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September 28, 2004

Count Me Among The "Stoned Slackers"

From the AP newsire:

The folks at Comedy Central were annoyed when Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly kept referring to "The Daily Show" audience as "stoned slackers."

So they did a little research. And guess whose audience is more educated?

Viewers of Jon Stewart's show are more likely to have completed four years of college than people who watch "The O'Reilly Factor," according to Nielsen Media Research.

I'm not quite sure why Comedy Central was so concerned about what Bill O'Reilly had to say about the audience of "The Daily Show" since he is such a paragon of truth and objectivity.

I think I've mentioned before that one of my favorite things about my new Tivo is that it allows me to watch TV shows when I have time, not necessarily when they are on. And thanks to Tivo I've gotten back into watching "The Daily Show". Bill O'Reilly is actually going to be a guest on the show on October 7. That will certainly be an episode to catch.

If you have a Tivo and you've tried to record "The Daily Show" you have probably encountered the problem that you often get 4 recordings of the same show since they don't provide individual episode information to the Tivo guide. Here are some great suggestions for dealing with the problem. I use number 2 myself and I find that it works very well.

September 27, 2004

Movers Anonymous

Today I moved offices yet again. Boy, I sure am getting sick of playing pack-horse. My actual office just moved down the hall from the room I was in for the last two weeks. However, several editors were starting on a show today and we had to move a couple Pro Tools systems from the offices / storage rooms at Universal to Burbank. Four hours of manual labor plus several hours of assembling Pro Tools systems. Long day.

At one point we had to get a couch out of one of the rooms and move it into another. I flipped it up on it's side and started to slide it across the floor. Dana, the other assistant, got a surprised look on her face.

"Look at you."


"Throwing couches around..."

"I used to be a mover. Didn't I tell you?"

It's true. When I was in college I had a job driving a big truck, picking up students stuff on the East Coast and driving it to Chicago. I have moved way too many boxes, trunks, microwaves, and couches in and out of houses and dorm rooms. Plus I drove pick-up trucks for several years which meant that I was always the friend to call when someone was moving.

Hi, I'm Jon and I'll be your mover today.

September 26, 2004

That's No Moon

Ok, probably everyone has already seen this but I finally caught all of the animated "Star Wars: Clone Wars" that the creator of "Samurai Jack" made in conjunction with LucasFilm. It's a series of twenty 3 to 5 minute micro-episodes. The series recently won an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Programming of One Hour or More. Cartoon Network showed them all last night.

"Outstanding" is certainly the word the describe them. The animation is vibrant. The stories are fun. The action is exciting and the sound effects are straight out of Ben Burtt's library.

I can't understand what the deal is. I recently re-watched all of the original movies. Between those, the "Clone Wars" series and the "Knights Of The Old Republic" videogame, there is a large of amount of exciting material and great stories. How come the these two newest movies suck? It's not like their aren't people who can tell awesome Star Wars universe stories. How can the "official" ones be so bad?

I watched the "Return Of Darth Vader" documentary on the fourth disc of the new Star Wars DVD boxed set. I found myself getting excited about "Star Wars" again. I thought back to that night that my parents took me to see "Star Wars" in the theater. (You won't get me calling it "Episode IV" even if it was always in the yellow text crawl. And while we're talking about name changes, it's just "Raiders Of The Lost Ark". Ok?) I was nearly 4 years old and I had to pee really bad, but I didn't want to miss anything. Finally I couldn't hold it anymore and I ran out of the theater to find the bathroom during the Mos Eisley Cantina. On my first viewing I missed the now controversial Han--Greedo scene. But I've seen the movie possibly 50 times since then, I can tell you without a doubt that Greedo shoots first.

I remembered the Sunday after church when my dad sat my brother and I down and started talking about how he was thinking it was interesting that the pastor was talking about the good angels and bad angels. And how the bad angels were cast out of heaven and the strongest among them became Satan. And wasn't that like how Darth Vader who used to be a good Jedi, turned to the dark side? And hey, who's up for going to see "Empire Strikes Back"?

I remembered sitting in my third grade class the day after the "Time" magazine exclusive on the new third movie in the series. Several of us brought copies in and the entire class was passing them around looking at the pictures of the big slug guy and all those other monsters---kind of like the Cantina but even cooler. And Han. What was going to happen to Han? Last time we saw him he was frozen in carbonite. How was he ever going to get out? My friends, Eric, Dan and I were determined to get our parents to let us skip a day of school and take us to the movies so that we could see "Return Of The Jedi" as soon as possible.

After watching Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen train for their epic battle and the prop department create the new Darth Vader helmet, I found that my heart was racing and I was breathing hard. This could be really cool, right? This is it. This is where Vader, the ultimate bad guy, is born. I really hope that "Revenge Of The Sith" will capture the adventure of the original movies---the adventure that "Clone Wars" and "KOTOR" tapped into. Unfortunately, in my heart of hearts I don't think it will and that makes me sad.

September 24, 2004

Dealing With SCSI Devices Without A SCSI Card

My recent experiences with doing almost all of my sound assisting on my laptop with an Mbox got me thinking about other things I could do to expand on that model. One big sticking point was SCSI. Firewire is awesome, but in the post-production sound world, SCSI is still king---if for no other reason than the Tascam MMR-8 and MMP-16 still deal exclusively with Kingston-style removable SCSI drives.

You can cut all you want on firewire hard drives or even on your internal---those SATA drives in the G5s are screaming fast---but you will still often need to layback you finished sessions to a SCSI drive for dubbing. Or you might get some SCSI drives with stems from the stage.

The idea of moving away from SCSI is even more tempting when you consider that PowerMac G5s only have 3 PCI slots. The old G4s had 4. This was perfect for 2 Pro Tools cards, a digital picture card and a SCSI card. What do you do with 3 slots? Go back to an expansion chassis? That's a possibility. Run only a core Pro Tools system with 1 card? Also a possibility. But how about dumping your SCSI card? That's a much cooler idea. Especially since RATOC makes a couple of cool SCSI without a SCSI card solutions.

I picked up both the FR1SX Firewire to SCSI adapter and the U2SCX USB2 to SCSI cable. So far I'm loving what I'm seeing. I've used the FR1SX quite a bit. It works perfectly with removable hard drives. You get speeds comparable to regular Firewire 400---about a gigabyte copied per minute. I've also used it with a DLT4000 tape drive and had slightly faster rates than I did directly through SCSI. It's an old SCSI-1 device so it's not particularly fast, around 85 to 87 MB per minute in Retrospect 5 under OS X. With the FR1SX, I was getting between 90 and 95 MB per minute. Different types of audio backup of different speeds so I wouldn't count on it always being faster but I think I can easily say that it's the same speed as SCSI. You're not losing anything.

Under OS X, it's perfect. You turn on your device. Attach the FR1SX. Plug in the Firewire cable and it's available. A SCSI hard drive will mount up just like as if it were Firewire. You can even hot swap by unplugging and replugging the Firewire cable. The only problem I've seen it that it only supports one SCSI ID. So even though the carrier that I have it attached to has 2 bays, only the top one (the first in the chain) works. The FR1SX doesn't support SCSI chaining. But if you're just using it for laybacks or to copy off a SCSI drive, you probably don't need more than one at a time.

I haven't tested the U2SCX. I can't see that it would be any different. The Pro Tools system I'm working on only has USB1 ports so it would be much slower (1.5 MB per second maximum through-put at USB1 versus 60 MB per second at USB2). But Aluminum PowerBooks and G5s come with USB2 so it could be very viable there. The webpage for the U2SCX says that it support SCSI chaining of 7 devices but it mentions that you have to be running the RATOC driver in Windows. I don't know if they have a Mac driver and frankly I like the fact that I don't have to install any new drivers in OS X.

If you are going to get one or both of these devices, it would probably be a good idea to kick in for the power adapter. They don't need to be powered if your SCSI device has Termination Power, but it's probably better to be safe. Another thing you'll need is a SCSI adapter or two. Both devices have an HD50 Male SCSI-2 connector. You'll want to pick up an HD50 Female SCSI-2 to HD68 Male SCSI-3 adapter for Wide SCSI drives and an HD50 Female SCSI-2 to Centronics 50 Male SCSI-1 adapter for any old devices that you might have.

You Can Call My Laptop, Popeye

From the Washington Post:

[Researchers] at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they have used spinach to harness a plant's ability to convert sunlight into energy for the first time, creating a device that may one day power laptops, mobile phones and more....

[They] discovered that protein building blocks called detergent peptides could be manipulated to keep the [photosynthesis] proteins alive up to three weeks while in contact with electronics.

I Am Un Chien Andalusia

Dear Pixies,

Thank you for playing a concert in Los Angeles. You rock! \m/

I am now your best friend.


Pixies 1 Pixies 2 Pixies 3

(Link to earlier post.)

September 23, 2004

If The Bard Had A Sweet Tooth...

...perhaps "Hamlet" might have been a little different:

To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the carb; For in that sleep of death what Twinkies may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal Ho-Ho, must give us pause; there's the respect that makes creme-filled treats of so long life.

Oh yeah, and the maker of Twinkies has filed for bankruptcy. Thanks, Xeni, for the wonderful Twinkie death soliloquy.

Running Tape In OS X

You know how much I dislike Tape, the only program to print cuesheets for Pro Tools sessions, right? Well, I still don't like it but I did get it running in Classic in OS X. (And finally getting it running really did prove what a piece of shit software it really is.) Here's how:

  1. Download the latest version of Tape. (1.5.2b47 as of this post)
  2. Download a copy of Pro Tools Free if you don't have a version of Pro Tools 5.x installed.
  3. Run the Pro Tools Free installer. If you already have Pro Tools 5.x installed you can skip to step 5.
  4. A folder called "Digidesign" will be created in the root level of your hard drive. You can put this where ever you like. Your OS 9 Applications folder would probably be a good choice.
  5. Run the Tape installer.
  6. Select "Cue Sheet (USB)" and click "Install".
  7. Choose a good place to install Tape like /Applications (Mac OS 9) and let it do its thing.
  8. Run the installer again but select "OSX Support" this time.
  9. Choose the same install place you did last time.
  10. Open the newly-installed "Tape Folder" and run "Install OMS 2.3.8". If you already have OMS installed and configured because you have a working Pro Tools 5.x on your computer, you can skip to step 19.
  11. This will put a folder called "Opcode" in the root level of your hard drive.
  12. In /Opcode/OMS Applications run OMS Setup.
  13. Go through the standard setup options for OMS, scanning the ports and whatnot. You will probably just end up with three items: IAC Driver, Studio Patches pgm chg, and QuickTime Music.
  14. Save this setup in an appropriate place like in the same folder as OMS Setup.
  15. In OMS Setup, select "Prefereces" from the "Edit" menu.
  16. Uncheck "When AppleTalk is on, ask about turning it off" and click "OK".
  17. Quit OMS Setup.
  18. You can move the "Opcode" folder to your OS 9 Applications folder if you like.
  19. Go back into your "Tape Folder". Open the "Utilities" folder and run "OSX Activator".
  20. This will install HASP drivers for OS 9 and OS X.
  21. Drag "OSX Activator" to your Dock or put an alias to it on your desktop. You'll be using it a lot.
  22. In /System Folder/Preferences/Tape Preferences Folder/Tape Translators, take out the Listener application and put it in the Tape Preferences Folder. (This is part of the full Post Utilities spotting program and not necessary for cuesheets. If you're using the full Post Utilities, don't do this step.)
  23. Restart your computer.

You are now setup to run Tape in Classic under OS X. Any time you want to actually run Tape, you have to follow these steps:

  1. Plug in your Tape dongle to an open USB port.
  2. Run Classic.
  3. Run the OSX Activator.
  4. Run Tape.

Rick Steele, the guy who wrote this wonderful program, told me that you had to set Classic to "Start Classic When You Login" in your System Preferences. I did a bunch of testing on my laptop and found that I didn't need to do that. If your copy of Tape is only running in Demo mode after following the steps above, I would first try restarting your computer and doing the 4 steps above. If that doesn't work, you can try setting the preference that Rick suggested and restarting.

The biggest problem that I've encountered so far is that it doesn't work with older dongles. I don't know at what point Rick changed the software on the dongle but if you follow all the steps above and my restart and "Start Classic" suggestions and it still doesn't work then I think it's the dongle. Rick told me that some dongles might have to be flashed to work. I've encountered 3 so far where this is the case. Only the one that I just bought from him 2 days ago works for me. (I know. I hate this program and I still spent money on it. Like I said, there's no other option right now.) I don't know what the process is for flashing the dongles. I don't know if it's something you can do yourself or if you have to send them to Rick. I emailed him about this yesterday and I'm still waiting to hear back.

One other point that Rick strongly suggested: make a copy of any session before opening it in Tape. As he said, "I don't want to be responsible for my program ruining your session."

I think you can see why I hate this program. The process that you have to go through to just to print out some lines and characters on some pieces of paper is utterly ridiculous. Having to not only have a full version of Pro Tools 5.x but also OMS installed on a computer that quite possibly doesn't even boot into OS 9 (like my laptop) is the most retarded software requirement ever. This is obviously because he has two levels of functionality---cuesheets only and then the full spotting, assembling, yadda yadda mess. They need to be separated. There's no reason I shouldn't be able to print cuesheets on a computer with nothing on it but OS 9 or OS X and a print driver. Open the file, give it a name and editor, change some font settings and go.

And this whole business of having to reinstall the HASP drivers every single time you want to run the program is foolish. If you go to Aladdin's website, the makers of HASP, you can see quite clearly that they fully support running Classic applications with HASP4 dongles in OS X. Soundminer and all the new Gallery software uses HASP4 dongles. The letters "HASP4" are clearly printed on them. Tape's dongle says "MacHASP". Obviously Rick is still using an old HASP development kit from 4+ years ago and is too cheap to upgrade to the latest release. Consequently there is only partial support for these dongles in HASP OS X driver and we as the tormented end-users have to rerun the installer every time.

And his warning about not wanting to be responsible? That's utter crap too. When he told me this he actually said the problem is because Digidesign has released a buggy software development kit. Now I can't speak to whether or not Digi's SDK is buggy or not. But here's a novel approach for your damn Tape code: open the file as read-only! And then if you want to give support for editing the text of the regions in the Pro Tools session, write a temp file to the drive for this. Never change the original! I've never had a single day of formal programming instruction and even I could have figured that one out.

September 22, 2004

Deus Ex Machina

Latin: god from machine.

From "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition":

  1. In Greek and Roman drama, a god lowered by stage machinery to resolve a plot or extricate the protagonist from a difficult situation.
  2. An unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot.
  3. A person or event that provides a sudden and unexpected solution to a difficulty.

I have to admit that I'm a bit torn by the ending of "Brilliance Of The Moon" by Lian Hearn. The first two books were so great that I leaped into the third one with gusto. Overall I still liked "Brilliance", but I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth at the resolution.

On one hand I can understand the idea that for Takeo, destiny and prophecy were far stronger than his own desires and actions. I understand that Hearn has continually been setting us up for this ending by revealing the words of the prophecy to us, with the wise-woman telling him that all beliefs are the same, with the outcasts telling him that his life is not his own, with the ever increasing rumbles from the ground, and with the continual references to a higher power pulling his strings towards peace and justice.

But still, the "last minute earthquake that saves the day for both Takeo and Kaede when all hope is lost" is a bit much. Clever writers take a plot-governing device like a prophecy and find interesting and unexpected twists for resolution. This is not clever---it's too contrived. I'm unpleasantly reminded of the "... and then the aliens come and save the day" ending to an otherwise excellent "A.I."

There's also something a bit too "Gift Of The Magi" for my taste when Takeo and Kaede finally see each other again outside the caves in Shirikawa. "Oh, her magnificent hair that everyone says is her best asset got burned off in the fire? Well, that's ok because his right hand was horribly scarred and mangled. Ain't love grand?!" Sorry, no.

I think there is also an extra level of frustration for me because Hearn had set the bar so high with the first two novels in the series. They were so good that I was counting on that level of excellence through to the end. I still like the book. I would still recommend the series. I just wish the ending could have been better.

September 21, 2004

I Dub Thee, Temp

Today is the first day of our temp dub. For all you non-movie-industry-types, a temp dub is a kind of mini-mixdown of the movie's soundtrack at its current state.

The last thing that is done on a movie prior to sending it out to the lab to make lots and lots of copies for distribution to theaters is the final dub where all the various sound elements---dialog, adr, sound effects, backgrounds, foley and music---are mixed together in the presentation that you hear in the theater. The final dub on your typical Hollywood film usually takes 4 to 6 weeks to complete. (This includes a process called predubbing. I'll explain that in more detail at some point in the future.)

Before a movie goes to the final dub, there are usually 2 or 3 temp dubs during the 2 months or so of sound editorial that usually last 3 to 5 days each. Often these temp dubs are done to get a mixed track that can be played against the current picture cut for an audience test screening, also known as a "preview".

Obviously much less time is spent on a temp dub than on the final dub. Temps can definitely be described as "down and dirty". For sound editors a temp dub always represents a delicate balance between providing enough material to give a good indication of the direction the dialog editing and sound design is going, and providing too much, making it impossible to mix it all in the alloted time.

Plus there is often a time crunch just to get all the material prepared for the temp. Usually a sound crew will have two or three weeks to cut the sound for the first temp. That means two or three weeks between seeing the movie for the very first time and having a rough cut done and on a dub stage for a temp.

During the temp dub, the mixers will create stems---usually four of them: dialog, effects 1, effects 2, and music. These are typically 8 track mixdowns of the appropriate sounds, the dialog stem includes the ADR and Group ADR, the effects 1 stem includes all hard effects and sound design, the effects 2 stem is usually backgrounds and foley, etc. These stems are then mixed together to make the printmaster that is screened with the picture in a theater.

After the first temp, the time allotted to prepare for the next one decreases. Usually a week for the second and then a few days for the third. This is because most of the work is simply conforming the stems from the first temp to the new picture and then adding in the material to fill the holes.

Of course during this whole process the picture keeps changing as the director, the picture editor, the producers, and the studio all give opinions on what should be in or out of the film. "That entire scene is too long and isn't necessary for the story, let's cut it." Or "The actress is pretty good in take 4 but I think there is even more emotional impact in take 6." Or "Let's try putting the meeting between the characters in the restaurant before the party scene." And on and on and on. So of course the sound crew is continually trying to stay up to date. And those conforms take time away from straight up editing.

It can be quite an involved process.

September 20, 2004

Me Like Tivo

For the last two years I have been recording a few of my favorite TV shows on an old Macintosh with EyeTV. The cool thing about this is that I didn't have to remember to switch videotapes. I could quickly copy the shows on to my laptop to watch anytime, anywhere. Plus I could burn it to a VCD for archiving, taking up much less space than a videotape.

During this time I've been very curious about Tivo but my computer-based system really did everything I needed it to do. In fact last year just before the new TV season, I almost bought a Tivo. But at the last minute I decided not to invest the money.

This year, I couldn't help myself. I think it was the $100 rebate and fact that the Tivo plus DVD-R are finally at what I would consider to be a reasonable price. I can't copy my shows to my laptop like I could before, but burning a DVD is quick and easy.

And the other benefits I get with Tivo are pretty damn amazing. Those of you who already have one already know this. I'm preaching to the choir. But those who haven't tried it, you're really missing out. My single favorite thing is that it makes TV fit my schedule instead of the other way around. It doesn't matter what time I finally get home from work, I can sit down and watch my favorite shows. It can be tough for me to regularly watch shows that come on at 8pm---I'm often not home in time. And if I'm working long hours, late night shows like "The Daily Show" or Adult Swim are now at much more reasonable times.

Wishlists are awesome. I was able to tell my Tivo to record any movie that is directed by Alfred Hitchcock or Akira Kurosawa. It just finds them and records them. I don't have to do any searching. Also, by spending a little time to rate shows with one or multiple thumbs up or down, I can teach it the kinds of shows and movies that I like. Then it suggests other things that I might like and records them for me. Very, very cool. And all I have to do is be willing to give up my right to TV viewing privacy. ;)

September 19, 2004

More Ninjas, More Samurai

A couple of days ago I finished the second book of the "Tales of the Otori" series, "Grass For His Pillow", and now I'm about half-way through the third, "Brilliance Of The Moon". If I didn't explain it well enough before, let me just say that this is really a great series.

This part is a secret, at least for the next 24 hours, so don't tell anyone, ok? I gave Mary, my friend who just turned 30, hardcover copies of all three books for her birthday. Promise you won't say anything to her? They're not going to show up at her place until sometime tomorrow.

Several years ago, Mary gave me "Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone" for my birthday. (This was after "Prisoner Of Azkaban" but before "Goblet Of Fire".) I loved that book and really enjoyed all ones since. I'm so glad that Mary introduced me to that series. I am hoping she will get as much enjoyment out of Lian Hearn's books.

Party With Pierogis

Yesterday was my friend's 30th birthday and in celebration her husband rented out the patio behind Warszawa, a Polish restaurant in Santa Monica. I've never had "fancy" pierogis before. I born outside of Detroit and lived there through my early childhood years, and I went to college in Chicago. I have had plenty of Polish influence and cuisine in my life over the years but this is the first time I have encountered the trendy, hipster Polish spot. It was very nice.

In fact they were nice enough to allow David to bring in CDs to play for the event and they even had a large screen and a projector so episodes of the Linda Carter "Wonder Woman" TV show played throughout much of the night.

I caught up with my friend Jim who I haven't seen in probably a year---we usually see each other at parties that David throws since he and Jim went to school together. I knew that Jim worked for several years with the writers on "Crossing Jordan". That show is shot on the Universal lot and I knew that they had their editing rooms on the second floor of the building I was in when our editorial was set up there. What I didn't realize was that all the offices for "Crossing Jordan" were up there. In the couple of months that I was in that building, walking in and out of the same front doors, I never once ran into Jim. Now I wish I had gone up to check out their offices.

The good news is that Jim has just this week started a new job as a full-fledged writer on "The Dead Zone". I was so glad about hear that. I know that he was working for years hoping that someone would eventually give him the chance and now he finally has it.

September 16, 2004

Hub Heavy

Is there a legitimate reason why USB hubs can weigh a few ounces but their power supplies need to be made out of 5 pounds of lead? Can anyone answer me this? My cellphone power supply--charger is small and light. The little white square that Apple ships with its iPods is very portable. For some reason I cannot fathom this does not seem to be possible for USB hubs.


In this time of "every piece of audio software that I own needs a unique USB dongle to run", my USB ports are very valuable. I just picked up a new 7-port hub from Belkin that is quite slick. It has two ports on top which are perfect for dongles. Plus the hole in the middle allows easy stacking. But I swear to god, that power supply weighs as much as my PowerBook. It's not something I'd want to throw in my bag with will my other laptop goodies.

Several years ago I picked up a great little 3-port hub from Dr. Bott. It's perfect for laptops. But it is only 3-ports and even though it's pretty good about getting many USB devices to work off it, since it isn't self-powered it doesn't support everything.

There has to be something better out there.

Beneath The Radar

I couldn't get to my website for about 20 minutes this morning. Pair.com, my hosting company, now has this up on their status page:

Beginning around 8:30am today, a steadily increasing flooding attack began against a customer site. This attack temporarily affected approximately two-thirds of our hosted sites until a reconfiguration was made to separate that traffic from other customer traffic. At this time, only the targeted site is being affected. We will continue to work with our upstream providers and adjust our network filters in order to adapt to this attack, which is by far the largest we have ever seen.

My site is back up so I must not be the one hackers are so anxious to take down. The small blessings of not being very popular. ;)

Goodbye, Johnny

From the AP newswire:

Johnny Ramone, guitarist and co-founder of the seminal punk band "The Ramones" that influenced a generation of rockers, has died. He was 55.

And then there was Tommy...

September 14, 2004

The Curse Of Chalion

Lois McMaster Bujold's "The Curse Of Chalion" is a fun little book. It's a bit more of a "popcorn" read than some of my recent undertakings, but at least it has a engrossing story and enjoyable characters---unlike a certain other fantasy book.

I don't know what it is, but I seem to have picked a lot of "political" fantasy stories recently. Though not as convoluted as the "A Song Of Ice And Fire" series can get, this book is still full of corrupt high chancellors, scheming nobles and weak sovereigns. "Chalion" is more of a theological fantasy than the elves and dwarves kind. It is still set in a kingdom of knights, princesses and castles but the magic involves interaction with the gods of the realm.

The the ruling house of Chalion was cursed years ago by a death magic spell and ever since nothing has gone right for them---from disastrous military campaigns to tragic deaths to childless marriages. The quiet and unassuming Cazaril, a one-time lord and warrior who spent nearly two years as a slave rowing an enemy galley, is caught in the middle of this trouble while trying to tutor the beautiful young royesse and keep her from getting swallowed up by the corruption of her brother's court.

It has much more of a Hollywood-style ending than George R.R. Martin's books, but it's still a good read.

September 13, 2004

The Software I Use

We got moved in to our new office today without too much trouble. I'm sharing a very small room with the ADR editor but thankfully it's only for two weeks. Tomorrow I have to finish installing the necessary software on my computer. When I was at Universal I did most of my work on my own laptop. I would just have to jump on to the other assistant's computer to digitize picture. But it's certainly nice to have a full-blown Pro Tools sitting in front of me again.

This is my list of necessary software for Pro Tools assisting:

  • Pro Tools (duh)
  • DigiTranslator
  • Titan
  • Tape
  • Change Note Assistant
  • Final Cut Pro
  • BBEdit
  • Word
  • Excel
  • Filemaker Pro
  • Toast
  • Peak
  • Soundminer
  • A Better Finder Rename
  • Quickeys
  • Retrospect
  • Lots of "home brew" AppleScripts

The only one of those programs I can't run in OS X is Tape. Damn effin' Tape. I need to find another way to print cuesheets. I'm going to try experimenting with converting sessions and printing cuesheets in Nuendo. It can't be that much more painful than Tape. Thankfully I can borrow I copy of Nuendo from the supervisor for my testing. If you're going to compare prices for printing, $1200 for Nuendo vs. $200 for Tape isn't much of a contest. Of course Nuendo is an entire sound editing program while Tape is just a piece of shit.

Moving Day

Today I'm saying 'goodbye' to Universal Studios. The show that was giving us space (not the show I'm working on right now) had an audience test screening last week and now it's hunkering down for some additional shooting and lots of editing. They're putting the sound crew on hiatus for several months.

Friday afternoon we ran around packing up rooms, breaking down Pro Tools systems, and rolling everything into two rooms that are being kept on the show so that things can be expanded quickly once it starts up again. This morning we're moving a couple of systems over to a new location in Burbank. Actually we were going to be setting up shop there in two weeks anyway since there's a little Disney project starting up then. But we had to find space for two weeks so my show can get through a temp dub and a test screening. We're taking over some temporary rooms until the main ones are ready on Sept. 27.

The good news for me is that I'll have a 5 minute commute to work.

September 12, 2004

Playing Igniter Digital Picture On A DC30+

Those of you who have dealt with Pro Tools and digital picture over the last couple of years may have already encountered this:

Digital Picture digitized on an Aurora Igniter videocard is not usable on a Pro Tools system with a DC30+ videocard running OS 9. Since the Igniter uses non-square pixels (720x486 or 360x243), the picture appears very squished on the DC30+ with its square pixels (640x480 or 320x240). The Aurora Fuse, the other videocard often used by Pro Tools in OS 9, doesn't have this problem as long as you use the 2.0.3 driver.

There is a fix for the DC30+ and it's called OS X. If you switch your system over to OS X, some version of Pro Tools 6 and use the DC30 Xact Driver, your DC30+ card will playback your Igniter digital picture at the proper aspect ratio. I just tested this out myself on Friday.

Unfortunately there still isn't an OS X driver for the Aurora Fuse. Those of you with this card looking to switch to Pro Tools 6 should probably just suck it up and plop down the $1000 for the Igniter. Obviously the DC30+ is a viable option with the 3rd-party driver, but since the card hasn't been manufactured for 4 or more years it's a crapshoot whether you can get your hands on one.

September 9, 2004

Hello Kaiju!

Last night Cameron, Dana, Jesse and I experienced something extraordinary. We learned the true meaning of fear. We learned that "Danger Can Happen". We went to the Avalon in Hollywood for the Los Angeles premiere of "Kaiju Big Battel". I think Xeni Jardin described it best when she referred to it as part Japanese Monster Movie, part Mexican Wrestling Match, part Indie Rock Concert.

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The floor of the Avalon which normally holds hundreds of rock fans was dominated by a square wresting ring surrounded by a chain-link fence---the Danger Cage. Unlike your average wrestling-fare, the floor the of the Danger Cage was covered with small buildings, ready to be stomped on by giant monsters.

A little after 8pm the opening act started---a band called Darkness My Love. They weren't bad. A couple of their slower tunes had rhythms simultaneously pounded out on guitar, bass and drums while the lead guitar warbled in reverb-drenched spacey-ness, just the way I like it.

Of course we were really there to see guys running around in foam-rubber monster suits, pounding on each other and destroying the model city. We weren't disappointed.

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Since I've watched a lot of Godzilla movies and "Ultra-Man" TV shows in my day, I get the whole "Japanese Monster" thing. This one's a giant sea anemone mutated by nuclear fallout hell-bent on destroying Tokyo and that one was a brave astronaut accidentally killed in a tragic alien encounter but brought back to life and given super-powers and cool suit by the same alien. I was also a regular viewer of WWF back when Hulk Hogan was good and wrestling stars like Junkyard Dog, Iron Sheik, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, or pretty much anyone who showed up in a Cindy Lauper video tussled in the ring. So this event was full of things I loved as a kid.

And accordingly I had a great time. However I never went to an actual wrestling event when I was little and I realized that now I would much prefer to sit down with the heavily-edited and synchronized to music DVD, than stand in a sweltering rock club watching it live for 3 hours.

Things like the new kaiju hero Super Wrong! coming out, dancing to "Yatta!" and then getting immediately beaten in the fight or the drunken Hell Monkey falling all over himself were pretty damn funny. But the thing that was great was whenever one monster landed some "ouch that must of hurt" move on another---jumping off the top of the cage onto an opponent, punching the other so hard that they did a backflip and things like that. Unfortunately those great moves don't happen all the time and that's where for me the DVD would be better.

September 8, 2004

Hero At Large

It's very hot today. And very muggy too. We've been having this heat wave in Los Angeles and it hasn't been pleasant. I work all day long in a well air-conditioned building. So well air-conditioned that I often have a sweatshirt with me. To step from that 68°F indoor temperature to 100+°F outdoors is rather shocking.

I hopped into our cart to drive down to the ATM to get some cash for a little event I'm attending tonight. (More on that tomorrow.) Plus I figured it would be a nice change from the vending machines to see what refreshing drinks they were offering at the Universal's convenience store. Even sitting on my butt, clipping along in our cart I was sweating. It's so hot out.

The ATM and the store were uneventful but the real fun was on the way back to our building. One corner of the studio lot ins next to the lines for the Jurassic Park water ride in the theme park. Years ago a worked in a building near there and it was infuriating because that stupid John Williams theme would be in your head all day long. I came around the corner and passed by the line of tourists standing under the misters waiting to get soaked by the ride. At this point the road slopes down and passes between a sound stage on the left and back of several theme park stores and restaurants on the right. It's enough of a slope that you can feel the governor kick in and slow down the golf cart.

Even above the rattle of our puttering car I was could hear the wine of several engines. Suddenly four of the most colorfully garish ATVs I have ever seen turned the corner and started toward me. And riding those ATVs, decked head-to-toe in spandex during this lovely warmth, was Spider-Man, Green Goblin, Storm and Wolverine. I quickly dug in my pocket for my cellphone so I could snap a picture as I passed. Unfortunately the jouncing of the cart caused me to accidently hit the "Discard" button instead of "Store" and I lost it.

It was truly a classic sight. I only wish I could have shared it.

Another Week, Another Lounge

Once again I find myself sitting in the customer service lounge of Robertson Honda working on my computer. When I took my car in nearly two weeks ago for a check-up, there was one thing they couldn't complete without special-ordering a part.

I've had this recurring problem with my CR-V where the engine light comes and goes. When it first happened I looked it up in the owner's manual and found that it means there's a problem with the emissions system---usually it is no longer sealed. When I brought the car in they told me that it's usually because the gas cap isn't on tight enough. But they checked it out and found that the cap didn't seal properly and so they replaced it.

That was a year ago and it continues to be a problem. I might go months without an engine light and then one day it's on. I'll get out, turn the gas cap tighter and sometimes the light goes out. But sometimes it doesn't. And if it stays on, the next time I start my car it might be out. It's very random.

Well I explained this all to them again when I brought my car in this last time and they checked it out and decided that the gas tube that runs from the outside of my car down to the tank is malformed and that caps are not fitting properly because of it. They ordered the new part. It's now in and so I sit here waiting for my ride to Universal so I can go to work.

Since I've spent so many hours in these chairs I can definitely say that Robertson Honda has fairly comfortable chairs in their lounge. ;)

September 7, 2004

Heavy Metal Parking Lot

I forgot that I was planning on mentioning this over the weekend until I showed up at work again today...

On Friday with only an hour or so left in the day we were doing the lazy late-afternoon hangout thing---talking about music from our youth. With the addition of my large iTunes library it was very fun. "Oh! You mean this song?" Dana was mentioning that The Cars' "Let's Go" was her perfect driving song growing up. Of course she was an LA child so her experiences driving down Sunset Blvd. as a teenager were a bit different from me driving through the wooded lanes of small-town New England. For me "Cecilia Ann" by The Pixies holds that coveted spot of the perfect teenage driving song.

Talk eventually turned, for whatever reason, to karaoke and general amazement from people when I declared that "Ballroom Blitz" was my "signature" song. Of course I used to drink too. A lot. But that's behind me now---though I haven't yet had the courage to try karaoke sober. Anyway, I started pointing out other songs I liked to do in karaoke and we eventually got to Judas Priests' "Living After Midnight".

That led to talk about how silly so much of the metal scene in the 80's. Of course at the time we thought it was dark and (at least on my part) a bit scary. It's inevitable if you talk about silly heavy metal and Judas Priest that someone eventually brings up "Heavy Metal Parking Lot". If you haven't experienced it yet, I strongly suggest you click that link and relive the the glory of 1986.

September 6, 2004

Me And LBC

I spent the day down in Long Beach enjoying good-natured political arguments, BBQ chicken and a 60" HDTV with my aunt and uncle. I can't believe how hot it was down there---easily in the 90s. That's very strange, especially for this time of year. I took some pretty pictures out the window on the drive home as the sun was sinking low in the sky.

September 5, 2004

Across The Nightingale Floor

Today I finished Lian Hearn's amazing first book in the "Tales of the Otori" series, "Across The Nightingale Floor". Ninjas and samurai are totally sweet!

In all seriousness though this story was fantastic. I experienced this as an audiobook and I'm so glad I did. Kevin Gray and Aiko Nakasone do a masterful job of bringing the world of feudal Japan to life with their reading. This book had all the political intrigue of George R.R. Martin's "A Song Of Ice And Fire" series but it is told in a simple but powerful language that seems so appropriate for a culture that brought us their beautiful calligraphy and painting.

For someone such as myself who works with sound, to have a book that paints such lush scenes with descriptions of the sounds that can be heard is a real pleasure. After finishing the story, I tried to imagine what it would be like as a sound editor to be given the task of creating the world that Takeo hears as his Tribe (ninja) skill of super-hearing develops.

If you're like me---loving Akira Kurosawa and hating "The Last Samurai"---you'll dig this book.

September 4, 2004

Ghost Town

You can always tell if it's the Friday before a three-day weekend on a studio lot. The place will be a ghost town. Yesterday was no different. We were cruising around in our sad little golf cart passing row after row of empty parking spaces. Streets between sound stages that normally bustled with activity were quiet.

Studio executives usually take most if not all of that day off and it starts a cascade down to all employees. Those of us who end up actually doing work on that day feel a bit like Robert Neville late in the afternoon on a cloudy day.

Yesterday I didn't really remember that it was a three-day weekend until I walked into the commissary for lunch. Usually the various food stations have long lines of people waiting for a sandwich or "make your own pasta" or some cooked meat on a bun from the grill. Normally my food for the day is determined by answering the question, "What line is shortest?" Yesterday I had my pick since all lines were nonexistent.

After collecting my penne, chicken and marinara and paying for it. I walked into the dining area. That's when it really hit me. "Oh yeah. I don't have to go to work on Monday. And I still get paid for it." There are probably 50 tables where you can sit down and each your lunch at the employee commissary at Universal. On a normal day at about 1pm 48 of those will be filled with people eating, laughing, reading and generally taking a break from the day's duties. Yesterday there were people at 4 tables. One of those was occupied by people from my own crew who had gone to lunch a little early. Another held several of the picture editors from "Battlestar Galactica" who are at the other end of the hallway in our building.

It's days like these that make me feel like the entire world around me has shrunk down to the handful of people I see every single day. The rest of the world must be empty space because these are the only people that seem to exist. It's a strange feeling. If it weren't for the trams full of tourists driving by my office window every 5 minutes on their way to see the backlot, the falling bridge, the flood, King Kong and all the other little mini-attractions, the picture would have been complete yesterday. We definitely would have been a little island of Robert Nevilles surrounded by a sea of emptiness. At least until dark.

September 3, 2004

Capturing Video For Pro Tools With Sync Audio In OS X

Here's step-by-step instructions for loading digital picture for use in Pro Tools in that cool way that I briefly talked about the other day. I can't take credit for this one. The amazing Ron Eng came up with it. It definitely works with OS X 10.3.4, Pro Tools|24 Mix hardware, Pro Tools 6.2.3 software, Final Cut Pro 3, Adobe Premiere 4, Miro DC30+ videocard and DC30 Xact driver. I'm sure it works with newer versions of hardware and software like Pro Tools HD and an Aurora Igniter card, I just haven't tried it out myself.

  1. Final Cut Pro must be set up to capture video from your video card at the recommended 1000 KB/sec and audio from the Digidesign hardware via the Core Audio driver. You will probably need to have audio from your videodeck coming in on Analog 1 and 2.
  2. Make sure that your Universal Slave Driver or Sync I/O is set to pulldown and the sample rate that you're working in. You can run Pro Tools first and set that in the "Session Setup" window if you're not familiar with doing it on the hardware.
  3. Make sure that you've quit Pro Tools. Core Audio cannot use Digidesign hardware while Pro Tools is running.
  4. Run Final Cut Pro.
  5. Select "Log and Capture" from the "File" menu.
  6. Press play on your videodeck and click the "Capture Now" button in Final Cut Pro prior to the "Picture Start" frame.
  7. Load the entire picture and press the Esc key to end capture.
  8. Press Cmd-W to close the captured picture, saving and naming it appropriately.
  9. Quit Final Cut Pro.
  10. Run Adobe Premiere 4. This is a OS 9 application so you'll need Classic installed. It's the only video application I know that allows you to reconform digital video frames.
  11. Open the digital picture that you just captured in FCP.
  12. Find the first frame of picture. If you have an Academy Leader it will say "Picture Start". It might simply be an even hour of timecode or 0+00 of footage in the window burn.
  13. Click the "In" button to set this frame to the in-point.
  14. Select File -> Export -> Movie Segment.
  15. Name and save the new digital picture file.
  16. Select File -> Tools -> Conform Movie.
  17. Choose the newly saved digital picture from the open dialog window.
  18. Set the frame rate to 30 fps and click "Conform".
  19. You are now good to go. You can throw out the original digital picture from Final Cut Pro.

The beauty of this method is that the audio and video tracks are in sync so the video file can be played back on any computer and it is completely usable. It could be used to spot ADR or cue Foley on a laptop. Since the picture is set to 30 fps is is compatible with Pro Tools 5.0 and 5.1.x---software which only has a joined video and audio pulldown setting. The audio tracks can be imported into any Pro Tools session by selecting "Import Audio From Current Movie" from the "Movie" menu. This audio will be in sync with all of your other film-speed material that is being pulled-down to video speed.

This method works great. If your audio and video are not in sync when you're done with the process, check that your sync device (USD or Sync I/O) is set to pulldown. If not, you'll have to reload. Otherwise the reconform probably didn't take. Run Adobe Premiere 4 again and repeat steps 16 to 18.

September 2, 2004

No. Unless You Pay Us Lots Of Money.

I received the official word today from the "powers that be" at pair.com that they will not adjust their Reaper settings to accommodate Movable Type and publishing via XML-RPC. I understand their desire to keep their servers safe and functional. It's good business practice. The thing that is a bit annoying is that I'm asking for support for something that is very common on the web. Commercial software that thousands of people use.

What made me angry was the suggestion they made that I should get a dedicated server because then I wouldn't have any restrictions. Anyone can run MT with a MySQL database at pair.com for $18/month. I pay a little more for additional databases and more space and some other goodies. But their "solution" is for me to pay $150+ a month. That's ridiculous and insulting.

I'm trying to calm myself and remind myself that they are not bad people. They really are just trying to keep their servers running at peak efficiency. And that telling someone that they can make a perfectly reasonable request happen with a 500% increase in fees is a simple error in judgment on their part. They should have just left it at we're not changing our policy at this time.

(Of course all of this is possibly moot since I have successfully posted via ecto several times since my site redesign over the weekend. Let's see how this one goes....)

September 1, 2004

My World Of Film Sound

Yesterday I started working again with the fine folks at Universal Studios. Yes, those damn trams full of tourists are once again driving by my window every 5 minutes.

The nature of the movie business is such nowadays that studios are extremely reluctant to release movies without screening them for several test audiences and focus groups to make sure that there will be a market for the movies. After watching a test screening, every member of the audience is handed a piece of paper with lots of questions. Some of them are simple, "On a scale of 1 to 5, how much did you enjoy the film?" Others are ask for more information, "Who was your favorite character?" or "What was your favorite scene?" And still others are directed at that ever important "word-of-mouth" advertising, "Would you recommend this movie to your friends?" or "What reasons would you give a friend to see the movie?"

In general I feel that this kind of thing tends to dumb-down movies. You're playing up to the lowest common denominator instead of asking the audience to elevate themselves. And don't get me started on the fact that Hollywood can't seem to make a single original film anymore. Go pick up a copy of the Hollywood Reporter or Variety and you'll see that every single movie that's in production at Paramount right now is either a sequel or a remake of on old movie.

Be that as it may, working on movies pays my rent and post-production sound, even though sorely ignored in the budgetting-realm, is a fun job. So stepping into the assisting chair yesterday was an interesting one for me. I didn't start this movie. Someone else did, but it was on hiatus for a while while the studio worked on it.

That's another fact of life of the film business now. And the fact that a film goes on hiatus shouldn't be taken as a positive or a negative thing. It simply is. Under normal circumstances, post-production sound usually takes three-and-a-half to fourth months to complete. But I should be hesitant to use the word "normal" because often that is no longer the case. Since studios want to maximize their return on investment many shows today have longer post schedules while the studio tries to make a movie that will appeal to the largest audience. The sound department will often go on hiatus. If studios had to ok the final budget on movies prior to giving them the greenlight, they would never get made. We have to turn in budgets with 12 to 16 weeks for post-production sound even though the reality often turns into 20 to 26 or more.

This flexible scheduling also makes it difficult because shows often overlap now. Being a good supervising sound editor you line up your next three shows. But then the schedules start pushing and everything starts falling on top of each other. Now you need to scramble and hire second crews and figure out how you'll be on two dub stages at the same time. One possibility of course would be to not look for shows until after you've completed the previous one. But that can mean a lot of downtime. There is no easy solution so every tries to make do.

And that's why I'm here. I'm taking over the assisting on a show so that the assistant who actually started it can continue on another show that began during the hiatus. Of course the fact that I can't really talk about specifics on any of this makes things a little more difficult.

After starting up this weblog I imagined that I might talk about what it's like making movies from the post-production side of things. I still want to do that, but now that I'm sitting down to actually work on (nearly) an entire show, I'm finding myself hard-pressed to find interesting things to say---interesting things that I can actually talk about.

For example I can say that while I'm typing this I'm taking some files (about 5GB of digital picture) and copying them to another drive. Oooo! I can already see that you're enthralled. And now, I'm going to delete those files from the original drive. Aaaah! I know, I know. You can hardly contain yourself.

I will come up with something. You're welcome to ask questions and I'll answer as best I can. But now I must go... there's more copying to do.

I'm Shocked

Both my previous post and an update I did to it went through properly to my server. The Reaper didn't kill either. I don't dare hope that either pair.com has changed things to allow XML-RPC to function properly or MT3.1 changed things enough that it's no longer a problem. More likely this is more of the same thing I've been seeing for the last several weeks. Sometimes the posting works. Sometimes it doesn't.

I might let myself have a little bit of hope though. Ecto really is a great piece of software and I really would like to use it.

Movable Type 3.1 & Ecto 2

I upgraded to MT3.1 last night. I haven't really done anything with it other than check out all the different interface pages. Since I had already been using MT3 for several months, 3.1 did not seem like that radical of an update. Obviously its support for dynamic pages is pretty huge but since as far as the interface went, that was relegated to 3 radio buttons on the Templates page it didn't appear significant.

The subcategories looks pretty cool too. Very simple interface. As much as it sometimes pains me, I don't use multiple categories, I don't think I'll get into the whole subcategory thing. At least not with this blog. It could definitely be helpful, I wouldn't rule it out for the future.

I'm typing this up on yet another ecto 2 beta. I don't have much confidence that it will get properly published. I think that The Reaper will probably kill it. And since I can't reliably use it with my host, I probably won't use it at all. It's really too bad because Adriaan really does have a nice program.

I had never used ecto before going into this beta. I didn't really come with any expectations---though I had read lots of people mention how much like liked it, so I figured it would be pretty good. And it really is. For me the two best things are the database and the spell check. Maybe I'm not very demanding with my publishing needs, but it's true. I love the fact that I can search out old entries and paste the URLs to them into newer posts. And the fact that ecto points out my spelling errors immediately after I type them is a god-send. Everything else is icing.

I don't need it to do a ton of things. Probably the next biggest thing that I do that's a bit of a pain is deal with images. That's something that on one hand ecto handles nicely, but on the other I don't feel that it goes far enough. After you drag and drop a picture into your editing window, you can click the link that is makes to change how it works.

There are a lot of great options: It'll make thumbnails of large pictures for you. You can set the directory it should be uploaded to on your server. There's even a template where you can exactly format the code that will be generated. This is what I would like to have changed. I love digging into advanced features but I also want things to be quick and easy whenever possible. It would be great if ecto would allow you to save various code templates in the image window and access them like a favorites or presets pulldown menu in many programs. So in my perfect world of ecto, I might have one favorite image template that is setup with HTML4 code for one particular blog that I might write for. Another template for XHTML and a third with Markdown code. Since the idea behind ecto is that you can write for and publish to all your weblogs, it should support all the different format possibilities at once. Even with those basic code differences, it would be nice to have one template for code when a thumbnail is generated and another for when the image is already the proper size.

In this way I imagine that embedding pictures into your posts with ecto would involve a drag and drop, a click to bring up the image menu, and then a selection from a favorites menu and click ok. Fast, simple, easy. That's all. Sure you might have to make a couple adjustments once in a while, or you might want to type something more extensive in the "alt" field but it should be really quick. Don't get me wrong, as it exists the image window is very easy to use and you can set it up one time for HTML4 and the next time for XHTML but there's a bit of typing and clicking involved in that. I'd just like to see it taken to the next level of functionality.

After that my list of changes get into nit-picky things. When you're working in an editing window, there's no immediate indication of which weblog you're typing an entry for. Ecto offers support for multiple blogs on multiple servers. Each server is known as an account. There's a pulldown menu immediately below the "Title" and "Keywords" field which shows the account, but not the individual weblog on that server. So in my case it shows "idmonsters.com" but it's not until I click on that menu and drag over to the sub-menu that I see "Monsters from the Id". Minor point, but again, since it's supporting multiple weblogs, it would be a good idea to make things very clear and easy for everyone.

There are a lot of great things which I think many users would find extremely helpful. You can copy your Movable Type template (or a simplified version of it) into the "Preview Template" window. That in conjunction with ecto grabbing your CSS file from your website allow you to have a decent idea of what your text will look like while you're typing. Adriaan has setup a tags menu with all the most important HTML tags and it's fully editable so you can add your own tags and assign hot keys. This is actually another area I thought he should modify a bit. Again with the idea that different weblogs might be done different ways, I suggested supporting either different sets of tags menus so that when you're working in an HTML4 weblog it brings up a set of HTML4 tags versus an XHTML weblog with XHTML tags. Or by adding in menu dividers, you could group appropriate tags together. So for example, the first set of tags is XTHML and after the divider they're all Markdown.

If it weren't for the fact that my host kills off the MT XML-RPC script for consuming too many resources on the server, I would definitely be using ecto. Though I would definitely continue to bug Adriaan to make the changes I suggested. ;) Since I can't post reliably, I probably won't. And since the new BBEdit 8 has a much improved spell check, one of my two major needs is satisfied right there. I'll probably stick with BBEdit until my host lets the XML-RPC scripts run properly or until I switch hosts---neither of which will happen anytime soon.