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actor geek blog
World Conquest
October, 2009
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red-faced

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

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

Saturday, October 31st

21:55PM

Night of the Lifting Dead:


Catchy as the title is, I don't think I'm going to make that movie, even if it's appropriate for the date. Getting a decent still picture of a deadlift is tough enough, which is probably why I don't have one. (This time at least I managed to get one in focus.)

It's just something about deadlifts: you set the camera up, press the self-timer, and run around to grab the bar...and the camera always goes off at the wrong moment or ir decides to autofocus on a piece of equipment fifteen feet behind you.

I've just started doing deadlifts again. I'm being rather cautious after the whole shoulder surgery experience, so I've been sticking to 235 pounds, normally a warmup weight, and just doing high reps. Eventually you do feel like you've done something, even with 235#, and it gives my newly reconnected shoulder a wakeup call without making it work *too* hard. Yet.

deadlift

The traditional Halloween
lifting of the dead

training plates weights

Five and Ten pound "training plates"

But I ran into this fine product, just for moments like this when you're feeling a little embarrassed because you're flinging baby weights around: "Training Plates" from Power Systems. The same diameter as a standard 45-pound plate, but weighing a mere 5 pounds. Sure, they have those whopping huge holes visible from the side, but as long as you sandwich them between a couple of real 45s, nobody will know.

Just think of the fun you could have racking them up for a training partner and convincing him that he just squeezed out 505 pounds on the bench without breaking a sweat.


(Power systems makes 15-pound aluminum "training bars" too, in case you want the look of a real olympic bar at one-third the weight. It's the perfect gift for somebody this season, and I'll let you know as soon as I think of who.)

Happy Halloween, Everybody!



Friday, October 30th

23:18PM

Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs:

To understand the story of the meatball, I should probably mention that one of my quirks (unusual quirks, I've been told, but I wouldn't know one way or another on that) is that I have a habit of catching flies. Better than attracting flies, I think, and the simple truth is that I really don't like having them in the house. So I just grab them and toss them out the most convenient doorway and off they fly, ready to go buzz somebody else instead.
It's like being a bouncer for insects--you hold them snugly enough that they don't squirm away from you, but not hard enough to hurt them. Just like you would with unruly bar patrons or overagressive salesmen--it's the same basic idea, except that those don't generally *fly* away when you toss them; they usually just go *thud*.

And this, by the way, is not a fly, but a cat-faced spider, Araneus gemmoides, probably the spider most commonly found in the courtyard here at the treehouse. The reason for the name is a little easier to see when they're younger like this one and still have a trim, shapely figure. Older cat-faced spiders tend to put on a bit more on the hips and their "ears" become less prominent.

cat face spider

Catface or Cat-Faced Spider
(meow)

A few days ago, while I was in the midst of several video projects, I was walking down the hallway, got buzzed and bugged by a fly, so I grabbed it between two fingers and tossed it out the nearest door, which happened to be the doorway to the balcony overlooking the atrium. It flew away, unharmed, but in through the doorway zoomed a flying meatball which then bounced and rolled down the carpet.
Well, it looked like a meatball, anyway. Not as big as an authentic Italian restaurant meatball, but certainly it was a few times the size of a standard SpaghettiOs® meatball. (And by "SpaghettiOs®" I mean the canned noodle kind, not the version of Linux ported to BASIC.")

Okay, a meatball with legs folded up on top so you almost couldn't see them.

It looked dead. Four hours later, it still looked quite dead, balled up with the legs tightly folded up top. Five hours later, it had warmed up and was not only not dead, but was feeling fairly lively. (Especially for a meatball.) That was a bit of a surprise.
At that point, we were in the midst of Denver's first heavy snowfall of the season. Not really great spider weather. The snow fell for two days straight and was up over my knees the last time I trekked through it to the birdfeeder. (And I have pretty tall knees, so that's plenty of snow.)

cat face spider

The Cat-Face Spider ran straight to the wall
cat face spider

and right up it

But the third day, things warmed up and the snow was already melting quickly. I put the spider back on the railing of the atrium balcony, and she immediately headed straight for the wall and right up to her spot above the doorway. Took her maybe two minutes to get right back where she'd been before the storm. True, we're talking less than ten feet, but that's a pretty good start for a spider and there could be significant commercial and military applications for trained homing spiders.

...and there she is, right outside the door in a web (it's a night shot taken with a flash, hence the black background.

I don't generally care for having spiders in the house either, but at least they are quieter than houseflies and this one was a well-behaved enough guest for a couple of days until the weather calmed down. She didn't even use up all my towels or leave the milk out of the fridge.

cat face spider

♫ The Catface came back
the very next day....♫




Sunday, October 25th

22:39PM

Gang Green:

"Going Green" is a catchphrase that you run across all the time these days. It never seems to have anything to do with the actual product that they're trying to get you to buy because it's "green" or anything that they are doing as a company, so I think the idea here is that if Corporate America can emit enough hot air on the subject, that will be enough on its own to solve any global warming problems that may exist and nobody will have to actually do anything.
The obvious way that companies are not "green" is packaging. There's been a longstanding trend to wrap less and less product in more and more packaging, and in the last couple of years that "green" has become a promotional gimmick, that trend has accelerated, especially with any kind of food product. Obviously, when the economy is bad and people are short on funds, they naturally want to be spending more of their food dollar on the box and less on any actual food. (Look at the sizes of cans and boxes on store shelves now and compare them to two years ago; the reason everything looks smaller is not because you've gotten bigger.)
The other theory is that with an increased interest in recycling in the last few years, marketing departments have concluded that the more they can give consumers to recycle per unit of consumable food, the happier those consumers will be. There's probably even a study out there somewhere that supports this, too.


The infrastructure projects of this past summer involved getting in a bunch of new IT equipment and server components and that turned into a bit of a study in ineffcient packaging. The typical scenario was that I'd order something that's roughly pizza-box sized and it would arrive in a box of packing peanuts large enough to house a half-size refrigerator. Once in a while, they'd just omit the packing peanuts or any other kind of packing material and have the device just rattling around loose in the oversized box the whole way; more often all the packing peanuts would be on the bottom or top and the thing I'd ordered would be pressed into the top or bottom of the box like an afterthought, with the feet or the metal rack ears tearing out through the cardboard and getting bent or banged up on the trip. Special honors go to the shipper of a lightweight pair of three-foot half-inch diameter metal tubes that were packed diagonally into a 32" cube-shaped box. Special "boo!s" go to the surplus electronics company that shipped me a high-resolution 21" Sun CRT display by tossing it into a cardboard box with no packing or padding whatsoever. The internal guts of the display *did* arrive in perfectly functional condition, but the monitor's case had sacrificed itself along the way to save them.

Epson Inkjet printers

Five Epson R280 Photo printers

But here's today's award for "most excessive packaging"...sort of.

I admit, I'm not really being fair with this one, I'm just being cheap. I have to crank out a steady stream of DVD screeners to send to distributors for movies they might want to acquire. That's just part of life and it's so much easier and cheaper than producing VHS screeners used to be. This model comes with a handy little tray that holds a single CD or DVD and they do a pretty good job of printing on them.

But you have to keep them fed with ink. Direct from Epson, a set of replacement ink cartridges for this model rings up at $81.13 plus shipping if you buy the combo pack--or $109.98 if you'd like them to fill the cartridges all the way (I guess not everybody buys ink cartridges for the ink, so they try to accommodate different kinds of ink buyers).

On the other hand, an entire Epson R280 printer, complete with a full set of ink cartridges, was on sale for $29.99 with free shipping from Epson's online outlet store. Hmmmmm....

(and, yes, there are internet retailers who are selling compatible or remanufactured cartridges for this model which are cheaper than the Epson originals, but even the cheapest ones were still considerably more expensive than it was to buy a whole printer.)


But I am left with the mystery of what to do with the extra packaging...er...printers. I'm leaning towards the idea that if I just attach a selection of kitchen implements to the printhead, platten, and the CD tray positioning mechanism, I might be able to configure them to cook breakfast like in the beginning of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
So far this hasn't worked *too* well, but just in case you have similar intentions, I should mention that most cooking oils will clog the printheads, even monounsaturated ones, but Pam® works pretty well, except for the butter flavor kind. I can't get pancake syrup to flow more than a few short squirts, however, not even through the black ink nozzle. You'd think heating it first would help, but no, that didn't do the trick either.

Go Green with Newegg

A fistfull of green from Newegg
There's a lot of great things you can say about Newegg, but packaging efficiency has never been one of them. If you order a bare OEM DVD-ROM drive, they tend to ship it to you in a box that could easily hold twenty. If you order four, as like as not, they'll send it to you in four separate boxes, each of which could hold twenty. And that's despite the fact that their shipping charges are pretty reasonable--and they even calculate combined shipping discounts in your order, just as if they actually were going to put everything into one box.
They, too, gotten green fever. While this hasn't involved reducing or otherwise changing their packaging in any way, they have taken the bold step forward of throwing a handful of eight-page green booklets about how green they are into each box (including those orders that get shipped in five separate boxes, one of which would have held everything). The record so far in any single box has been five copies, but, to be fair, that was a month or two ago and they've since become more "green" by including fewer green brochures at any one time.
packing box from Office Max

Box shipped from OfficeMax

Today you're going to share in a first-time experience with me. I've seen the trend towards making "unboxing" videos and putting them up on the web, but except for the ones where the spring-loaded snakes come bursting out, I've never truly understood the point.


Until now.


I'd placed an order with OfficeMax that, Newegg-style, got split up between several different shipping cartons. After opening the rest of them, I decided that I needed to create an "unboxing" slide show for the last, if not an actual video.


so here it is:


(drum roll please....)

unboxing

The Unboxing begins....

Can you stand the tension?


Binder Clips

Ta-Dah!
And here we have it, a twelve-pack of size small binder clips, suitable for reports, scripts for short films, and closing individual-sized packs of Cheetos® when you don't feel like eating the whole 0.75 ounces.
I'll put 'em to use, one way or another. But it gives me an idea for how some of these companies could trim their shipping expenses in these challenging economic times. They could switch to ... um ... green-tinted air-filled bags. Besides the tremendous PR potential, this would be a real hit with the Saint Patrick's Day binder clip buying crowd.

I think they'll go for it.



Thursday, October 22nd

21:26PM

New Gear's Resolutions:

The Awakening in Thailand

The Awakening
(Thailand release)

The declining value of the dollar, especially against the European currencies and the Australian dollar, means that for the rest of the world, who buys most of their video entertainment from the USA, American-produced movies and TV are on sale. That's good news for me, because a US dollar still buys the same amount of fat-free cheese for me as it did a few months ago, but it's that much easier for me to be selling movies to the rest of the world in order to keep my fridge stocked with nonfat dairy products.

The American dollar has maintained closer parity to the Asian currencies, both last year when the Euro, Pound, and Australian dollar were plummeting, and this year when the American dollar is taking a dive, so movie sales to Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, South Korea, and the rest of Asia were less affected by the currency rates last year, but interest from Asian distributors has been getting stronger, too, so that may reflect an overall economic recovery as well as the fluctuating exchange rates.


Most of the world, except for the USA, Japan, South Korea, and (sort of) Brazil, uses the PAL TV standard which has 25 frames (50 fields) of 576 lines of resolution per second. NTSC, the standard in the USA and Japan, runs at 29.97 frames (59.94 fields) of 480 lines of resolution per second. If you want to sell your films in the international market, you need to be prepared to supply them in PAL resolution one way or another, because that's what most of the world is watching. High-definition formats both simplify and complicate worldwide distribution, but most of the world is still geared towards standard definition, whether NTSC or PAL; to maximize the saleability of your movie, you want to be able to provide high-definition versions when asked for them, but most distributors are going to want standard definition today.

Historically, most of the PAL work I've done to get movies prepped for international distribution, I've subbed out to Crawford Communications in Atlanta, Georgia. They use the Snell & Wilcox Alchemist standards conversion system to create PAL master tapes, and for many years that's been the gold standard for video standards conversion. I also can't say enough about the quality and reliability of their service: they've consistently gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure a job is done right and done right on time.


All the same, international film distribution is a competitive business and anything I spend on standards conversion and creating masters is money that the producer doesn't get. There are a lot of starving filmmakers out there, but plenty of them are not starving by choice, so the more that they get to keep from sales and royalties, the happier they are.

I try to do as much as I can in-house, both for reasons of cost and for speed and efficiency, but a lot of jobs I do have to outsource: it's just not cost-effective for me to have a couple of $35,000+ digibeta PAL decks, not to mention a $100,000 Alchemist system, especially considering that standard-definition is the wave of the past. It's not obsolete yet, but it's definitely on its way.

Sony HVR-M25u universal DVCAM/HDV deck

Sony HVR-M25u universal DVCAM/HDV deck

Enter the Sony HVR-M25u DVCAM/HDV deck. It's an imperfect format, but it supports both PAL and NTSC DVCAM and a limited selection of HDV formats. As an added bonus, PAL DVCAM uses 4:2:0 subsampling, which is not precisely the same as the 4:2:0 chroma subsampling as implemented in the DVD standard, but it's a lot closer than NTSC DV's 4:1:1.
So for some special requests for one-off master tapes I was making for a smaller distributor, I wanted to try the experiment of doing the PAL conversion right here on Roo, my handy video editing machine. The other motivation--and also the complication--is that the source format for the movie in question was 1080p 29.97fps. To my mind, it made more sense to go from 1080 lines of resolution straight to 576 rather than scale 1080 lines down to 480 and then back up to 576, losing that much more detail in the process.
The problem was the 29.97fps part. Going from film's standard 24fps to either PAL or NTSC is trivial and performs extremely well and reliably. For the best video quality, you can encode DVDs and Blu-Ray disks at 24fps and any player in the world will automatically adjust the video output to the viewer's target display. So if you're planning to make a movie, just do it at 24fps progressive. That will make life easiest for you and the distributors.
But this movie was already completed, so knowing how it *should* have been shot wasn't very useful. Instead I set about the task of doing a quick-and-dirty 29.97 1080p to standard definition PAL conversion with a short deadline and a limited budget.
My first attempt was to place the movie source in an Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 PAL timeline and see what came out. The results were absolutely horrible, quite mysteriously absolutely horrible. Smooth pans and movements in the original film were converted into stuttery, jumpy, back-and-forth motions. It's the "back" part that befuddles me: Adobe's video suite was not even converting (or deleting) frames in order: an actor walking across the screen would hopscotch a few steps, then jump back to an earlier moment, then start bouncing forward again from there. That made no sense, but obviously that wasn't going to work.
I'd heard reasonably good things about RE:Vision Effects Twixtor and if I'd had more time for the project I probably would have tried it out. They do offer a demo version, but there is absolutely no information anywhere on their website regarding the limitations of the demo version, so I had no way of knowing that spending the time to install and configure it would result in anything I could actually use to evaluate it.
Avisynth, on the other hand, is free, and there's a lot more information available on its options and limitations. What it lacks in user-friendliness, it makes up for in flexibility, so for my first attempt I tried doing a frame-rate conversion using Fizick's MVTools Plugin:

Avisynth Script #1
PAL Conversion using Fizick's MVTools
AVISource("V:\1080p29.97fpsSource.avi")
ConvertToYUY2()
super = MSuper(pel=2)
backward_vec = MAnalyse(super, isb = true)
forward_vec = MAnalyse(super, isb = false)
MFlowFps(super, backward_vec, forward_vec, num=25, den=1, ml=100)

The results were certainly better than the mess that Adobe Premiere had made: slow pans looked really quite good, but fast movement and cuts had horrible artifacting. I tried a few variations on the parameters, but none yielded results I could use.

Avisynth Script #2
PAL Conversion using Interlacing and Decimation
AVISource("V:\1080p29.97fpsSource.avi")
ConvertToYUY2()
AssumeFPS(30, 1, true)
SeparateFields.SelectEvery(4,1,2)
ChangeFPS(50)
LanczosResize(960,288)
SSRC(48000)
Weave()

My next thought was to try the simpler approach of doubling the NTSC frame rate, decimating the frames, resizing them to 50i fields, and then reassembling the video stream from there. That was better, but the discontinuity between adjacent interlaced fields was often too obvious.
(The reason for the 960 width above and for doing the final resizing in Premiere Pro in all cases is that the distributor wanted a 4:3 full-frame version, but the composition of the film made doing a simple center-cut unsatisfacory. Thus, I resized to a widescreen version with a non-widescreen PAL pixel geometry and did the trimming and resizing as appropriate afterwards.)

Avisynth Script #3
PAL Conversion using Decimation alone
AVISource("V:\1080p29.97fpsSource.avi")
ConvertToYUY2()
AssumeFPS(30, 1, true)
ChangeFPS(25)
SSRC(48000)

And so I tried the simplest approach of all: reclock the source to 30p, decimate to 25p, and then resize in Premiere. There was some judder visible in slow pans and tilts, but the results were good enough for this project. If I'd had more time, I probably could have gotten extremely good results by alternating sections from conversion #1 and #3, using the first for slow pans and tilts, the second for fast movement and cuts.
(I have no doubt that any of the many Avisynth experts out there could come up with a better approach than any of these, but since I didn't find anything comparable in my own internet searches, I thought I would toss these out for the world to critique.)




The RED One digital movie camera

Seeing RED (One)
Fortunately, these are things I don't have to worry about on the projects we're shooting here. Not only are we sticking with 24p, we're shooting most everything on the RED One--4K resolution and all your favorite 35mm movie camera lenses.

4K resolution is quite a big step up from standard definition and even from the highest high-definition standards. By shooting and editing at 4K, you have the freedom of doing compositing, resizing, and computer-generated effects that will look flawless when scaled down to standard definition or 1080p high-def.
You also have the freedom to go skiing on your lunch break while you're waiting for a given task to finish rendering. This is the first time I've started overclocking my editing machines since the days when I managed to push an Intel 80286 all the way up to 25MHz (up from a stock 12MHz).
Suddenly, stringing together render nodes like Christmas lights with Infiniband has turned into a practical decorating style instead of just something I do for the fun of it.
resolution of video formats

Comparison of common video format resolutions

But even while I'm moving into the realm of ever higher definition workflows out here, I keep running into filmmakers who are still determined to do the opposite:

Cthulhu is not impressed

The Great Cthulhu is not impressed with your puny letterboxed frame

This is what not to do.

If you want to make movies destined for the big screen, do not shoot them in 4:3 non-anamorphic standard definition video with the top and bottom of your screen blocked off by black bars. This is what the result will look like: for the average viewer with a recent model TV or any distributor who is viewing your film on a portable DVD player to decide whether they want to acquire it, they will see an itty-bitty version of your movie in the middle of the screen which is either small to begin with...or big because they paid the extra bucks to see an extra-large picture, not a rectangle of black bars.

There's no reason not to shoot in high-definition these days and every decent standard definition video camera made in recent years supports anamorphic video, allowing you to use all of your available pixels. Shooting in 4:3 letterboxed drops your effective video resolution from 480 lines down to 360, thowing away a quarter of your video resolution in an era when standard-definition is already becoming substandard.


So stop it. Almost half the standard-definition DV movies I get in these days are still shot like this and it makes it harder to sell your film. Distributors and Elder Gods alike will turn up their noses (and tentacles) at your puny letterboxed resolution and cut slices off the top and bottom of the advance check they give to you.


Wednesday, October 14th

21:09PM

Product Displacement:

Today's frivolous legal threat comes to us from the law offices of Continental Enterprises, located in Indianapolis, Indiana. I almost deleted it without reading it because the general counsel over at Continental Enterprises did a pretty darned good job of making it look like just another random spam email, which suggests that they probably know even less about the internet than they do about IP law, if such a thing can even be imagined.

Now, back in September, the Hansen Beverage Company, producers of Monster Energy Drink™ decided to go after a small microbrewery, the Rock Art Brewery of Morrisville, Vermont, starting with the demand that they cease and desist from producing and selling an ale they've been brewing since 2006 named "The Vermonster."

According to Hansen's lawyers, the continued sales of the offending brew "will undoubtedly create a likelihood of confusion and/or dilute the distinctive quality of Hansen's MONSTER marks."

It's one of those David-versus-Goliath battles that plays well on the net and sells papers, so it's gotten a decent amount of coverage and, predictably, a lot of people saying they won't be buying Monster Energy or Hansen's products as a result.

Rock Art Brewery Vermonster beer

Rock Art Brewery Vermonster Ale
(not an energy drink)

No doubt you can see the close resemblance between the Vermonster label on the right and the Monster Energy Drink stylized "M." Putting a fearsome kokopelli, perhaps one of the most terrifying monsters in any Native American mythology, on the label would obviously cause a lot of people to have a tough time distinguishing Vermonster Ale from Monster Energy Drink...at least if they happen to be lawyers.
not a beverage

Warning: DO NOT DRINK
Hansen, not satisfied by merely going after smaller beverage manufacturers, apparently has decided to broaden their anti-infringing legal efforts, since this morning I received the aforementioned not-spam-even-if-it-looks-like-it email from Continental Enterprises, claiming that I am advertising and/or selling products that are confusingly similar to Monster Energy Drink™ and issuing the "demand that I discontinue [my] advertisement and sale of these products."

What products, you ask? I've been in a few horror films, including monster movies such as The Shadow Walkers released by Lionsgate a couple of years back (and, yes, I played the monster). As you might imagine, a movie is a lot like a beverage, except that it has a lower moisture content and doesn't usually come in cans or bottles. Well, and you can put a movie in your DVD player and watch it on your TV, which doesn't work nearly as well with energy drinks, especially the ones with ginseng in them.

But apart from that, they're a lot alike.

Monster Energy Drink

me in the cafeteria betwen takes on The Shadow Walkers

You can see in the above picture, taken behind the scenes while we were filming The Shadow Walkers, the uncanny resemblance between the monster "M" logo and the silhouette of me in the movie poster behind it. The proportions are a little different, but if you look at how I'm holding my arms away from my torso, there's a definite M-ish quality to the pose. For anyone who can't distinguish a beverage from an actor, this could indeed cause a likelihood of confusion between Monster Energy Drink™ and me. (In case you're confused, I'm the one on the left.)
As a side note, the above picture (which has taken on a life of its own and tends to turn up embedded in message boards and other webpages across the internet) was taken when I was discussing the possibility of a product placement agreement with Hansen's. Nothing ever came of it at the time, but I thought the picture was amusing enough all the same.
Anyway, Hansen's will have to go after Lionsgate in the US (and whichever other distribution companies have the movie in the rest of the world) if they want to stop the sales and promotion of The Shadow Walkers. If they'd like, however, I'd be happy to appear in the sequel with their lawyer and see which of us is really the more monstrous.


Sunday, October 11th

23:58PM

Out-Foxed:

The other day I picked up a copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Ultimate 3-Disc Edition (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy). I'd heard mixed reviews, but I'll forgive a lot in a Superhero movie, especially if it's one that makes for good entertainment and motivation while I'm pedalling along on the exercycle. (Not that even a recumbent exercycle is all that super-heroic, but in the dark of the theater, lit only by the light of the projector, I can pretend.)

The one thing I was expecting to get was a movie, though perhaps I should have been more wary considering that Wolverine is a 20th Century Fox release and they have a particular fondness for creating defective and broken disks. The half-hour of ads before the movie play just fine on the Blu-Ray disk, the special features and menus work great...even the series of flying logos before the feature play withourt a hitch (because we all go to the theater to watch back-to-back flying logos...and just one animated 20th Century Fox logo is never enough). But less than ten seconds of trying to play the movie itself would lock up the player. It didn't matter whether I was starting from the beginning or from the chapter selection menu: any part of the movie itself, beginning, middle, or end would lock things right up and require restarting the player.

But as long as I wanted to watch ads or logos, no problem.

Wolverine II, the Mark Steven Grove edition

Mark Steven Grove
(soon to be in Wolverine II?)

Looking around on the net, it seems like I'm hardly the only one having this problem with the Wolverine Blu-Ray. At this point the only way to get a playable copy is to get the software to rip the Blu-Ray and burn a decrypted copy--or buy a pirated copy from someone else who has already done the same.

So why put up all those anti-piracy warnings and then release a disk where only pirated copies are actually playable?

On the plus side, since I bought the super-deluxe version that includes a standard-definition DVD too, at least I got a bonus playable copy to go with my high-definition coaster.


seven pence for your thoughts

Royalty cheque from ILC Prime, Limited
20th Century Fox isn't the only troublesome distributor this week: after four years of wrangling and correspondence, we finally did receive a royalty payment from a distribution deal inked more than five years ago with ILC Prime, Ltd., in the UK. Granted, for three of those years, they've been in bankruptcy, which gives them an excuse for being tardy during that period, but it's not like they were making it a habit to pay their bills before that either.
But after five years, here it is: they're offering to settle for seven pence. I've scanned the envelope that they'd sent the cheque in as well, just so you could see that they spent one pound, thirty-three to post that seven-pence cheque. My guess is that they'd already spent at least twenty or thirty pounds on postage before now, just sending me regular updates to let me know that the bankruptcy proceedings were still proceeding, however slowly and non-payingly.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch (or server farm, as the case may be), I'd run into some problems building Orochi, the dual LGA1366 ASUS Z8NA-D6C based system with its pair of Intel x5570 Xeons that I'd been building to speed up our video rendering. After about ten days of testing (I believe in testing), it would no longer boot when warm. If you let it sit for a few hours, it would start up just fine and after that it would run just fine...but if you ever rebooted it or power-cycled it, it would lock up until you'd let it sit again and cool off for a few hours.
Usually a problem like that does not get better; normally it means that the board is due to fail completely before long, so back it went for repair or replacement.
ASUS Z8NA-D6C dual-socket LGA1366 Nehalem ATX motherboard

ASUS Z8NA-D6C
dual-socket LGA1366 "Nehalem" ATX motherboard

And the replacement worked fine for about a week-and-a-half, too. Then I decided to update the BIOS to the latest release. That worked fine at first, but after I'd walked away from it for an hour, it went into sleep mode...and could not be re-awakened. Not even the "clear CMOS" jumper had any effect.
dual Intel x5570 xeon CPUs on an ASUS Z8NA-D6C 1366 Nehalem mainboard

ASUS Z8NA-D6C with dual Intel x5570 Xeons
(and a pair of Scythe Mugen 2 CPU coolers)
However, after many trials and tribulations, it turned out that if I removed the battery, then it would boot just fine again, except with the date and configuration cleared. But at least it worked...until I'd shut it down from the Windows "start" button, and it was back to perma-sleep mode until I took out the battery again. Rebooting, restarting, power-cycling, shutting it off during POST and then firing it up later would all work fine, but Windows "shut down" command would require taking it apart and removing the battery to get it to start up again.
Finally I went back to the original release BIOS. That fixed the perma-sleep bug and Orochi was ready for prime-time. I added an Nvidia GTX260 video card, an Intel X25-M 160GB Solid State drive for OS and boot, four 1.5 terabyte drives for data, and wrapped it all in a Coolermaster Cosmos 1000. Now we get to see how it fares compared to the single-socket I7 machines for that heavy-duty Maya magic.

. . .


Sometimes you run across something that just isn't right.

Case in point: the GUND - Wild and Wooly Polar Bear Trophy Head.

Polar Bear Trophy Head

Teddy? Is that you?

That's just wrong. Put one of these on your wall and your friends and neighbors will probably think you go around hunting Snuffles. If you're not careful they'll go and make an animated Christmas special with you as the evil, heartless bad guy.

...then you'd have to stand up and sing and dance with the heroes when they saved the Snuffles and showed you the error of your ways just before the final commercial break. You wouldn't want that, would you?



I didn't think so.




Tuesday, October 6th

22:06PM

The Kove-enant:

Things are a little crazy out here, with production continuing on two movies (Gathering of Heroes and The Highwayman), getting ready for another American Film Market, and battling with the growing pains of a movie production and distribution world shifting increasingly (but disorganizedly) to hi-def.
At the same time, I'm trying to consolidate more of our production and post-production in-house as a general plan to maximize efficiency and control while reducing costs. My tinkering with high-performance computing techniques and higher-bandwidth distributed processing has had to take a back seat to dealing with the adventures of daily life. Having the additional rendering capability online would save a bunch of time and certainly will be a great asset in the long run, but it's going to take some time I don't have right now to get it ready for prime time.
So we're still limping along with only a handful of I7 workstations and a single MacPro, but compared to how we were doing things even as recently as a year ago, we're actually limping pretty darned fast.
Martin Kove as Galaron

Martin Kove as Galaron in Gathering of Heroes

The other day Martin Kove came into town to play the character of Galaron, the spirit of an ancient and powerful warrior, whose essence is dedicated to protecting the Shield of the Dead from all who try to take it for their own. Above, you can see he is facing Sam Del Rio, playing Jeris, a living warrior with that very ambition.
I won't spoil the ending for you, but the ensuing battle took considerable advantage of Sam's supernatural ability to defy gravity, something not normally seen in living warriors, especially not in this day and age.
Sword against Dagger Battle

Sometimes it's okay to bring a pen knife to a swordfight.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring my armor...or even a sword. ("Why do I keep doing that? Is it just because the whole armor-and-sword motif makes the grocery store baggers nervous? ...or that embarrassing incident when my sword got caught in the spokes of my bike wheel?") But we had a mature discussion of the issues and negotiated terms for Martin to join the cast of The Highwayman as well.

(It actually wasn't *that* tough a negotiation. Marty is a big fan of The Highwayman and could recite the poem from memory.)

Martin Kove in the Highwayman

Martin Kove as Roan Blackthorn and Macleish Day as William Stiles
So we built a blacksmith's shop for the scene. Jon and Mark assembled the walls we'd used in some other shoots on the greenscreen and repurposed a portion of Galaron's Crypt as a forge. Then, much banging of iron ensued, so we were all both glad of and impressed by the strength of their construction.


Must get back to work, though. Have to work on materials for both Thailand and Australia at the moment.


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