Foam

The traditional gift is china, or diamonds, but we opted for foam.

New Mattress

Let me back up.

Twenty years ago, my mom and dad bought a mattress for Xy and me, a wedding present.

This year, as an anniversary gift to each other, we got ourselves a new mattress. That’s right, we slept on the same mattress for twenty years. It served us well in its day, but that day is past, long past. There was a deep trough where my body used to lie, and we’d flipped and rotated all we could.

It was time for something new. So we got a Sleep Innovations 12-Inch SureTemp Memory Foam Mattress.

It’s awesome, and it was affordable. Many thanks to Brother O’Mara for the recommendation, and for letting us come over to his house and roll around on his bed.

Interestingly enough, this mattress comes with a twenty year warranty. So maybe this will last us until our 40th anniversary.


We promised each other that this mutual gift would fulfill our gifting obligations with regard to our anniversary, but I couldn’t resist one little surprise. I knew that Xy would check her laptop first thing in the morning. I left her a note that said “please check your email.” In her inbox she found a message that said “please watch this video.”

And then she saw this.

NSFW, probably. No one ever saw this video before. It was just sitting on a tape in a shoebox in the closet. Xy had certainly forgotten all about it. But I knew it was there, and I knew this would be the perfect time to edit it up.

I’d had some vague thought that a ten-year follow-up would interesting, but I seem to have lost interest in cocktails.

The Old Testament in Five Minutes

Genesis Creation

Watching The Theologians this weekend reminded me: I finished work on another movie earlier this summer and never wrote about it. It’s a five minute animated version of the Old Testament.

Believe it or not, this took me five years to complete. If I’d cleared my desk and worked on nothing else it probably would have taken a month but of course I have other responsibilities. In fact this lay untouched for years at a time. So it felt really good to get this one done.

The script and voiceover are by that notorious maverick bible scholar, Dr. Michael Homan, author of The Bible for Dummies and chief dude over at BibleDudes.com. He also does more traditional scholarly work, primarily debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

In that vein, I’m sure Dr. Homan would shudder at my terminology. I refer to the “Old Testament” so Christians like my aunt will key in immediately. However that term is not really accurate. After all, the text is also sacred to the Jews, and I imagine they don’t appreciate calling it the Old Testament. But you have to admit the Old/New distinction was some brilliant marketing on the part of the early Christians — to say nothing of changing the order of the books.

Anyhow, the correct title of this movie is The Bible Dudes’ Like Way Cool Tanak Summary Movie Thingie.

If you want to know more about the word Tanak, the BibleDudes can explain it all for you. Or check out Lewis Black’s amusing comments on the whole Old/New Testament subject.

The Theologians

Michael Homan has concocted another short movie of inscrutable strangeness. This one is called The Theologians.

This one’s got a lot of academic in-jokes that are over my untutored head, but if you watch carefully you’ll see me in one brief scene, along with Xy and Persephone who are particularly adorable.

DSC01785

I also provided vocals for the theme song. Please don’t hold that against me.

Michael said he values this movie mostly as a sort of elaborate snapshot, a time capsule if you will, capturing the essence of a circle of friends at a particular moment. A number of Bloomingtonians have described the first season of ROX same way.

It’s great to have creative friends.

Florestine

Once again we interrupt our regularly scheduled investigations to draw your attention to a notable screening.

The Florestine Collection

Florestine

Experimental animator Helen Hill found more than 100 handmade dresses in a trash pile on one Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans. She set out to make a film about the dressmaker, an elderly seamstress who had recently passed away. The dresses and much of the film footage were later flood-damaged by Hurricane Katrina while Helen was still working on the film. Helen was murdered in a home invasion in New Orleans in 2007. Her husband Paul Gailiunas has completed the film, which includes Helen’s original silhouette, cut-out, and puppet animation, as well as flood-damaged and restored home movies.

This film is screening tonight and Thursday. Details at the New Orleans Film Festival website.

Big Fix

We take a break from our regularly scheduled odyssey to promote the following worthy item.

This Friday, the New Orleans Film Festival is hosting the American premiere of the documentary film, The Big Fix, which details the massive government cover-up which has taken place in the wake of the BP oil spill. There will be a press conference at 2 pm at the Contemporary Arts Center before the film is shown. This may be the best chance the Gulf Coast has to raise the country’s awareness to the reality of the condition of the Gulf.

Please share widely. Like the film on Facebook. More at the Zombie.

After the Tide

Rising Tide Sign

I’m actively looking for ways to integrate various aspects of my seemingly disparate interests. Having Rising Tide here on the campus of the university where I work was a major integrative accomplishment for me personally. I don’t mean that it was particularly onerous, because it wasn’t; but it was extremely gratifying. Of course I tend to think it’s also a major benefit to both the University and the conference itself. The participants get a great venue and the University gets a quality educational event. I love to see these things coming together.

That’s my windy way of saying that Rising Tide 6 was a screaming success, thanks to the work of countless volunteers over the last several months.

I was too busy to pay close attention to the actual programmatic content — but through the miracle of video technology and the yeomanlike efforts of Jason Berry, I’ll be able to catch up after the fact. And so can you.

Here’s the panel I helped put together for Rising Tide on “Social Media, Social Justice.”

Sadly Cherri Foytlin was stranded in Charlotte by Hurricane Irene so she does not appear, but thanks to Mary Joyce for filling in on short notice. Kimberly Joy Chandler moderates; other panelists are Jordan Flaherty, James Huck and Stephen Ostertag.

All the videos should be online by week’s end. By the way, over a thousand people tuned in to the webcast live. 1,249 to be exact. As Jason says, that’s “pretty damn good for the first outing and the little advertising we had for it.”

The event was a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

There was a lot of great stuff on stage, but my favorite moment occurred in the hallway, when the police working the detail got into a friendly theological debate with one of our vendors, Grammy-winning soapmaker, William Terry.

Snow White

Here’s Persephone’s directorial debut.

Cast:
Xy — Snow White
Persephone — Nice Fairy
Michael — Grumpy
Therese — Dopey
Nicole — Flower
David — Prince

Cinematography by yours truly.

Obviously this was mostly improvised, but Persephone engineered the basic situation. She assigned roles and costumes. She didn’t want a Wicked Queen in her movie, for example, and she inserted the fairy and flower characters. She said she wanted to make a version of Snow White no one had ever seen before. Of course, with no Wicked Queen, she insisted that there would be no poisoned apple. I’m not sure how the story would have developed. But when the players started improvising, they couldn’t resist taking the story in that direction. Also, any student of folklore could tell you that the prince didn’t revive Snow White with a kiss. That was Sleeping Beauty. But who could argue with this prince’s roguish charm?

Debauchelor

My week as a bachelor is drawing to a close. When we did this last year it was pretty tame. I saw some movies, which was exciting enough, and a notable highlight was a trip to the doctor to get some meds.

This year things have been a little different. Still not frequenting the strip clubs — that’s not my style. But I’ve been staying up a little later, drinking a little more, bathing a little less, and generally letting it all hang out.

The week started off with a bang, when the Krewe of Palmyra. Did I mention I was propositioned by a somewhat intoxicated and nearly-naked second liner? It was a joke, I’m sure, but my ego will take what it gets.

I put in almost a full week’s worth of work, but I did take one sick day. My right ear had that “unpopped” feeling which was making me feel off-balance and generally disorientated. I went to see my ENT about it and got some meds: an oral steroid, dexamethasone, to complement the nasal spray steroid I started on this time last year. That gave me some extra time to sit in my underwear here at home editing ROX #96. I’d completed a rough cut by midweek.

I was also kept busy with community meetings: one planning for Rising Tide VI and two related to the Lafitte Corridor. One evening I got together with a Green Party person from Philly who was in town for a conference. We didn’t know each other, but she found the old webpage for the GNOGP and got in touch. We had a good dinner at Mandina’s and some great conversation.

Yesterday morning I rode uptown for my monthly book club, where we discussed Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg. (I found the book disturbing, unpleasant, and absolutely exquisite.) Afterwards I was able to enjoy a leisurely lunch with the group at that Ethiopian place on Magazine Street.

Summer is finally in full effect. I love riding around New Orleans on a hazy, muggy summer day.

But the perfect bookend for this week came on Saturday afternoon in a one-two punch. The first punch was the 610 Stompers Ball Crawl. I didn’t sign up for the fun, but they stopped pretty much right in front of our house for an extended shenanigan which included a Mustache Contest. It was reminiscent of the Krewe of Palmyra, except on steroids. It seemed to be about ten times as big.

And of course, these guys have the moves.

The sheer nutty audacity of these guys is amazing. Of course the 80s workout getups are funny, but it’s truly astonishing to see them moving in unison.

Xy will be jealous. She loooves the 610 Stompers. At least I’ve got some video for her to get a vicarious thrill.

The second punch? Chef Menteur. I threw down some jack (a paltry smidgen to be honest) for their new recording project on Kickstarter (and encourage others to do the same) and that got me an invite to a party/show on a Mid-City warehouse rooftop. Had some of the best pulled pork since I was in the Carolinas, enjoyed some Pilsner Urquell on tap, renewed some old acquaintances and made some new friends, and generally had a blast.

The music was even awesomer than anticipated. Certainly they rocked harder than I expected. Sort of artsy mostly instrumental spacerock.

Xy would have liked that scene too. It reminded me a lot of Bloomington.

All in all it’s been a fun week, but also a full week and a productive one. I’ve hardly had time to miss my girls, but miss them I do, and I’m looking forward to their return which should be sometime today.

Now if you’ll excuse me I really should mow the lawn before Xy gets back.

Update: OK, that took about twelve minutes. I usually leave the yardwork to Xy so this was my first time handling the new push-mower we bought a couple months ago. This was easy, dare I even say fun?

Work in Progress

My girls are enjoying a week at an undisclosed location in central Louisiana this week. So I am playing the bachelor. Not very exciting, really. Mainly I’m doing a lot of post-production work. My goal is to finish up ROX #96.

Here’s a clip.

This project has been in limbo for over three years now. Everything’s in the proverbial can. It just needs editing. It is time to get it done.

May Madness

This used to be a mellow time of year for me. Mostly I work with faculty, and faculty tend to get very busy toward the end of the academic year. That means they have less time to work with me. But since 2009 that’s changed. There are two new factors that have made this a crazy time. We’ve started doing a week-long seminar that begins as soon as school ends. And then there are the honoree videos.

(The hike would be a third factor but we did it earlier than ever this year.)

The video project stems from when our new Vice-President of Academic Affairs instituted an teaching award. Each year, awards are given in three categories to junior and senior faculty, for a total of six awards. I was taken by surprise when I was asked to produce a video of each winner, to be shown at commencement. But when your boss’s boss’s boss asks you to do something, it’s generally a good idea to make him happy. So I’ve done my best at this task for three years now, though it’s just about the only video production I do at this job anymore.

This was an odd assignment, because the videos are extremely short — just 25 seconds each — and they have no audio. It’s just a little something to throw up on the screen while they announce each award.

I got my co-worker Jim, in Media Services, to help out. He did all the shooting. I set up the shoots, provided some direction, carried the tripod, and did all the editing.

We had to hustle to get them done because there’s a very narrow window of opportunity between when the winners are initially revealed and the commencement ceremony. It’s a lot of work and not much glory, but it’s mostly pleasant, and the short deadline means there’s a limit to the madness.

I just got the sixth video done yesterday, and then in the afternoon, I got a call: The script for this portion of commencement has been changed, shortened, and it no longer makes sense to show the videos. Instead, they decided to go with stills, which I exported from the videos.

No skin off my nose. Still, I’m a little bummed no one will see the results of our labor, so here with I present six short silent videos. I think they’re kind of cool, and in some small way they capture something of why I love working here.

You’ll note I didn’t shoot the video for that last one. We got that from Michael’s private archive. The University did not fly Jim and me out to the Middle East.

If they decide to stick with the still image format next year, I imagine they might ask the University photographer to take pictures of the honorees. If so, this may be the last time I’m involved. Which is fine with me. Our work in faculty development is inherently non-evaluative. We’ve worked for years to create a space on campus where faculty can explore issues around teaching without feeling judged. Being associated with these awards in any way has been slightly awkward. Perhaps this means next May will be less crazy for me.

Hasty Ray, You’re Much Too Late

Treme films rallly against crime_Bart

Today was one of the strangest days of my admittedly strange career. I suppose that being an extra in a big film or television production is always kind of weird. But it’s a truly bizarre thing to reenact events that one has experienced firsthand.

So it was for me today as I did my bit as an extra for HBO’s Treme. I expect I’ll have more thoughts on this later, and maybe even some photos. For now, I’ll just offer this one tidbit.

When reenacting the march in Mid-City, we were instructed to chant:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4
Jordan Riley out the door
5 – 6 – 7 – 8
hey C Ray you’re much too late

Only the guy imparting these directions to my segment was obviously not familiar with the New Orleans brand. He told us to say, “Hasty Ray you’re much too late.”

We corrected him, hastily. But I thought it was funny.

To make this weird day even weirder, there was a rally in solidarity with the people of Egypt this afternoon. A real rally, here in New Orleans. I wanted to participate, but I couldn’t, because I was busy with this fake rally. And at the real rally they were chanting: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 get Mubarak out the door….

Photo by Derek Bridges

Mellenscat

I’ve gotta give some props to Eric Spears for continuing to excavate such gems from his personal video collection. Here’s Christy Paxson Behind the Scenes at the Making of the Latest John “Cougar” Mellencamp Video.

Eric sez: “Between episodes of her access TV series, The Christy Paxson Show, Christy made several video shorts, and this is one of them. I sent a copy to MTV, but they never responded.”

This particular video cracks me up so much I can only watch about three minutes at a time before I’m racked with convulsive hysterical sobbing.

The Foolishness of Man

I’m not quite in my right mind today, thanks to some cold medicine I took this morning. So this might be the perfect time to revisit The Good News Bible Hour #14.

The always-amazing Eric Spears (nee White) just excavated this video from his personal collection a few days ago, digitized it and posted it online. I believe this was produced in 1993, and I probably haven’t seen it for at least fifteen years.

Got a few minutes? Let’s watch this together.

I suppose it pretty much speaks for itself, but I can’t resist adding a few editorial comments.

The video consists entirely of an improvised performance by yours truly. However, Eric ran the camera and edited the program; he can also be heard lending a voice off-camera. Xy makes a brief appearance here in her “Mary Perkins” character.

Perceptive viewers will note that I borrow a few lines from Flip Wilson via Uptown Saturday Night.

The program aired on CATS (nee BCAT) and supposedly has garnered more complaints than any other video. I suspect that’s because people might think it’s a real televangelist sermon at first, though after watching for a few seconds it’s rapidly apparent that this is satire. That might make a viewer angry enough to call the station.

Of course, it’s also possible that some viewers simply couldn’t view this satire as anything other than an attack on Christianity itself. I can’t speculate on my frame of mind 18 years ago, but as I view this now I see it as a mockery of fundamentalism, which of course is a tendency that can emerge in any religion. I don’t see it as a mockery of Christianity or even religion in general.

Your mileage may vary.

By the way, you should definitely check out Eric’s Daisybrain blog.

In Praise of Audio

I’ve produced quite a bit of video in my day — well over a hundred programs, though probably less than a hundred hours all told. I don’t do much video production these days, but I’m called upon routinely to advise people who want to make a video, or think they do.

My most frequent advice: don’t.

That’s because, most of the time, what people really want is audio. In most of the cases I encounter, the subject in question is a single speaker, or perhaps a panel discussion. What is the crucial component there: a static view of the speaker’s head, or the words that are being said? If you said the latter, congratulations, you’re right.

We can prove this with a simple thought experiment. Imagine you’re watching a video of someone making a speech about a topic that is simply fascinating to you. Imagine that it’s poorly shot. It’s dim, and the image is grainy, and the camera is shaking all over the place in a way that induces nausea. But by some miracle the audio track is pristine — crystal clear — you can hear every word in the highest fidelity.

That’s a good video. Even though it’s bad. Back in the days of analog TV broadcasts, people would squint through fuzzy reception as long as they could hear what was going on.

Now, by contrast, imagine the reverse. The image is crystal clear, the lighting is beautiful, you can see every twinkle in the speaker’s eye in high definition. But the sound is off. The mic wasn’t plugged in, or something. It’s muffled, barely audible.

That’s a bad video. Do you get my point?

In short, for many programs, the audio is the most important component. Obviously there are exceptions, programs where the audio is virtually irrelevant. Sports come to mind. But for the vast majority of programming, the audio is more important than the video.

People think they want video because it’s got a certain techno-luster. Video is, in the common parlance, sexy. Good video can indeed convey crucial information with great economy and clarity. But by the same token, producing good video is hard work. Even producing a bad video is hard work. Trust my years of experience when I say that for most people, most of the time, it ain’t worth it.

Even if you’re willing to do some work, it may be counter-productive. Video is such a headache, and such a distraction, that all the effort gets sucked into the video aspect, and the audio is totally neglected.

Also, remember the following: No one really wants to watch your video anyway. Life’s too short. But they might just put your audio recording on their iPod and give it a listen during their morning jog.

So I advise people to focus on what’s really important, and aim for a decent audio recording instead.

The advantages of focusing on audio are manifold. Audio tools are cheaper than video. Working with audio is easier, both in production and post-production. Moving audio around is easier. You can buy a Zoom H2 Handy Recorder for about $140, and you will have a recording device that is easy to use and produces really good recordings in the form of digital files which you can transfer to your computer via USB.

Perhaps most important of all, audio is doable.

So: forget the video, and focus on the audio; you might actually get a quality product.

Dear Netflix

Dear Netflix,

After many years of loyal patronage, I will be canceling my Netflix membership at the end of December.

As we’ve shared so many delightful years together I thought you deserved an explanation, so I’m writing this letter to spell it all out for you.

I’ve been with you from almost the beginning. I think we first subscribed in 2000 or 2001. We took a break after our DVD player went on the fritz, but we reactivated in 2004 and embarked on a mad alphabetical odyssey, watching almost 300 movies I’d always wanted to see. I reviewed them all on my blog. When we finally finished the list three years later, we started all over again with another alphabetical list, which took us a mere thirteen months to complete. Since then, parental responsibilities have cut into our movie viewing time, and the alphabetical approach has broken down, but we’ve continued to enjoy the service.

We’ve been through some tough times together. In 2005, when our home was flooded and much of the Gulf Coast lay in ruins, I was impressed that you handled our account in a sensible and humane fashion. Not every corporate entity was so enlightened. That led me to believe that perhaps you were that most elusive of chimeras, a corporation with a conscience. But perhaps I was projecting my wishful thoughts because of all the pleasure I derived from those movies. Several recent developments have made me question your integrity.

First, you phased out the Friends feature earlier this year, despite vocal protests from many of your most loyal members. I was disappointed, but decided to hang in there.

Next, you announced our subscription fee would be going up. The reason? You’re wanting to plow more resources into delivering streaming content. You’re also offering a new streaming-only plan which would actually save me money. But here’s the rub: Of the 34 movies currently in my queue, only 12 are available for streaming. I’m perfectly happy to get a DVD in the mail instead. But I’m not happy to pay more for it.

And here’s what sealed the deal: I read Jessica Thurber’s post on the Deaf Politics blog. It seems the Achilles heel with streaming videos is a lack of support for captions. Oh, it’s technically possible, it’s just that you’re not doing much of it, not are you indexing which movies have captions and which don’t. I don’t generally use captions, but I understand their value. When my parents were visiting for the holidays we watched movies with captions so that everyone would catch the dialog.

Therefore, in solidarity with the hearing impaired, and to protest your fee increase, and because I don’t like the way you got rid of your community features, I am going to cancel my membership.

I will probably check out one of your competitors such as GreenCine. I think they may have a better catalog of obscure and artsy films anyhow. For example, they’ve got The American Astronaut which has been in my Netflix “saved” queue for a year now. They’ve also got Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl and The Ipcress File and a whole bunch of flicks you haven’t seen fit to acquire for DVD or streaming. As a matter of fact GreenCine is looking better all the time.

But don’t worry Netflix. I’m sure you can lure me back if you address the issues I’ve listed above.

What’s more, I am posting this letter to my blog, and encouraging anyone who feels as I do to follow suit.

Sincerely,