Strange Things Are Afoot At The Circle K

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound Convention

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCSI As You Wanna Be

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

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

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

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

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

Today Is A Good Day To Upgrade

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

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

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

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

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

New MT3 Licensing

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

There are three levels for Personal Weblogs:

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

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

Yay, Six Apart! You done good.

I’d Buy That For A Dollar

Actually I did.

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

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

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

Giant Monsters From My Childhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant Robot

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

Johnny and Jerry get a helping hand.

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

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

Science Patrol in their swell uniforms.

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

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

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

Oh Nigel, Wherefore Art Thou?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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