Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mistletoe Music Festive-Hell

Every year during the holiday season, we at the Artsgarden play host to dozens of school choirs and bands. This year, we're down to around 75 groups; my first year we had over a hundred, but schools are cutting back on arts programs and travel, so our numbers are down. The kids are generally good to work with, as are the teachers. But when a teacher's difficult, it's an order of magnitude more trouble than the kids. No problems so far this year, but we've had some difficulty in years past with teachers seeing how much they could get away with. After our experiences, we've taken a somewhat cynical approach to all this. The last two years we've run a pool among the staff with three categories: number of kids who faint, number of kids who vomit on stage, and the number of times we hear Carol of the Bells.
The other effect of Mistletoe on the staff is to make us sick of holiday music. Probably 99% of the holiday music you hear is the same forty or so songs. and maybe ten songs make up more than half of what you hear. You really can't listen to holiday music for two hours without repeating songs. Unless you start really reaching. There's a song called "On Christmas Day" that gets a lot of radio play over the holidays. If you listen to the lyrics, though, it's actually a song about a traveller who seduces a barmaid and promises he'll return for her on Christmas, but never does -- she spends every Christmas waiting in vain with her illegitimate child for her lover to return. Joni Mitchell's "River Song" (a beautiful song) isn't really a holiday song, either, but the lyrics mention Christmas so it gets a lot of seasonal radio play. My very favorite, though, is "Brick" from Ben Folds Five: it's actually about a teenage couple getting an abortion. In the first verse, they have to wait until the day after Christmas to have the abortion, because they need to pawn their gifts for the money; this apparently is enough of a holiday mention to get radio airtime.
Lore Sjoberg wrote something funny about repeating holiday music: http://slumbering.lungfish.com/2005/11/like_a_lightbulb.html

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Messing with Betty's sense of order

Staying with Laura's mom isn't bad; I like Betty. But she's had a long time to get used to doing things her way. I kept messing with her sense of order. A parital list of things I did that tweaked her a bit:
* I dried dishes with a hand towel
* I ate cereal right out of the box
* I ate a frozen French fry
And, I don't like Frank Sinatra. Or, more correctly, I'm not rabid about Sinatra, which is apparently the same. She assumed, based on this, that I don't know anything about music. I think the reasoning was something like, "If you knew anything about music, you'd love Old Blue Eyes." So, while Frank's concert in Australia was playing, she kept pointing out the instruments: "Listen for this, the trombone's coming up. That's the one that slides like this [trombone gesture]." I was far too polite to explain that I'm a sound guy, that I've recorded probably a hundred jazz bands, and that, while I don't hate Frank Sinatra, I really don't see what's so special about him (ditto the Beatles, but that's another story). At least she didn't hear me refer to Frank as a "cover artist". There might have been bloodshed.
And, to be fair, she messed with Laura's sense of order a bit too. She wouldn't let Laura do any actual cooking for Thanksgiving dinner, which really bothered Laura. Thanksgiving's probably her favorite holiday, and she loves preparing the huge meal. We hosted the "orphan Thanksgiving" (a gathering of dancers, techies, and friends who couldn't make it home for the holidays) for a few years, and I think our biggest dinner was for fifteen or so. To go from that kind of Thanksgiving production to cutting up fruit for the fruit salad was pretty jarring.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Back in Indy

I'm back, and about to begin the insane holiday mess at work (amplified this year by the imminent departure of my boss Brian and my assistant Chris). But the trip wasn't bad. Laura and I decided to delay our arrival at her mom's and spend two nights at a bed & breakfast in western Maryland. The Lake Pointe Inn (check the site at http://www.deepcreekinns.com/ ) was amazing. I can't imagine a better place to spend a relaxing vacation. We arrived at 7pm Monday and left at 11am Wednesday, but the 40 hours felt like five days' worth of relaxation. The staff was friendly and really helpful, the room was big and well-appointed, the scenery was amazing, and we were practically the only people there. Our room had a fireplace and two-person hot tub and a nice view, and we hit the hot tub probably 6 times. We also spent a good bit of time on the wraparound deck on the first floor. In the great room the inkeepers kept a pile of blankets to wrap yourself in if you wanted to sit outside, which was a great touch. They had piles of cookies and fresh-baked banana bread and lots of tea and coffee and soda always available, and the breakfasts were better than anything I've ever had in a restaurant. The inn is mostly a resort; it's on a nice lake for the summer crowd, and it's at the foot of some good ski slopes for the winter crowd.
They have a month of off-season a year, and we hit them in the middle of it. Laura and I keep doing this; we went to Santa Rosa Beach on Florida's panhandle for New Years, we honeymooned on Macinaw Island in late September. It's partially because we're not working at strange times, and probably a little that we don't really do enough research to know the off-seasons. And, we're fine with that; we don't ski, we hate tourist crowds, and we really enjoy having a place to ourselves.
Gotta go; more on the Laura's Family part of the trip when I get a chance. But the bed-and-breakfast was wonderful!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Out of touch

Laura and I are going to Virginia for a week for the Thanksgiving holiday to spend time with her family. Her mom lives just outside the beltway in Fairfax, and she has a brother in La Plata, Maryland. Nobody there has an internet connection, and Laura's laptop is temporarily sans power supply, so I won't be updating until I get back. Wish us fun and luck; happy holidays!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Airport security

I'm still showing up two hours in advance for my airline flights, to ensure I have time to make it through security. It has yet to take me more than 20 minutes to clear security, so I end up spending a lot of time in airports. That's fine; I've always got a book with me, and people-watching is one of my favorite sports. For instance, I just saw the most country-western couple you could ever imagine. He was wearing a bolo tie on his denim shirt, with his Dale Earnhardt sunglasses and a cowboy hat and boots. And she was in tight fringey pants, cowboy boots, a hat, and a leather jacket with lots of fringe and a bull's head embossed on the back. And across from me is a family of four with a combined weight of at least 1200 pounds. As an exercise in imagination, I sometimes make up stories about people I see at airports. None of them are elaborate, just little vignettes about who they are and why they're doing what they're doing. It's a lot of fun, if you're bored enough. :-)
Airport security is still making people do silly things: remove your shoes, remove your belt, take the laptop out of its case, et cetera. Pretty much everything but my actual garments ride through an x-ray machine and in front of the eyes of everyoene else waiting in line. I don't think the increased security is making me feel more secure; its main purpose is to remind me how much crap I carry with me. And that's without the cutlery and other metal objects I leave behind when I fly.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Credit fraud?

Okay, this makes no sense. I just found out that they're going to charge MY credit card for my hotel stay. My boss called in the reservation on his card, but apparently that just holds the date, they can't charge the room to it. Unless I don't show up, in which case they charge it. Anyway. You need a physical card for them to charge the room to, or a complicated set of paperwork. Dig this: you need to fax them back a written authorization form, a photocopy of the card (both sides), and a photocopy of the cardholder's driver's license. This is so they "may better safeguard the rights and priveleges of credit card holders". That's blatant horse waste. The hotel is the liable party if they accept an invalid or fraudulent card; it safeguards them. As for the rights of the cardholder, they're saying that all you need to make a completely authorized transaction is a photocopy of the card (both sides) and the info on the holder's driver's license. So, whoever happens to be standing by the fax machine when it comes through has everything they need to embark on a life of crime. Does this safeguard the cardholder's rights? I think not. This method of credit card authorization puts way too much personal information into unsecured hands and creates an easy channel for fraud, and does it for the benefit of a big corporation at the expense of individuals.

Orlando, day two -- trade shows are fun!

One of the serious perks of going to conferences like this is that a lot of the guys there are tech guys. If I call a company to ask about a product and whether or not it's right for me, I'll get sent to a salesman. I can call any random salesman and say, "Is your product right for me?" and he'll say yes. That's his job, to convince people they need his company's products. But if I ask a tech guy, I can ask a lot of specific questions, and I'll get a lot of specific answers. I noticed the salesman difference today. A salesman was running a demo on a moving light, and one of the guys watching with me asked a tech question (in this case, "Does the fixture automatically correct focus as you zoom with a gobo?"). It's a biased question; it's obvious from the question which answer is more desirable for a prospective buyer. And the salesman said, "Yes it does!"
Which was wrong. I know, because I had asked the same question a few minutes earlier, but I asked the tech guy. We talked geek for a few minutes about how to emulate the same effect through programming, because the fixture wouldn't do it automatically. It's great to ask the guy at the booth why something does what it does, and have the guy turn out to be the designer.
I also figured out that the purpose of a trade show is so that people can play with stuff, touch it, and work with it. There's no point demo-ing a new product at a show if you can't actually see the product work. A company had a really clever design for a rotating seat/spot mount for a truss spotlight. They had two models there, both of which had big signs on the chairs that said, "Do Not Sit." I was probably the two hundredth guy who pointed out to the rep that, sure, it looked great--but if he wanted anyone to buy it, they'd probably like to try it first.
And, pardon me while I go sexist for a minute to talk about Booth Babes. At shows like E3 and car shows, they're important. It's cool to see a hot chick in the Bloodrayne outfit, or to see the gaggle of hotties in short skirts around the new cars. But you're selling things based on image. At more techie-oriented shows like ETS/LDI, it's better to have crusty old guys who know everything, than have your booth filled with nubile ladies who can't answer any of your questions. It's not appealing, it's irritating. So if you're going to have booth babes, make sure it's obvious that they're just there for decoration, or make sure you've got actual experts on hand to answer questions. There was one company that had an effective booth babe today. They were selling a DMX toy called a PowerCycle (or something like that). So they had a hot chick in spandex pants and a push-up bra pedaling a stand-mounted racing bike that powered their demo unit. Or, generally, not pedaling it; that's a lot of work for an eight-hour show day. But it fit in (vaguely) with their product, and it's obvious she was decoration. Another booth, for a fairly large, popular manufacturer, was populated mostly by young college students who didn't know anything about the products but were standing around in the company's logo shirts. I'm not sure what the point was; did they feel like they needed more bodies in uniform?
I sat through the demo for the Mac700. It's one of the new fixtures from Martin this year, and Laura's looking into them. A few techies and I were pushing buttons on the demo controller, and after putting it through its paces, we all said, "Oh, gee. Another moving-head fixture. Yay." Sure, it's nice. But there were twenty other manufacturers there selling basically the same features in different housings.
It seems like the tech curve is slowing down. This year there weren't really any new big products. Everybody had new stuff to sell, but there weren't a lot of quantum leaps or new ideas, more minor refinements in old ideas (or, more commonly, repackaging someone else's old idea as your new idea). And it seems to be the same with computers; the best computer you can buy now isn't significantly different from the best computer you could buy two years ago. Sure, you might have a bit more ram, or a 10% faster processor, or your DVD burner might be -- ooh! -- dual layer. But there's really nothing new and different.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Sunny Orlando!

It's been a good day. Laura drove me to the airport at 6am, I breezed through check-in and security, and the flight was totally non-stressful. On my flight was Ron from Indy Stage; he and JR drove me to my hotel, where I couldn't check in. The computers were down, and the power kept browning out and blacking out every twenty minutes or so. So I sat on the veranda and read for a while and marveled at how big the Sheraton World Hotel is. It sits on 20 acres, and it has three pools, a miniature golf course, three restaurants, and around 1100 guest rooms. After half an hour or so, I tried to check in again. Still no computers, so I went across the street to Bennigan's and had their yummy fish and chips, plus a dessert that involved a warm brownie, hot fudge, ice cream, and about a pound of whipped cream. Back to the hotel, and still no computers. So I checked my bag and went to the conference center.
It took me about ten minutes to walk to the conference center, and another ten minutes to walk to the part of the convention center where the Entertainment Technology Show/LDI was taking place. The Orange County Convention Center is HUGE. Indy's convention center always struck me as pretty big, but it would fit inside any one of the three or four halls that make up the OCCC. Within a mile or two are 50 hotels. Indy is expanding their convention center to attract bigger conventions, but if this is the competition, we probably shouldn't bother. On the other hand, while it's gifted with size, it's cursed with really poor traffic flow. At first, I thought it was cool that so many places run shuttles to the convention center; after I thought about it, I realized it's a necessity. Nobody could possibly drive around here. And the parking is pretty bad.
But the show is great, as always. I talked techie nerd things with a lot of people, and did some serious shopping. My main goal for the conference is to find something to replace the architectural lighting at the Artsgarden. It Sucks. It's poorly designed, poorly made, twitchy, and hard to program. The fixtures are Irideons, made by Electronic Theatre Controls. I'm considering replacing them with LED fixtures; they're low-power, zero lamp cost, and easy to use. But a few people have told me that, while the new LED lighting units are not bad, we're only a year or so away from some amazingly cool things. One guy had fixtures powered by 30 one-watt LEDs; he said they're maybe a year from a similar fixture, but with 40 four-watt LEDs. And other people said pretty similar things. So, if I can't find something I like better, I might just have to stick with the sucking Irideons for another year. But I hate spending any money at all fixing them.
One thing that surprises me about architectural lighting is the lamp cost. Most of the bright architectural fixtures take MSD700 or similar lamps, which are rated for around a thousand hours, and list for almost $700 per lamp. Who can afford that? Especially when there are so many lamp types that are as bright and only cost $30. Who designs the fixtures with these expensive lamps? There are a few advantages to HID lamps (chief is brightness), but a whole host of disadvantages. They require ballasts, they're expensive, they radiate serious heat, they're fragile, and they explode when they die.
So, I'm looking for an architectural fixture that throws around 7000 lumens, runs on cheap lamps, changes color, and can run on some sort of timer control. I'm actually considering a 750W Source Four PAR with a color scroller. Any DMX controller will run the fixtures, lamps are cheap (dimmed to 85%, you double your lamp life), and they're quiet and don't require ballasts. I can even mostly reuse existing wire. But I'll see what my options are. With luck, I'll be able to find something that we can get shortly after Christmas.
I also popped by the Klark/Midas/Telex/EV booth. Even after the pile of mergers, they still make some great gear. I've got a Midas console and Klark Teknik EQ, and I like all their gear. It's well-designed and practical and expensive as hell. But good. I might end up getting a Telex wireless intercom for next year.
After the show, John and Sarah from Stage Tech took me to dinner. I like them; we had a great time. We went to a seafood place, I had steak, we talked, and they drove me back to my hotel. Check-in was pretty quick, but it took half an hour to find a bellhop to retrieve my checked luggage. Now I'm in the room, doing a little writing.
My deep thought for the day: we tend to have a version of the world in our heads, and it's overlaid on the real world. I haven't been to Orlando in real memory (not since I was 8 or so), but I've read books set here, and I've read Carl Hiaasen's stories, and that version of Florida imposes itself on the real thing. It's hard to see what's really here without the lens of fiction around it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Not A Vacation

Tomorrow at 7am, I'm flying to Orlando to attend the Lighting Dimensions annual techie convention. It's a cool time, and I'll be there Friday thru Sunday. More on the conference later. What it's not is a vacation. There's actually been some debate about this. Tomorrow's a holiday at work (Veteran's Day), but I'll be at the conference. And I'll be there all weekend. Then I go to work Monday morning like usual. Personally, I think I deserve a day off; nobody else at work thinks so, though.
I think this is because I approach conferences differently. Before my boss's last conference, he did a lot of advance planning: where to drink, where to eat, which parties to attend, and who to attend with. I'm also doing a lot of planning: which seminars to attend, which reps to talk to, what specific questions to ask. For me, conferences are work, even if they apparently aren't for anyone else. I must admit, I also did a little non-conference planning. I looked online to see if a Borders or a Barnes & Noble is within walking distance of my hotel (no, it turns out).
Tired now. Bed. Sleep. After I pack, of course.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Crazy cell phone people

World views tend to shift gradually, but you tend to notice the shift all at once. I was thinking about this in reference to cell phone headsets. The first time I saw someone using one, I assumed he was a member of downtown's Crazy Homeless Guy population. He was facing the wrong way for me to see the headset; I could just see him walking down the street, apparently carrying on a conversation with invisible people. It wasn't until I walked by him and saw the headset that I figured out what he was doing. He was dressed fairly well, but it's easier to categorize someone as a well-dressed crazy person than as a normal guy inexplicably carrying on a heated conversation with invisible people. The next several times, my first thought upon seeing someone talk to themselves was that they were sanity-deprived -- especially if they're the type of person who can't fight the urge to make lots of hand gestures while speaking. I don't know when my thinking changed on this, but today for the first time I had the experience from the other direction. I saw a guy having a conversation with invisible people on the sidewalk, and I was genuinely surprised when I was close enough to see that he didn't have a phone.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Popular tastes?

I was talking with one of my co-workers at the Arts Council about Harry Potter. I'm of the opinion that it's a pretty good set of books, with fun characters, a nice story, good morals, and -- I hate to admit it's important to me, but it is -- a quick read. She's an Artist, though, and apparently isn't ever allowed to enjoy anything that's too popular. I think the theory isn't so much that the masses are often wrong, but that they're never right. And, even following some pretty serious cajoling from me, she's still committed to never reading the Harry Potter books. I'm not sure she sees it this way, but it seems obvious: by not reading things just because they're popular, she's still being a sheep. If she were as independent as she thinks, she'd read whatever she liked, instead of letting what's popular tell her what not to read.

Speaking of good books, I'm almost done with Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. Neil Gaiman's one of my favorite writers. He tells good stories with characters I enjoy, and he uses the language well. Even in little passing phrases, he's clever and funny and observant. Case in point, a few pages ago, describing a character's outlook on life:

"The world was his lobster, his bib was around his neck, and he had a pot of melted butter and an array of grotesque but effective lobster-eating implements and devices at the ready."

I like that sort of thing. And the book's full of them. I've read books and thought, "I could write this," which is a sign that you should probably be writing. But when I read Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman or a handful of others, my main thought is, "I'm nowhere near clever enough to write this!"

Speaking of unclever writing, it's time for me to get back to my National Novel Writing Month book....

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Novel, maybe

I spent some time trying to come up with a story for my NaNoWriMo novel. I was reading Paul Graham talking about premature optimization, and he was talking about the tendency painters have to spend five minutes arranging a still life, and two months painting a bad arrangement; with that in mind, I fought the urge to dive into writing until I had a better idea of the story I wanted to tell. I suspect it might be procrastination, but it's at least useful procrastination--like postponing your woodworking to sharpen your chisels.

A bit of my recent reading has been in the genre of guy action story. In my youth, I read several of the Remo Williams Destroyer books. They're on a par with Mack Bolan novels, the guy version of trashy romance. A slightly more erudite class of the same basic concept is the mainstream thriller novel. Guys like David Morrell, John Sandford, and Robert Ludlum are good at it. And I just finished reading Joseph Garber's second book, Whirlwind. It was a good guy-action novel, almost as good as his first novel, Vertical Run (which, as far as I'm concerned, is the best airplane reading ever). I've also spent a lot of time reading series mysteries; I'm really enjoying Janet Evanovich's numbered Stephanie Plum novels. With these two recent influences bangling around in my head, I was thinking about a guy I knew in Los Angeles who works in the executive protection field. He went from being a badass bodyguard (at one time, he was Larry Flint's director of security) to training bodyguards, and he's led an interesting life. So I'm starting what might be book one of a series mystery about a bodyguard. I'll keep y'all posted on my progress.

Did I mention, Wish Me Luck!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

NaNoWriMo

I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month again. It's a neat idea; the theory is that everything worthwhile that anyone ever accomplished was done on a deadline. So they provide a deadline: during the month of November, you start and finish a 50,000-word novel. Last year I got maybe 15,000 words done, but the story was awful and didn't go anywhere, so I gave up. The last page of my mystery novel started something like this:

Meanwhile, in orbit directly overhead, Commander Lance Fenwick of the United Space Patrol was looking concerned. A random lieutenant shouted, "Sir! The invasion force is approaching!"

I destroyed the planet by the end of the page. Cathartic, but still a failure.

This year I plan to do better. Though it's now almost 11 in the morning on the first day of writing, and I still have no idea what kind of story I'm going to tell. And, this is probably not the best month for this, either. I've got to finish the house before the weather gets too cold, I'm spending three days at a conference, and we're spending a week traveling to Virginia to spend Thanksgiving with Laura's family. But I'll give it my best try. Wish me luck!

For more info on NaNoWriMo, visit the website at http://www.nanowrimo.org .

New Weblog!

Hey, all!

I'm now officially moving my weblog from its old site at glovermountjoy.com to this site. It's easier for me to edit, and I don't want to lose anything when I move my hosting in a few weeks. The old site is still up, at http://www.glovermountjoy.com , and I'll still be updating it on my usual erratic schedule. But I think I'm done updating the blog there. I'm keeping the archives, at http://www.glovermountjoy.com/Jeff's_weblog.htm . Feel free to check them out.