Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Reflections on Water

I should have done this 6 days ago, but I was so tired after the fact that I just flopped, watching Battlestar Galactica until I fell asleep in my chair. Today I was back on the project, so I thought I'd do this better late than never.

Last Thursday I shot a very short film called 90% Water, the story of a guy who doesn't know how to share who he is, exemplified in his secret collection of water samples from home, which he pulls out in a last ditch effort to stave off the end of his relationship with the girl he moved away from home to be with. Sounds complicated, but its three pages and was relatively straightforward to shoot.

Friends Dan and Melanie donated their acting talents, Becky did sound, Mark handled sound tech, and the camera, donated by Dan, was in the hands of yours truly. It had been a while since I'd shot anything with actors, and Dan and Melanie had limited experience with screen acting. We were all in it for the learning, and as such had a lot of fun in the doing.

The morning started out with some prop preparation, adding various elements to water to try and achieve different appearances, like melted snow and dirty harbor, as well as cutting up tissue paper for the wrapping of mason jars. Becky and Melanie were in full command of the tissue paper. We were ready to roll when an audio problem that took the better part of an hour to resolve suddenly emerged. Everyone kept their cool, Mark saved the day, and when we were finally set to get shooting, it all started running like clockwork.

Dan and Melanie were very easy to direct, and we got most of our shots in one take. I wanted to keep things rolling along, not just because we only had Dan for two hours of shooting, but because I was insisting on letting my instincts guide me. If I felt we got it, we moved on with no second guessing. I also wanted to trust my actors, as well as ensure I wasn't putting too much strain on them. If things were moving along it was because they were getting it done right, and they could see that in the speed with which were moving along.

After a short scene on the couch, the majority of the conversation takes place in a bedroom. After some productive rehearsal, I rattled off a master and two mediums, covered the entrances and exits, finished off with some closeups and cutaways, and called it a wrap. I could have kept shooting, there was still some time, but I believed I had everything I needed, everyone was feeling good, so I trusted my instinct and made the call. It was something of a high. Then came the exhaustion and my comfy, comfy chair.

The camera had to leave town so I was without a means of digitizing. Fortunately NIFCO were more than willing to help, so I went down there today with my MacBook and plugged in to their deck for a quick log and batch. It was great seeing Jean, Steve and Justin again, and they said I could come by to use the deck like that any time. I plan on doing more quick shorts like this whenever I can, so that was a great piece of news.

I was skimming through the footage as I logged, and ran out for a coffee and a haircut while it digitized, so I haven't had a chance to view it all in full detail just yet, but what I did see was looking pretty good to me. I'll be editing starting tomorrow, and plan to be done by Sunday as I finally start work Monday morning at 7am. I can't guarantee anyone will ever get to see it, we all took part to learn and may just view it ourselves as a learning tool, but I can tell you no matter how it turns out, it's already been a lot of fun.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More Severe than Significant

Finding auditions when I lived in London was really tough without an agent, and finding an agent was impossible. Eventually I gave up on that and was a lot happier for having done so, but in the time I was still trying I did manage to get one audition for a film, a short in fact. It was a French short called Bed and Breakfast. I read the script and thought, really? It didn't seem to make any sense, and not in a thriller way or a hidden metaphor way but more of a pointless way. I was heading to Soho for my audition regardless, and despite knowing that they wanted me to have American citizenship (I lied when they asked and quoted the names of places from a Sufjan Stevens song to describe the area I grew up around in Michigan).

Its not necessary to tell you I didn't get the part. I'd more or less forgotten about the whole thing until tonight when I stumbled upon this interview with Ellen Feiss of 2002's Mac Switcher ad fame, a fame due mostly to the rumors that she was stoned in the ad. The interview, more than four years after the fact, focused mainly on the trials and tribulations of her Mac ad fame. She wasn't an actor before the ad and never tried to be one after, but recently she'd been in a short film in France, only taking the part after two months of convincing over the phone by the director who wanted her because the character drops mushrooms at one point and from her performance in the Mac ad he thought she could pull it off. The film is called Bed and Breakfast. My memory isn't terribly good, but something about that title twigged. Then when she said what she thinks of the film, that its "ridiculous," and "doesn't really make sense," I thought, my goodness, could this be?

A quick click on the link provided and a skim of the synopsis confirmed that this was in fact the film I'd auditioned for in London more than a year ago. An obscure, foreign, decidedly poor short film with no distribution, which I auditioned for in a place and time where I was getting no auditions whatsoever and subsequently forgot about, had suddenly come back into my field of vision all this time later. A coincidence of no significance and yet so severe.

People say the world has become a smaller place since the advent of the internet, but I can't say that I completely agree. The world was always quite large as it was, and now with the infinite ether of the internet extending out from its every electrical orifice, it has grown, and continues to grow exponentially. Should this growth have an increasing or decreasing affect on the rate or scale of coincidental occurrences in our lives?

Or, more to the matter, does it simply give us the means to prattle on about them to a greater extent when they occur?

Monday, January 15, 2007

To Forgive is (to) Divine (Wisdom)

Anne Marie Hagan has devoted her life to the notion of forgiveness. She believes that forgiveness is not necessarily something we do for the offender, but for ourselves.

She should know. On August 17, 1979 , she witnessed the ax-murder of her father in their kitchen. She was aged 19. After devoting her life to ensuring the offender never knew another day of freedom, in 1996 she met and forgave him. That act of forgiveness affected her profoundly, as she describes on her website:
Finally, after almost seventeen years, I let go of all the pain and torment that had held me captive realizing that I had been my own jailer. I accepted deep in my heart that while my life would never be the same after seeing my father murdered, it didn't have to be worse. That was a matter of choice, my choice.
Hagan's sense of forgiveness is not rooted in spirituality or dogma; it is not something she was taught but something she has learned. She speaks of it not as a rule but rather as a tool we can use when we are ready for it, when we need it. Forgiveness need not be a matter of divinity.

It is important to understand that forgiveness is not tantamount to condonation. You can accept that something has happened without accepting that it should happen. The latter demonstrates apathy while the former is a matter of empathy, perhaps the most complex human emotion we are capable of expressing. Though it may not be obvious, our ability to empathize, which essentially allows us to be someone else, is our greatest asset in enabling us to be ourselves; in enabling us to be free. Empathy is a means to forgiveness.

Forgiveness saved the life of Anne Marie Hagan.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Where Am I?

A couple of friends of mine have been using Macs for years, and for years I would poke fun at them and they would ignore me, and then I got a Mac, and now I digress.

They've been putting out an online comic strip for nearly a year now called John Smith, which details the life of the title character, an accountant with an abundantly common name, and a perhaps more and more abundantly common desire to see his name move up the ranks of it's Google search results. Implicated are the lives of his coworkers and neighbors, though to what degree we're always yearning to learn more. Oh, and its really funny. Everyone in the industry takes a hit, from Google to Apple to The Matrix. Even optical mouse manufacturers aren't safe.

I can relate to John's plight. I sometimes like to google this blog to see where it stands in the rankings. I've yet to actually find it in there - my hand gets tired after about 30 "next" clicks and my eyes start scrolling uncontrollably. I'm sure I'm out there somewhere, though. I mean, I blog, therefor I am. Right?

John Smith is published every Monday.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Whine vs. Whine

In my last post, I gave a very favorable review of my new MacBook computer. The review still stands, but an issue with my MacBook has come up that I feel is worth mentioning. Only I'm not mentioning it here first.

I've been spending a lot of quality time with my MacBook since I got it, which for the most part involves just me, the computer, and a quiet room. Under such conditions, it came to my attention a few days ago that my MacBook is producing what can only be described as a quiet yet high pitched scratchy whine. Its a persistant sound that sort of sputters out from the area of the keyboard near the MagSafe port, only stopping for brief moments when it seems either the CPU or hard drive gets called into action, like when opening up an application.

I did some research online looking for any connections between the MacBook Core 2 Duo and noise, and I found other people were experiencing this whine and posting about it, while still other MacBook owners were checking and finding no such problem occuring in their machines. It would seem not all MacBooks have been affected, though tell that to the guy who had his MacBook replaced only to find the replacement had the same problem.

Thursday night I wrote an e-mail to the publisher of a popular blog I enjoy called Cult of Mac, regaling him with my tale of woe (and whine), and the next day he posted about the issue on his blog, a development I hadn't expected quite so soon. I was impressed.

That day I spoke to a very friendly and knowledgeable Apple Support Technician, making full use of my free 90 days of phone support, and he agreed the noise was abnormal and advised I take my MacBook in for inspection and possible repair. Meanwhile, he has flagged the issue. If it starts turning up enough it will put their engineers into gear and hopefully both ensure the problem is identified in the manufacturing process, so no more MacBooks get produced with this problem, and develop a solution for current MacBook owners still facing the issue, like a firmware update.

Some momentum is gathering, but it can't stop here. Anyone who is experiencing this whine in their MacBook Core 2 Duo should phone Apple Support immediately to ensure the problem is brought to their attention, as well as to receive advice on how best to proceed towards a solution.

Also, feel free to tell me about it in the comments field, below (which is now finally switched fully on, by the way), post about it in your own blog or favorite online forum, or inform your favorite bloggers and see if they'll take any action. A little whine can go a long way.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Review: Macbook Core 2 Duo

Considering your first Mac? A lot of people are. I've recently made the switch. Here are my thoughts after just a few days of owning my first Mac.

I was struck by its elegance and simplicity, by the way it felt and the way it opened itself up to me. Apple really understands packaging as a user experience. The Macbook comes in a slim white box with a handle protruding from the top so that you carry it like a briefcase. Inside, everything has its place, everything is revealed in a way that prolongs your enjoyment of the act of discovery. Included are a power adapter with MagSafe cable and a proprietary extension cord, software discs, user guide, apple remote and of course the Macbook itself.

The Macbook is thin and light, though it feels substantial when you hold it. The lid does not use any locking mechanism but remains firmly closed until lifted via the small nook at the front. Upon doing so, you are immediately struck by the glossy sheen of the screen - more and more notebooks are moving away from matte screens, but if you haven't spent any time with one yet the difference is certainly noteworthy. Look up and there's a tiny black square with a little dot on either side acting as built in webcam and mic. The keyboard features flat keys in a recessed bed and below is a very large track pad and single button for mouse functions. A white plastic casing with rounded corners and an Apple logo on the lid (behind the screen, glows when running) acts as enclosure, while plenty of ports and a slot loading DVD burner are there to keep your gadgets and media flowing in and out.

The MagSafe power cord slots into place with a sudden tug just as it nears the port, its tiny LED light turning amber to indicate it is charging, and I'm ready to turn my Macbook on for the first time.

Apple touts its computers as being ready to go right out of the box. After a very quick and slick Q and A with the setup wizard, OS X 10.4 Tiger was off and running, and me along with it. No discs to insert or drivers to download; any software that came with the computer is already installed, including the full iLife suite of applications. Configuring preferences in OS X is incredibly simple. There are no "Ok" and "Apply" buttons like in Windows settings dialogs, which only serve to cast doubt on whether or not you just did what you thought you did. The graphic user interface, or GUI, which is what you see when you interact with your operating system, is clean, beautiful, fun and loaded with productive little features.

Expose is a feature that quickly and intuitively allows you to see what you're doing and choose what you want to do next. Say you've got several applications open, and each application has several windows open. With a quick press of an F key or flick of the mouse to the appropriate corner of the screen you can view every single window at once, or bring forward all the windows of a particular program, or move everything off screen so you can browse the contents of your desktop. Widgets recess into the background of your computer keeping tabs on things like the local weather or your system's performance, or await to provide services like translations or conversions, and surge forth at your command to place themselves, in all their tiny gadget splendor, at your disposal. Spotlight is a built in search tool that's in every Finder window (think Explorer window in Windows) as well as always up in the menu bar in the top right corner, which keeps track of everything on your computer and intuitively brings it to you as you type in what you're looking for. If you download an application, and there are hundreds of free and very useful ones out there for the Mac, most of the time the installation process is as simple as dragging the application icon into the Application folder in the Finder - simple as that. I could go on, but I'd be gushing. Bottom line: Windows has never been this convenient or this much fun to use.

The built in webcam and mic, iSight, are lots of fun. I was video chatting with a friend in Japan the other day over Skype and it was as easy as making a phone call. The track pad is generously sized and has a great feature of acting as a scroll wheel when you use two fingers. I haven't tested the batter specifically, but I have used it from full to nearly empty a few times and it seemed to last plenty long for my liking, well over 2 hours with heavy usage. When in sleep mode the battery could seem to go on forever - I left it in sleep overnight once running on battery power and after 8 hours it had depleted maybe 5% - which would be great for long journeys where you want to use the computer periodically but not have to shut down and start up over and over again. The screen is very bright and vibrant, and can be turned down in increments to suit your brightness needs or to save battery power. The MagSafe power cord has saved me more than a few times already - it stays firmly in place yet comes loose when a sudden force pulls on it.

Overall I am very happy and very impressed with this Macbook. It runs fast, without hiccups or lags, OS X Tiger is a joy to use and the machine looks stunning.

There are, however, some caveats worth mentioning. This laptop gets very warm, sometimes even kind of hot to the touch at the bottom. Prolonged use on my lap gets uncomfortable after a while. According to Apple this is normal behavior for today's laptop computers and they recommend against actually placing it on your lap for extended periods of time. The fan occasionally gets noticeably loud, obviously in an effort to combat the excessive amounts of heat produced within the computer. As far as fan noises go its not terribly obnoxious, but in a quiet room I expect it would call attention to itself.

If you've been considering your first Mac, like so many people have been since the market dominance of the iPod and the move to Intel brought Apple to the attention of nearly everyone with a steady pulse, I can't think of a whole lot that would keep you from switching. All my files migrated seamlessly from my Thinkpad (a fine machine, passed on to my parents), most applications I used on Windows are on the Mac, with lots of great applications on the Mac I'm discovering that were never on Windows, and even Adobe is about to migrate their video applications back to Mac now that Intel's inside.

I've been elbow deep in my love for computers for around 7 years now, this being my 4th carefully considered computer in that time, and I've never enjoyed using one so much as I'm enjoying my new Macbook.