You Are Entering Another Dimension

I wrote this on:

Friday, May 28, 2004 – 10:05pm (Central Time)

In all likelyhood, you won’t be able to read this until I get back to Los Angeles. This place is literally in the middle of nowhere. There’s no internet access here as far as I can tell. Though there is a port on the phone that looks like I might be able to plug a modem into. But since I don’t have dialup access that’s not helping me. Maybe my dad has dialup. I might be able to post this stuff from his computer.

I can’t get service on my cell phone. (In fact my cousin is really pissed about that because her husband is in boot camp. He can only call her one day a week for 10 minutes and she probably won’t be able to receive his call.) There is not just one, but three plastic plants in my tiny little room. And I have pictures of ducks and quail adorning the walls.

You know how you go into any hotel room anywhere and there are little individually wrapped soaps, little bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and the little shower cap? Not here. None of it. In fact the only soap I have in my room is one of those dispensers of liquid soap mounted to the wall like you get in gas station bathrooms.

It’s definitely an unusual place. When I checked in, I had to pay my entire bill up front. Someone please tell me if I’m crazy for thinking this is strange. As far as I’ve ever experienced, you check into a hotel and give them a credit card for security. They check to make sure that you can actually pay to stay there. But you don’t settle the bill until you check out. Not here. Money up front.

The few things that have been going my way so far are the travel times. The flight to Memphis was only 3.5 hours. (I forgot about figuring in the timezone difference.) And the drive to Missouri was also 3.5 hours. So that was a nice change from what I was expecting.

Well, I am completely wiped out. It’s 10pm here. Only 8pm on the West Coast but all this traveling left me tired. I think I’ll try to read. I’m betting I get through about 4 pages before I fall asleep.

It’s The Little Things

I mentioned some of the “features” of the room I stayed at in Missouri when I went to my uncle’s wedding. I thought I might show you a few of them.

Who needs little bars of soap...
Who needs little bars of soap…

When you can have a "soap system"?
When you can have a “soap system”?

Ducks, the new "high art"
Ducks, the new “high art”.

Quail, the other form of "high art"
Quail, the other form of “high art”.

Fake plastic plant #1
Fake plastic plant #1

Fake plastic plants #2 and #3
Fake plastic plants #2 and #3

Obviously I was spoiled by my stay in Las Vegas.

On The Road Again

Tomorrow morning I’m getting up quite early to go to the airport. I’m flying to Memphis, TN for my uncle’s wedding. The 5 hour flight to Memphis isn’t the truly fun part though. The truly fun part is the 4 hour drive I have to make after the 5 hour flight to get into the remote part of Missouri where this is actually taking place. In fact I’m staying at a hotel that is half-an-hour drive from the place where the wedding is being held because that’s the closest hotel.

I have to say that I like living in the “big city”. Or at least in a suburb of it. I don’t get this whole living out in the middle of nowhere business.

A couple of years ago my dad gave me a little hand-held GPS for Christmas. He also gave me some mapping / route planning software that interfaces with it. It’s only Windows unfortunately which means I have to fire up the ol’ Virtual PC to do things and use a USB to Serial Port adapter to download the information to the GPS but I’m thinking it’s going to save my butt on this drive.

I’m trying to figure out the best route to take. The automatic one it’s calculated is basically the same one I got from Yahoo Maps. It’s a ton of little State and US Highways. 194 miles: 3 hours, 42 minutes. Or there’s the way that I was told in the directions, I-55 North to US 60 East. 246 miles: 3 hours, 55 minutes.

Fifty miles farther but only 13 minutes longer. One major freeway and one major highway or the equivalent of the back roads?

When I was a junior in high school we had to read Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” and Least Heat-Moon’s “Blue Highways”. I liked “TWC” but I fell in love with “Blue Highways”. There’s something romantic about just getting up and going. Experiencing real life as it happens, not loading up your truck with every amenity possible.

Of course at this point I’m just trying to get in and out, and not get lost. Plus I’ve been informed that I’m expected to be at the 6pm dinner. So it’ll probably end up being the longer but more sure route.

Whatever I choose, I don’t really know what the internet situation is going to be like when I get there. I have a cable modem at my place through the local cable company so I don’t have dial-up any more. (When I first got it, Earthlink provided the internet layer, so I could use their dial-up. But now Charter is in control.) When I went to Las Vegas last month I had everything I needed right in my room. Broadband internet access and a printer to plug into. I just don’t know about Small Town, Missouri. Needless to say, there might not be any updates until I get back to Los Angeles on Sunday night.

The things we do for family.

Alien Nazis. I Hate Alien Nazis.

Well the third season of “Star Trek: Enterprise” has come to an end and we’re left wondering how Captain Archer escaped from the exploding Xindi weapon and wound up on what is apparantly 1940s Earth with an alien dressed up as a Nazi. That one came out completely from left field. Hopefully it’ll be a cool and interesting little mystery to solve at the start of Season 4.

I was a bit disappointed to see yet another “action hero outruns the big explosion” scene. Please. This has to stop. I can’t even begin to count the number of movies and TV shows this is in. No more. Diving for cover: fine. Ducking around a corner or behind a solid object: fine. Running faster than an enormous fireball and shockwave: completely stupid and so over used that people should be ashamed to even think of including it in a storyline.

Despite my aversion to that particular cliche, I’d rather watch an episode of any flavor of Star Trek then pretty much anything else on TV. Reality shows? Yeah, right. Sitcoms? No thanks.

“Enterprise” can’t hold a candle to the all-time best Star Trek series ever, “Deep Space Nine”, but it’s still pretty good. They need more Jeffrey Combs though. I don’t care if he comes shows up playing Herbert West, Re-Animator. (Actually that might be kind of cool.) He was awesome as Inspector Brunt and Weyoun on “DS9”. He’s awesome as Shran. We just need more.

Now I did notice a weird slip. Or maybe it’s not so weird. Maybe it’s a hint of what’s to come next season. When T’Pol made her entry in the Starlog as Acting Captain, she said the year was 2152. Not 2154 like it’s been all season long. Of course this could point to yet another reset button time traveling thing. And what a struggling show does not need is a “the whole last season was just a dream” story–or in this case meant nothing because time traveling made sure that whole thing never happened.

Anyway, it’s was a pretty cool show though. It’ll be on again Sunday night if you missed it tonight. You can even catch up what happened this season over at the official Star Trek website.

Number One Reporting For Duty, Sir.

I’ve picked up some work helping finish up a movie that’ll be a big summer release in July. Today I was conforming predubs, which is quite cool for me. I need to spend more time editing. My official title (not on this show, I’m just helping out on it) is First Assistant Sound Editor. You can think of me as the general manager of a store, while the Supervising Sound Editor is the owner. Or in the way I prefer to think of it: I’m Commander Riker to Cameron’s Captain Picard. Basically I lead the away team missions and look quite dashing in my beard from Season 2 on.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to say more stuff about movies I’m working on, while I’m working on them. But not today. Today as most days I’m just a little cog in a very large wheel. Don’t get me wrong, I love the work I do. Playing with computers all day long. Recording cool sounds and doing weird stuff to them with effect processing units and special software. I find it fun.

It isn’t really all that glamorous though. I was just talking to a friend about this yesterday. There is the mystique about this town that I’ve noticed when talking with people from other places–like when I’m visiting my family in Boston. “Oh! You work in Hollywood! How exciting!” is a typical kind of response I get from people. And yes, it’s exciting but not in the way people would think. It’s exciting because I’m doing what I love to do. It would be the same for someone who loves teaching, or accounting, or whatever career they really get into. It’s not like I hang out with Steven Spielberg all day and tell him how his next movie should feature a monkey and a robot battling to the death on distant planet run by the decendents of ancient ninjas who were abducted by aliens a thousand years ago. (Though now that I think about it, that would be pretty sweet.)

Occasionally I meet actors when they come to a stage to record ADR if I’m not busy with something else. But that’s usually nothing more than a “Hello, nice to meet you.” Perhaps a handshake. When I worked on “Down With Love” I was able to go up to Renee Zellweger and after the the customary, “Nice to meet you,” I did get in a “Could you sign this please.” But only because she needed to sign her Exhibit G so that she could get paid. (And actually it was Sarah Paulson playing Vikki Hiller who I found so enchanting on that picture. Shaking hands with her was like a dream come true. Sarah, if you ever happen to read this, go ahead and click on that “Email Me” link in the corner.)

Mostly it’s about playing with computers. And collecting lots of electronic gear. It’s definitely a job for boys who like toys. (Or girls. Girls who like toys, I mean. Sexual preference has very little bearing on job satisfaction in the sound industry.)

So May This Strife Of Men And Gods Be Done With

This just in from Reuters:

Homer’s ancient Greek poem “The Iliad,” … has been compressed for a new generation too lazy to see the film let alone read….

Book Two is reduced to just 24 words of ‘messenger speak’, losing some of the lyricism of the original….

The translation, designed to publicize Microsoft’s messenger product, is not written in Homer’s dactylic hexameters but it does use ’emoticons’ — little faces or images — to emphasize intense moments.

In other news:

Warner Brothers has just admitted that this “emoticon” version was the basis for its movie, “Troy”.

I Just Wanna Go To The Rock ‘n’ Roll Show

Both Wednesday and Thursday night I saw Sleater-Kinney play El Rey here in Los Angeles. (I’ve mentioned this already.) They are such a great band. There had been some talk on the wordsandguitar mailing list that someone had recorded the Wednesday show. This morning I decided to check it out.

For those who aren’t in the know, the SK Depot is an FTP site with lots of live material from Sleater-Kinney. (If you want to check it out, I suggest you take a look at the mailing list for the latest address, username and password. It changes occasionally.) So I popped in over there and downloaded the show. I noticed that there were a lot of shows in a .shn format. I wasn’t familiar with it so I decided to do some research.

Now, hours later I gotten into the audiophile groove.

After I wrote my initial analysis of Apple’s Lossless Codec, I got a lot of traffic from websites like Furthur Network and the Grateful Dead mailing list. I didn’t investigate things too far then, but now I kind wish I’d looked into it more since today I wound up on many of those sites that linked to me.

There seems to be three main lossless audio codecs that are the most popular: FLAC, Shorten (.shn), and APE. I’m sure there are many others, including Apple’s, but those are the ones that I encountered the most in my research today. There are also lots of other articles, webpages and whole websites dedicated to these things. I’m going to focus on the Macintosh OS X side of things. Though others might find a few things interesting.

If you encounter files in any of these formats you need to know how to deal with them. (As a side note: audio files compressed with a lossless codec are really good. They’re larger than MP3s but they sound exactly the same as the CD, DAT, or other media they were made from.)

iTunes only supports Apple’s Lossless encoder, so if you want to play the files you’ll need MacAmp Lite X. Unfortunately development on this program stopped years ago. Fortunately Josh over at The Arctic Lounge has archived the last versions of MacAmp Lite X including the FLAC and Shorten plug-ins.

Maybe you don’t want to listen to those files in MacAmp. Maybe you want to listen to them in iTunes or your iPod. Then you’ll have to convert them. Scott Brown has written a great GUI for the command line versions of the FLAC, Shorten, and APE converters called xACT. With this you can easily decode your files into AIFFs or WAVs. And from there you can make MP3s, AACs, or Apple Lossless Files in iTunes. (Set the encoder you want to use in the “Importing” section of the Preferences. Highlight the AIFF or WAV files to convert and select “Convert Selection” from the Advanced menu.)

Another side note: there are many different methods for converting CDs or AIFFs or other audio into MP3s. Many people consider the LAME encoder to be the absolute best. This is not the encoder that Apple uses in iTunes. Blacktree has released their iTunes-LAME Encoder for those of you who want the best sounding audio possible in a lossy format.

I downloaded several lossless Sleater-Kinney shows from the Depot and converted them to Apple’s Lossless format so that I could listen to them on my iPod. Here are some of the statistics:

Los Angeles, CA 05-19-2004 – 70:24
712.3 MB AIFF / 372.2 MB SHN / 337.9 MB ALC (1 / 0.52 / 0.47)

Berkeley, CA 05-31-1997 – 40:15
407.1 MB AIFF / 216.5 MB FLAC / 200.5 MB ALC (1 / 0.53 / 0.49)

San Francisco, CA 08-07-1998 – 57:08
578 MB AIFF / 338.3 MB FLAC / 339.1 MB ALC (1 / 0.59 / 0.59)

San Francisco, CA 07-01-1999 – 73:17
741.7 MB AIFF / 413 MB FLAC / 416.6 MB ALC (1 / 0.56 / 0.56)

Cambridge, MA 05-17-2000 – 76:51
777.4 MB AIFF / 505.1 MB FLAC / 508.7 ALC (1 / 0.65 / 0.65)

This shows several important things.

  1. The space savings of lossless audio is significant.
  2. I got much better results than with my initial test of “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”.
  3. There isn’t a radical difference in size between Shorten, FLAC, and Apple Lossless.

And now the cool part…

There’s tons of lossless audio out there on the net for you to download. I’m not talking about Kazaa or other sharing networks where you are illegally downloading copyrighted material from other people’s computers. I’m talking about live concert recordings (bootlegs) of bands that don’t mind fans sharing the love. Of course a lot of it is jam bands: Grateful Dead, Phish, Rusted Root, Widespread Panic, and the like. You need to look around a bit more to find other bands, but it’s there. Have fun with it.


You’re No Rock & Roll Fun

Last night I was able to make it to the Sleater Kinney show at El Rey. It was very cool. Quasi opened for them. Yes, Janet is doing double-duty on drums for both bands. This show is part of their “mini” tour before they go into the studio to record their next album.

They tried out 4 new songs at the show and I have to say, Sleater Kinney has really grown up. They’ve always shown a talent as very strong songwriters. But gone are the days are the sweetly simple tunes like “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.” They have been moving more and more in this direction with every album. The new songs are extremely musically complex with lots of different changes in tempo and time signature throughout.

It’s great to see a band mature so nicely. As my friend, Dave, remarked at the show. “The Sleater Kinney audience isn’t the same as I used to see. There’s a lot of guys hanging out here.” It’s true. They’re not the riot grrl band they started out as. They are now politically and socially minded indie rockstars. They still have an important message in many of their songs. It’s just aimed at a larger audience.

You can check out their tour diary on their website. Thankfully I get to see them again tonight.

Totally Devoted To You

Let me tell you a little story:

Cameron and I have offices on the Fox Studios lot in Century City. That’s where we do our sound work. We are in one of the older buildings. If you look at early pictures of the studio from the 1930s you can see our building.

When we moved in in 2002, our building definitely needed some work. We spent time cleaning things up but it still wasn’t great. Thankfully our amazing building manager, Mike, came up with some money to fix the place up and in July 2003, we moved out of our rooms while the entire building was redone. New carpet. New paint. New bathroom. It’s looks pretty sharp now.

Cameron and I temporarily shared a large office in another building for the few weeks it took the workers to finish the job.

Let me just make a side note here that Fox Studios is home to 20th Century Fox FIlm Studios, Fox Television, Fox Home Entertainment, and the various Fox Cable News and Sports channels. Because of this many production companies have offices on the lot: Ten Thirteen Productions you might remember from “The X-Files”, Steven Bochco who created “NYPD Blue”, and Joss Whedon’s company, Mutant Enemy, that brought us “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”.

Now back to our story…

In a drawer in a desk in the room that Cameron and I shared, I found these. And they’re awesome:

Buffy Postcard 1, Front

Buffy Postcard 1, Back

Buffy Postcard 2, Front

Buffy Postcard 2, Back

Buffy Postcard 3, Front

Buffy Postcard 3, Back

Buffy Postcard 4, Front

Buffy Postcard 4, Back

Buffy Postcard 5, Front

Buffy Postcard 5, Back

Thank you, Angelia, for your “500 Reasons I’m A B/A Shipper [Buffy/Angel Relationshipper] And Always Will Be.”