Sunday, 10 July 2016

Giveaways, Games and Gifts

The word of the week is impetus.

July 4 - Plugging away

Hello, new month - hello, more of the same? All's well around here, for the most part, and that's good.

I'm working my way steadily through my novel, noting things down page after chapter as I go through each chapter - my hardcopy of the 3rd draft is a sea of post-it notes.

The great thing about the detailed read-through of the last month has been the explosion of ideas building on one another as I re-familiarize myself with the world and the characters intimately. That familiarity has led to much firming-up of ideas and threads running through the trilogy that weren't all that clear a year ago, but now seem much more well-defined after such a long hiatus from writing.

I'm genuinely excited about digging into the meat of the 4th draft next week on my vacation. I'm planning on spending 6-8 hours a day working on the draft, honing and refining the words so that they sparkle. If I can, I'll get through 3/4 of the book in a single week, one long experience of doing nothing but edit.

It worked for me the last 2 times, so why not now?

July 5 - Vocal what?

What the heck is that sound, I wondered?

Years ago, I wondered what was going on with some women's voices: they sounded like they had a cold or were trying to gargle when they spoke. It was really weird, and my ear for some reason became sensitive to it as the years went on.

Password this year and apparently that particular vocal effect now has a name: Vocal Fry. Unsurprisingly, it's really bad to do long-term, and even less shocking it's something that the Kardashian's do on a regular basis - one more reason not to like it.

Essentially, it's when people( quite often young women )use of vocal technique to lower the pitch of their voices which gains them more attention due to the odd sound and resonance of the results.

Sure, it can be cute if you only hear it on occasion, but when everyone is doing it, it's like a group of frogs croaking: not attractive for cute whatsoever.

For me, it's extremely grating on the ear, and while it certainly makes someone jump out of the crowd, it's the vocal equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

No thanks: just talk normally.

July 6 - Animated!

It took me a while, but I finally did it!

For a few years now, I've been looking at a way to bring some of the characters of my novels to life in a new and unique way. I haven't seen many authors able to animate their works without bringing in some seriously-expensive talent or going the other route to do a cheap-looking low-cost job in the visualization.

This week, I managed to get a Giveaway-Of-The-Day copy of CrazyTalk, a simple 3-D animation package that focuses on creating realistic faces that can be synced to audio files or even text. I was somewhat hesitant when I first started playing around with it, but within a few days this week I managed to get some good results. A few more tweaks and I had this to show for my efforts:

it's extremely basic and only scrapes the surface of what's possible, should I have enough time and effort you put into creating something truly unique. For the moment, I'm just pleased that I've been able to bring my character to life in a new way for other people to enjoy and in the form that I am pleased to say is extremely close to the vision I have of her from the novel.

I love technology!

July 7 - Video Capture? OK!

This month I finally gave in and tried again.

For years, I've been looking for a low-cost, decent-quality USB solution for capturing videos from old sources like VCR's to save them to my computer. Time and again however, the expense of the hardware and software meant that I could only fiddle around with cheap used versions from eBay that never worked properly or simply gave bad results for all the time I invested in the attempts.

Watching a few sales online, I spotted this little device on super-sale for $25 CDN:

It had some excellent reviews that also mentioned certain software that performed well with the hardware - gems like that are why I always keep my eyes open so that I can catch and make use of the advice they offer.

The results were excellent from my old VCR test tape, which given the age and nature of the medium was music to my ears( eyes? ). I've kept a few dozen old VCR tapes in storage, mainly of shows that haven't been on the air for many years or available on DVD. I'll be digging through that box occasionally this year to digitize some treasures before they become unreadable on the medium.

Next up: finding some video processing software to clean up the images and learning the techniques to do so. It's an interesting side hobby with tangible results and I'm looking forward to capturing some more videos to work with soon.

July 8 – Oops, Sugar?

After work today, I joined some coworkers on the patio.

It was still windy out, but the sun was making an effort through the clouds and I definitely wanted to be outside after extremely busy week at work. We managed to get a really nice table at the very top level of the rooftop area:

I had a nice glass of Blue Buck ale with my bison burger and side salad, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I felt full and happy when I got back home, but around 7:30 PM I started sweating for no particular reason while working on the computer from the couch: something was going on.

I tested my heart rate and saw it was quite elevated: dang.

Admittedly, my heart rate increase wasn't all that high, getting up to around 112-115 beats per minute. However, that was with me simply sitting on the couch and my average resting heart rate should be around 75-85 beats per minute according to the measurements I've been making the last year with my phone's heart rate app.

For what I can reason out, the salad dressing( of which I didn't have more than a small drizzle )must have had an extremely high sugar content. My body started metabolizing about an hour after I finished, as I have a somewhat slow digestive system due to the lack of a gall bladder - I like my meals small and regular now.

Today's little blip has shown that anxiety or sugar affecting my heart rate is something that can sneak up on me, for the most unlikely source. As always, I have to pay attention to what my body is telling me and think through what my response should be. Discovering that I have a rapid heart rate should not immediately dumped me into panic-mode but rather the response: what's going on, what caused it and how can I react appropriately?

Like one of my favorite authors famously wrote: Don't Panic.

July 9 – MOTU on Blu-Ray? Nice!

Tonight, my lady and I rewatched a classic 80's movie:

The film was released in 1987 to poor reviews, but I recall renting it with a fair amount of fondness in the early 90s, so I picked up a Blu-Ray copy of the film recently for $10 on sale on Amazon, which had a decent review that touched on the fact that this Blu-Ray version was actually worth getting for the visuals.

Since my girlfriend hadn't seen either The Last Of the Mohicans, nor the MOTU film, we watched them both back to back with MOTU first on the docket.

It was surprisingly good, in both her and my opinions. Spoilers below!

Story-wise, the film sets a good pace from start to finish, with very few slow spots and surprisingly intelligent dialogue choices. An example of such is the fact that when the heroes are on Earth, they don't refer to the cardinal directions as 'spinward' instead of using North or South: a nice touch.

There's also a nice sense of scale, in that Earth is seen as, and referred to as, a 'cosmic backwater' several times in the film: again, a nice subtle way to put us in our proper place as a setting for this story rather than the center of all of events.

The real star of the film is Frank Langella, who gives a masterful performance as the scenery-chewing arch-villain Skeletor. He is riveting in every scene he's in, a commanding and dangerous figure whose quest for ultimate power is what drives the movie. The other more maudlin performances that attempt to tug on the viewer's heartstrings are nothing compared to Skeletor's drive for power.

I think this is what really gives the film its heart, and along with the genuine performances of the other actors helps to carry this film above the other 90's-meh scifi films that you'll never want to watch again.

Visually, the film's great to watch in Blu-Ray, with colours and contrasts all sharply defined. The details you can see in HD are extraordinary: the quality of the costumes really jumps out at you, as does the sense of 'being there' in the 80's as well as on the planet Eternia. There's nothing 'cheap-looking' about the film with the extra HD on, and it makes it a whole new experience compared to the blurry low-res VHS release or the clumsily-cut TV-movie showings. There's even a great fansite dedicated to the movie here.

If you haven't seen MOTU, go get it on Blu-Ray for $10 online. It's great!

BONUS: a remake is in the works as of 10 months ago!

July 10 – Early Gifts!

My girlfriend is amazing

While we were out today, we wandered back to Cavity Curiousity Shop on downtown Victoria - it's PACKED with about 3x's as much Sweet Stuff as you see in the video below from 2013:

While there, I had another look at a Panasonic V4400 laserdisc player that was gathering dust on a shelf along with a V1100. Noticing my longing glance, my lady told me she'd get it for me as an early birthday present - wahoo! We purchased a few more things and the shop owner knocked the price down to $60, a fantastic bargain given how heavy the V4400 is( 28lbs! )which would be killer to ship( and have a high possibility of damage like my last player )plus a 1st-edition of I Am Spock - again, wahoo! :-)

Getting it home today, I set up the laserdisc player on the floor for now( as it's too big for my AV stand )and started it up. Everything worked! I carefully loaded a disc( The American President )and pushed play.

A picture appeared: glorious and distortion-free! :-)

I ran the movie for an hour, checking in on it as the player warmed up to see if there were any issues. After an hour, the picture was still solid - happy day! While it's not a double-sided player( meaning I have to get up and flip the disc after an hour for movies )it's perfect for watching hour-long episodes of Babylon5 on laserdisc that have been languishing unseen on my shelves since I painstakingly collected them last year in order to see the better-than-DVD SFX that the laserdisc versions have.

It's going to be a good rest of 2016: my lady and I will be happily ensconced in Seasons 4 and 5 of B5 for months to come.

It was a busy week at work, which was draining, and I didn’t get much of MY work done on the books. On the bright side, I had a great weekend, which was energizing! I ended my Sunday with a game of Scythe in the evening, which took a few hours and I returned well before 10pm. Even though I came in last( of 4 players )I learned a great deal from this, my second time playing the game... and I should do FAR better next time