fixing the setup on their new Panasonic 60" LCD Projection TV. It's a gorgeous set. And huge! The guys who delivered it didn't take the time to, or know how to, or whatever, do the little things like auto-program the channels. I did another nice picture calibration with my Avia DVD just like I did for Cameron.

This set has a built-in High Definition (HD) decoder. So in addition to hooking it up to their DirecTV, non-HD for now, I also hooked it up to their roof antenna. I never realized how many digital stations are broadcasting now. Or at least here in Los Angeles. There's tons! Now only a few are actually broadcasting in HD. The major networks really only do HD for Primetime and major sporting events on the weekends. KCET, a local PBS station, has a 24 hour HD channel. It looks fantastic.

The digital stations work like this: Channel 2 out here is CBS. Digital CBS comes in on channel 2.1. NBC on channel 4. Digital NBC on 4.1. But there's quite a bit of spectrum allocated for each "channel" so stations can actually have multiple digital broadcasts on one "channel". ABC has a digital channel 7.1 which mirrors the analog broadcast, but it also has channel 7.2 with a completely different program.

The aforementioned KCET is channel 28. Channel 28.1 is their HD show which is different from the analog signal. The digital version is actually on 28.2. In fact I found a few channels like 58, another PBS station, which actually have 4 digital broadcasts on one "channel". And in case you don't know, a non-HD digital broadcast is called Standard Definition (SD). Actually some of the channels like the major networks came in listed as DT (Digital Television) which I took to mean that sometimes the broadcast in SD and sometimes in HD. But I could be wrong.

In any case, it was pretty cool stuff.

June 4, 2004

Continuing The Deva / SD2 / BWF Discussion

I've been getting quite a bit of traffic to my website the last couple of days from both the DevaII mailing list at Yahoo Groups and the rec.arts.movies.production.sound newsgroup. Hello all!

It seems that someone posted a link to my article on dealing with Sound Designer II (SD2) sound files on the FAT16 DVD-RAMs that you get from a Deva II field recorder. (And the problem of losing the resource fork.) I hope people have found it helpful.

I still don't know for sure if Apple has fixed the FAT16 DVD-RAM driver in the OS. Two versions of OS X, 10.3.3 and 10.3.4, have come out since I wrote that piece and I haven't started a new Deva show in that time, so I haven't been able to test it. And the report I filed at Apple's Bug Reporter lists it as "Closed/Duplicate" which just means "Yes, we know about it and someone else has already told us about this."

The AppleScript I wrote to fix the broken resource fork problem could be modified to fix a broken resource fork on any file really. Assuming the problem is that it got stripped on due to a transfer to a FAT16 disk, and that you still had the resource fork.

I found this German company, Spherico, that's written several programs for dealing with sound dailies and Final Cut Pro. Most of the programs are about bringing all the functionality of the Avid to Final Cut Pro. There is one however called CopyRestore SD2 which does the same thing as my AppleScript. It will copy the files off the DVD-RAM at the same time. Maybe it's cooler. I don't know. Like I said, no Deva movie to try it out on yet. It's also $25.

They have another program BounceUsII which plays multi-channel Broadcast Wave files (BWF). Plus you can display and edit the metadata. Do mix-downs for editing against a "comp" track. Convert to and from SD2. And it'll spit out XML for importing into Final Cut Pro. It looks pretty cool. I've been trying to play with it using some BWF sound effects with metadata, but it keeps giving me strange AppleScript errors. Not sure what I problem is. Anyway, you might want to check it out and see if you have better luck.

There's another handy program I came across called BWAV Reader which shows you all the metadata and other information about Broadcast Wave files that you drop on it.

BWAV Reader Screenshot

It has this very tempting "Edit Metadata" button that when clicked simply pops up a "BWAV Writer will do what you want. Contact the author." window. I checked the website and there's not BWAV Writer program there. Looks like I'll have to send him an email.

June 3, 2004

A Few Things I've Noticed

So I've only been playing with this a few hours. This isn't the be-all, end-all of the RSS newfeed thing.

First, let me say that the My Yahoo RSS module is not very good. I don't know where how it gets it's automatic feeds when you search for things but they're not quite right. The feed for my own site only seems to show the last post I made. Whereas, if you link directly to my feed (you'll find it on the sidebar), you'll see the last 10 posts. And it's slow as all hell to update. It finally added the post I made about two-and-a-half hours ago. (Of course that's because I linked it directly to my RSS feed.) Wil Wheaton's excellent site, however, is not showing the two posts he made today so far. Maybe by default it gets feeds from Feedster or one of these other sites that compiles lots and lots of blogs.

PulpFiction doesn't have this problem. The Lite version, which is the one I'm using, will automatically check for new feeds every half hour.

I am having two problems with it right off the bat. First, it gets really slow after being on for a while with a couple hundred posts listed. Grabbing the elevator in scrollbar and dragging up and down really chugs. I just checked it again and I'm seeing it with only 43 messages in the Inbox.

The second problem is getting overwhelmed. Quite a while back--6 months ago maybe, I don't really remember--I tried out NetNewsWire for a bit. I had the same problem with it. Posts keep coming in. The first time you run it, there will literally be hundreds of pages to look at. It takes hours to go through things. You finally get it down to something managable and the next day you've got hundreds more to look at.

I think some of it has to do with the different method of working. I added a feed for MacCentral which is one of the sites I read everyday. That one site alone might easily post 30 articles in one day. If I'm going to it through the web, I see the list of articles and only click on the ones I want to read. When I'm getting a feed to an RSS reader, all 30 articles show up as unread and unless I do something about them they sit there and multiply.

I'm not sure how to get around this. Maybe certain high volume sites like MacCentral, MacMinute, Fark, Boing Boing, need to stay web browse only. So I only click on the links I want to click on. Whereas something like Wil's site that's only updated one or twice a day is sent to the reader. I don't know. I'm going to have to play with this more and think about it.

Feed Me

I'm starting to look into RSS newsfeed aggregation. I know big words. Basically it's kind of like the list of news stories you get on a lot of web portal homepages like My Yahoo, Earthlink's Start Page, MSN, etc. Instead of reloading a thousand times a day all those websites that you read regularly to see if there's a new article, you subscribe to the RSS feed and use a news aggregator to do the checking for you. Like checking your email. You get a little synopsis of a new post when it's available, and clicking on "Read More" takes you to the website to read the whole post.

I'm trying to simplify things. And as much as I love Safari, there's some kind of memory leak / resource hog bug that if I leave it running for a few hours, it'll consume all available CPU power on my machine. So I figure if I can leave a more system friendly program running and just load Safari when I need to, that might be better.

The two big Mac OS X RSS programs are NetNewsWire and PulpFiction. PulpFiction is brand new and I'm checking that one out first. One thing that I immediately like, is that it uses Apple's WebKit to include a built-in browser. It's like having Safari without running Safari. I wonder if it has the same CPU problems?

I use My Yahoo as my default homepage when I browse the web. Over the years I've fine tuned the modules it offers to make sure that I have everthing exactly where I want it. Weather immediately in the upper left hand corner with movie releases and box office immediately below it. A news photo in the top center, and all the different Reuters, LA Times, E! Online and other feeds below that. I've found that it's a good thing to take a look at that "Choose Content" button every few months because they sometimes offer up new things.

One new feature that is in beta testing is, you guessed it, an RSS newsfeed aggregator. So I'm also looking into that for keeping up with all the weblogs, Mac info, and game news that I read. Of course that means running my loved and hated Safari. But I'm really used to that. And I'm also really used to quitting it and restarting it every few hours. It's very possible that I will prefer to stick with what's familiar.

June 2, 2004

A New Look

Well, I've finished up with a "quick and dirty" version of what MFTI looked like under MT2.661 with the new MT3 templates. It's not perfect, but it's mostly there. (I haven't put the title graphic back in place. I figure I'll save that for when I have all the little "bells and whistles" in place.)

I already love the new comment approval thing in MT3. I've been able to stop several Casino and P**** Enlargement spams in the short time that I've been switched over. It'll be great when Blacklist is working with MT3 but this is pretty good.

And the UTF-8 default is great too. I've had the bandly mangled Japanese name for my website for a few years now, but the text didn't work right in the old ISO encoding. Now I can use it again. If you can tell me what this means:

怪獣大悪脳

I'll give you a cookie.

I have noticed that the email I get when a new comment is posted doesn't display the Unicode characters correctly in the subject.

[Monsters from the Id æªç£å§æªè] New Comment Posted

They are fine in the body. I don't think it's Apple Mail causing the problem. It supports Unicode. I'll have to look into this more.

June 1, 2004

Movable Type 3.0D is here.

I have upgraded this site to MT3. You may have noticed that it looks completely different from how it looked yesterday. You may have also noticed that it looks suspiciously like the default templates that come with MT3. That's because it is. I'll be changing this soon. The whole backend of the site is different and I had a lot of redirect problems to work out. They should all be taken care of now. If you notice any problems, please let me know so that I can fix it.

With that out of the way I can once again focus on getting the site to look the way I want.

MT3 also means TypeKey comments. You don't have to have a TypeKey account to post a comment but it will make the whole process much easier. It's up to you.