Define "a Life"...

... still searching for a clear definition of that thing people keep telling me I need to get...

Location: Springfield, PA

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Unintentional Sing-a-Long

I love stuff out of context.

One recent example: PLTC's annual fund-raiser auction for our Project Discovery educational outreach program was last Friday night. During the champagne reception the main stage lobby gets crowded with champagne-swigging guests wandering around and scoping the assortment of items laid out in display for the silent auction portion of the evening. If you've ever been to one of these, you know the sort of things that get donated for this phase of the event -- hand-made jewelry, scarves and other accessories, small art items, and an assortment of services like a massage or a golf game at an exclusive course where the donor is a member. Bidders write their name and the amount of their bid on a form on the little clipboard in front of each item. If there's something you genuinely want, you can keep checking back throughout the reception to see if you've been out-bid, then up your bid accordingly. Bidding closes at the end of the reception, when everyone is shuffled next door for the dinner and live auction. All the silent auction stuff is resolved during dinner and the live auction, and winning bidders collect their booty at the end of the night. For intangibles like golf games, that's simply a matter of receiving information on how to arrange to redeem whatever it is. For a pair of earrings or a scarf, though, you collect the thing itself then and there. So we handle this "check-out" by setting up two lines, one for each sort. While setting things up, I came upon the sign for the latter category:

Live Redemption

I knew almost immediately what it was, but seeing it out of context initially gave me such a good laugh I felt compelled to take the sign around and share it with a few folks who would appreciate the grammatical ambiguity.

Yes, I know my sense of humor finds satisfactions in odd places.

The other example, the one that spurred this post, is a bit different. I guess it's a case of a sort of frisson between knowledge of a thing's context and the way an element of that thing appears out of context. I was channel surfing this morning at the top of the hour and stopped briefly on TCM to see what was next. Up popped the opening titles of Marty, the 1955 film. I'd seen the film years ago but had completely forgotten how... well... perky the title music is. If you know the story, the bouncey tune seems incongruous with the pathos of the isolation in the characters' lives. Ultimately, I think, the disparity is a conscious choice, playing against the underlying emotions and reflecting the veneer of okay-ness that Marty feels compelled to maintain. It's the sort of arch move I suspect wouldn't work today, but then pretty much everything about Paddy Chayefsky's story is very much of its time. The movie has a style of film music that really doesn't exist these days, overt and expressive, literal and tied very closely to the action. The music approaches storytelling with a vocabulary cinema has all but abandoned. And, damn it, that tune is catchy. Without thinking about it, I was suddenly making up lyrics.

"It's Marty, it's Marty, he's Marty.
He knows not what he wants to do.
He's loyal and faithful, not naughty,
and almost never tries anything new."

The truly bizarre part is the fact that there actually are lyrics. The closing credits, themselves done in an actor-and-character manner that was probably a bit dated even then, are presented over "Marty," the film's title song.

So I guess there are two threads to the second half of this story. One is, obviously, the fun in making up lyrics for tunes that feel like songs even if they weren't written as such. (Everyone remember Bill Murray's lounge singer spin on the Star Wars theme?)

The other is the pleasure in being reminded of a good drama that's genuinely sincere and free of irony.

Friday, March 20, 2009


A couple of weeks ago, during tech for A Tale of Two Cities, I got so frustrated with the now almost ridiculously short working time of my iBook's battery that I went hunting online for after-market replacement options. When I got the iBook G4 back in 2005, it would run on battery for around four hours, maybe even a little more if I shut off Bluetooth and wifi. These days, I get maybe thirty minutes from the time I disconnect from wall power. Just maintaining sleep cuts deep into the battery's charge; if it goes to sleep with a 100% charge, it might wake eight or ten hours later and indicate battery levels in the sixties. You can imagine how little operating time I get between waking it and needing to plug it in.

I'm not going to be able to afford anything major in the computer department in the foreseeable future. And, realistically, there's no need to upgrade the iBook. The hearty little fella's got what it takes to run OS 10.5 Leopard, although I'm still running Tiger 10.4.11 because that's the best my old snow iMac can handle and it's been easier to keep the two in synch when they're both running the same OS. In praise of snowy, I have to say he handles Tiger pretty well, considering that he's a G3, 500 MHz PowerPC 750, a full processor generation previous to the 1.42 GHz G4 in my iBook. (Yes, I bought my iBook barely a month before the first Intel-based iBooks shipped. At the back of the Apple Store in the King of Prussia Mall, behind the counter, there's a red phone that's a direct line to an office in Cupertino, California. Whenever I buy something, the tee-shirted Apple acolyte who sold it to me waits until I'm out of sight and then hurries straight to that phone to report. Two to six weeks later, the new version of whatever I've just bought is released. Seriously. I think it was only a week or two after I'd bought my 30 GB iPod that the next generation came out, with 10 GB more capacity for the same price. Not that I really experience any need for more room on the iPod I have. I'm just sayin'.) I swapped snowy's RAM up its maximum of 1 GB before upgrading from Panther to Tiger, an extremely easy bit of business that testifies to the fact that the advancements in form factor and friendliness after Jobs' return included internal design as well as external. Although things sometimes move a little slower on snowy than they do on the iBook, the performance lag is usually not enough to be a real bother. Sure, Dashboard's a bit jerky, and the current iTunes has features that are effectively a waste on this machine. I know some of that is processor speed, but since the most prominent (and annoying) sluggishness manifests in rendering busy web pages, particularly those with lots of Flash clutter which never runs smoothly anyway, I suspect much is a result of limitations with snowy's graphics card. No drama. I can live without being able to watch video in iTunes on my iMac.

I'll likely bite the bullet soon and start running Leopard on my iBook, though. The two Macs we have at work now -- a MacBook Pro and a sexy Mac Pro (purchased only a few weeks before the most recent upgrade came out, which I can only see as further proof of that red phone) -- are both running the current 10.5.6, and there's just enough difference between that and Tiger that I'm finding switching from one interface to the other, which I'm sometimes doing with my machine sitting right next to the Leopard machine, slighting jarring. So I'm weighing that inconvenience against the inconvenience of juggling the two operating systems at home.

I'm also thinking ahead to my eventual entry into the iPhone cult, at which point solid synching between my iPhone and my primary Mac (which is now my iBook, really) will be the defining concern. I expect that will want, perhaps require, that my iBook run the most up-to-date OS. Everything that was is now MobileMe. Although I've not had any substantial hiccups with my old Dot-Mac stuff that transition, I don't think everything will mesh as cleanly once I introduce a third element into the equation, especially if that third element is of a different generation than the other two. So the iPhone will probably push my jump to Leopard.

At which time Snow Leopard will almost immediately begin shipping.

Looking ahead toward running current Leopard on my iBook, though, I'm thinking of bumping up its original 1 GB of RAM up to its maximum 1.5 GB. Its original configuration is 512 MB in the slot in addition to the permanent 512 MB on the board. At the time I bought it, the cost of putting a 1 GB DIMM in that slot was a lot more than the 512MB I went with. But memory gets cheaper, and the price for a 1GB DIMM is good deal less than it was. Since I'm not looking at a new machine for a while, it's worth a moderate investment to maximize what I can get out of the one I have. From what I can tell, performing a DIY swap of the DIMM shouldn't be too hard on this iBook.

But all this started out as an anecdote about my new battery (which, incidentally, has been powering the iBook during the entire time I've been tapping out this particular ramble, including breaks to answer e-mail and my other distracting sidetracks around the InterWeb). After shopping around a bit online, I decided to get a replacement battery from Newer Technology. Obviously, Apple isn't making the battery for my iBook at this point, but there are a lot of third-party options that claim to be OEM replacements. I did find a site selling used original Apple batteries, but I have to feel that another used battery would at best be the equivalent sending my own original battery back in time a year or two: it's still a three- or four-year-old battery. Some of the third-party options felt a little iffy to me. I'm sure Laptops-for-Less employs some very nice people, but I got a bad vibe.

So I received my new battery, but had to wait a few days before my schedule had an open span of time long enough to devote the iBook to conditioning the battery with a charge-discharge-charge cycle in the way the manufacturer advised. I've heard the typical nay-sayers dismiss the idea of conditioning for rechargeable batteries, but in battery units like this there's sometimes more at work than the simple chemical reactions of a charge. While Lithium-ion batteries don't suffer from memory effect the same way Ni-Cad batteries do, the literature on the NuPower battery I bought says the electronics that monitor charging and report working levels use a full cycle as a reference. Okay. What the Hell? I'll begin by following instructions.

And the instructions say the discharge portion of a conditioning cycle wants to drain the battery all the way in continuous use. Charge it for twelve hours, drain it, then let it charge to 100% again. So here's the bit that spurred this whole rambling top-heavy post. It's silly, but it did make me laugh. Whoever wrote the instructions here was sensitive to the fact that someone might for whatever reason want to get through the middle phase of this conditioning cycle as quickly as possible. Accordingly, they offered this suggestion:

You may accelerate this process by running applications to boost processor and hard disk usage. Playing a CD on shuffle in iTunes with full visuals turned on is a good way of draining the battery quickly.

I think it's the understatement the did it for me.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Like a Pirate in a pawnshop with a pocket full of jewels...

There's this album -- CD? Disc? What the Hell do we call these things now? -- I've been listening to an awful lot lately. I mean a lot. As in get-to-the-end-and-press-PLAY-again a lot. That kind of a lot. It's Hope For The Hopeless from Brett Dennen. Compulsively listenable, with a bunch of bits that stay stuck in your head enough to make you learn all the lyrics just so you're not trapped in a tiny loop of a single phrase.

I like this album a lot. As in get-to-the-end-and-press-PLAY-again a lot. You get the idea. It had me hooked from the first track, "San Francisco," one of the most upbeat breakup songs ever. Upbeat? Hell, positively perky. I had the CD with me on the trip to-and-from Rob & Kathy's a while ago, and it was the only thing I listened to on the drive home. Just pressed PLAY again every time it got to the end.

I bought the first Brett Dennen album a while back, as an impulse buy at, I think, Best Buy. The cover art caught my eye, and I guess the song titles sounded cool. More than anything else, though, I got a feeling about it. And the CD was Best Priced. So I picked it up, and I liked it. Some of the tracks I liked quite a lot, but the disc as a whole wasn't a play-it-over-&-over discovery.

Still, I liked his stuff enough to purchase a couple of singles and EP specials when they popped up on iTunes. One of them made it onto my Christmas mix-disc. And I bought his next album, So Much More, when it came out. So, yeah, I was liking Brett Dennen a fair bit.

So of course I ordered Hope For The Hopeless when the hit-or-miss Recommendations features on iTunes and Amazon told me it was coming out. That title certainly hit home: Yeah, I could sure use some hope these days. For me, this turned out to be his 100% album. Every song on it makes me happy. Even the songs that make me sad make me feel sort of happy, in that strange way art transubstantiates sorrow. I've yet to encounter a mood in which I want to skip a track when I'm listening to it. Some of the songs were special on first listen and have since become dear to my heart.

From everything I've read, Brett is wonderful live. Unfortunately, he's based on the west coast and all his performance dates seem to be there. (His site does list what looks like a tour sweep through Ireland and the UK, but that's not a lot of help to me.) From the way his music has been popping up in the song tracks of a few TV shows, and the fact that I've heard him on radio, I suspect he's about to shift out of the cool-private-discovery category. Whatever. That's happened to a few of my cool-private-discovery artists before, and it hasn't made me appreciate their work any less; it's just made things feel a little less personal sometimes. But with Brett Dennen, as with some others, I'll always know I found them on my own. Publicity machines weren't really responsible. Their own popularity didn't even have much to do with it. Through whatever confluence of factors, I was drawn to their work, sometimes before even hearing any of it.

Thinking about that with Dennen has me thinking about other artists -- in particular, singer/songwriters -- who I've discovered through the same sort of impulse of curiosity. In some cases, those have turned out to be my favorites.

I've been thinking about those, and also about other albums that have been as listenable as Hope is. In some cases, they're the same albums. Some are albums by artists I've found in that way, even if they're not the same album as the intial discovery; even with artists I love, some albums stand out.

Then there are the odd albums, the equivilent of one-hit wonders, which caught me on their own and have an appeal much stronger than anything else from those same artists. These are albums, often impulse buys or odd discoveries, which have appealed to me enough to spur me to explore the rest of the artist's work only to find that nothing else they've done clicks with me the same way. I still like those individual albums as lot; they just didn't result in an enduring connection.

Anyway, I may wander though some of those albums in the coming days, week, months or whatever the increments in which my posts here may creep ahead. You can take them as recommendations, if you want. Mainly, though, it'll just be me sharing some things that make me happy.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Baby, it's cold outside...

So I've been procrastinating shoveling the snow, and wasting time online is great for that sort of thing. I'm procrastinating in part out of pique -- the offices have today off as a snow day, but those of us in production need to keep to a real schedule, regardless of weather. The only time snow effected my production schedule was during an official declared Snow Emergency, when the lighting designer couldn't get out of NYC to get here for a focus session. So I've gotta dig out and face whatever the roads are like and get my chilly butt into the theatre, because we begin tech week rehearsals tomorrow at noon and everything needs to be ready. And the office staff folk get to sit at home, nice and cozy, and catch up on their reading or their laundry or whatever.

Thus, pique.

But mostly I've been procrastinating because I hate shoveling. Truthfully, I don't mind 75% of winter weather woes. I like snow. It's pretty, and not nearly so uncomfortable to be out in as rain. And I genuinely enjoy cold, at least until winds bring the -chill factor down into the single digit range. Then, not so much. But I simply hate shoveling snow. Hate it. Hate hate hate.

Thus, procrastination.

Ah, well. Needs must.

On a completely different topic, I commented on Rob's blog twice during my procrastination. Both times I got real actual words for the security confirmation thingy. Usually there're just clusters of hard-to-read characters. Is this something new, or just a very very odd fluke?

Wait. I'm still procrastinating.