Sunday, December 30, 2007

Photos

I've taken my camera out to practice with it the past couple of days despite having a cold that should have kept me home on the couch, which is where I spent most of today.


Tampa Bay Downs - 12/29/07




Florida Botanical Gardens - 12/29/07




USF Botanical Garden - 12/28/07




USF Botanical Garden - 12/28/07

Friday, December 28, 2007

Alumni Meet

Note: This is the last in a multi-part series about my trip to Pennsylvania the weekend before Christmas. You might want to scroll down to the entry titled Audubon and work your way back up.

The alumni meet's purpose was not solely to amuse current members of my high school's team. Nor was it for the alumni to compare how fat we've gotten. It was a fundraiser. Our $30 entry fees will help pay for jackets or something else that the team members' parents will throw away when the kids go off to college.

Give this generation credit, though. When I swam, we raised our own money with a swimming marathon. We'd get people to pledge a few pennies per lap and one day over Christmas break our practice would simply entail swimming 200 laps. One year my brother Jim got people to pledge a total of $300. Even more impressive was that he collected the money and proudly handed our coach three brand new $100 bills.

The kids now have us raising the money for them. Smart.

There was also a bake sale. So that's why after coming back to Jamie's place from the Martin Guitar factory we spent the afternoon decorating cookies. Jamie did most of the decorating but I did just enough that when the woman running the sale asked Jamie if she had created the cookies all by herself and Jamie said yes within my earshot, I could needle her. "All by yourself, huh?"


The Cookie Maker

I shot another frame with Jamie in focus instead of the foreground but she preferred this one. It appears I'm taking requests on the blog now so just leave yours in the comments and I'll get to it as soon as I can.

If it's OK I'm going to gloss over the whole Pennsylvania Turnpike incident currently under appeal that caused a $2 toll to cost $18.25 except to say that the visit back north would not have been complete if I hadn't gotten at least one stick in the eye. "Welcome back to Pennsylvania, John! Now screw you!"


The meet was a blast. I was probably not the only one sore the next day but no one suffered serious injury or water intake during the races and some of them resembled actual competition. In a concession to our decrepitude, the butterfly race was shortened to 25 yards and in the 35-and-over race all of us finished within a second of each other. And I was wrong. I could have lasted two laps. Maybe not gracefully but I could have finished. But it was probably just as well. I had enough trouble moving my arms the next day.


The pictures from the meet didn't turn out well. My camera refused to cooperate. It wanted to shoot with the flash and I thought there was plenty of light. I think the camera blurred most of the images to spite me. When I wondered later if it was fitting that the pictures matched the fuzziness of my old swimming memories, Jamie wondered if I was reaching too far to make a metaphor.


Afterward most of us went to the former Eagleville Hotel to catch up and tell lies. The place is called Brother Paul's now.


Below is supposed to be a Flash slide show with more pictures of the meet and the meeting afterward if it will work. It works for me using my Firefox browser. Not so much using Internet Explorer.



Thursday, December 27, 2007

Martin Guitar Factory

It was great to see Rich. Except for the white patches in his beard, he looked a lot like he did 20 years ago. OK, so he didn't have the beard, either, back then but, unlike your humble correspondent, he still has as much hair on top of his head as he did back then.

He also has a wife, two kids, a dog and a nice house in a good neighborhood, or at least what looked like a good neighborhood judging by the size of the houses and the amount of electricity their inhabitants were willing to expend to light their Christmas displays. I was impressed.

When it was time for me to go, Rich gave me directions to get from his house to the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Northeast Extension. He even drew a map, which I tried to explain was unnecessary because my laptop has GPS and I could follow my maps, but it seemed important to him to spell it out for me so the gracious thing for me to do was to nod my head gratefully as he drew.

But I was venturing into the unknown in a way. I was driving to another high school classmate's home near Easton, Pa. Jamie is the one who Googled me down and e-mailed me out of the blue last month. When I say "out of the blue" I mean that the last contact I had with her before she popped into my Inbox was in high school. Back then we didn't have e-mail. That's how long ago that was.

Rich had mentioned the alumni swim meet in an e-mail exchange we had back in October but Jamie's note also included the entry form and a more direct plea for my appearance. Back in high school a personal invitation from Jamie would have shot me to the moon. I had a terrible crush on her at one point. When I finally mustered the courage to make a fumbling attempt to ask her out, she deftly -- but pretty gently -- swatted it aside and I eventually got over it. Several years later I heard she had married her high school sweetheart and moved to New Jersey.

That's the last I thought I'd ever hear.

Even now I expected to read about the 2.5 kids, the large house with the white picket fence and all the rest of what Americans are supposed to do with their lives after high school. Only she was single again, had no children of her own and had moved to Easton, in part, to live near her sister and her two nephews.

In a later e-mails we traded, she offered use of her guest room and made it plain that hosting me would not be a hassle and, in fact, she would appreciate the company. For that matter, so would I. So instead of to a hotel located closer to our high school, I was winding my way north to Easton, wondering what it would be like to see her after all this time.

When I got to her place I got to wonder a little more. I knocked on the screen door and waited. No answer. I opened the screen door and rapped on the inner door. That got results. The man in the neighboring unit of their duplex opened his door. I smiled and waved. He smiled and waved in reply before receding back into his house and I waited some more. Finally Jamie opened her door.

We had been corresponding and we spoke on the phone a couple of times so the reunion was not as strange as it could have been. But I thought it was trusting of her to open her home to someone with whom she'd had so little contact. Maybe the delay came when she realized the same thing!

We stayed up talking until about 12:30 a.m., which is way past my usual bed time, and went to our respective rooms with tentative plans to visit the Martin Guitar Company factory in Nazareth the next day. When I knew I would be staying at Jamie's, I checked and saw that the Martin factory was less than ten miles from her house. As a proud owner of a Martin myself, I looked forward to making the pilgrimage to their source.


Martin guitars are world famous and its guitars are played by just about everybody who is anybody among acoustic guitar players. They are also played by nobodies like me who are willing to spend the pretty penny it costs to own one. Even in my unskilled hands, the Martin has a wonderful feel and sound to it. I was glad I bought mine even before I saw how they were made and met some of the people who work at the factory.


Martin usually offers tours of its factory, where it still produces its guitars right here in the U.S. of A., but tours had ended for the holidays. It museum was open, though, and we got to see displays detailing the factory's history, old guitars as well as vintage and special edition guitars made in honor of many of Martin's famous players.




Jamie and I got there as the employee party was going on. That's what the people gathered around the two guitarists are doing.



The museum also has what it calls the "Pickin' Parlor," where you can ask to play some vintage Martin guitars. The people at Martin were exceedingly kind and it made me even gladder to know that I had bought one of their guitars.


One of them even gave me some guitar picks. (I offered to pay for them but she said no.) Jamie was willing to indulge me so I played her a few songs. I was nervous at first! First because I don't normally play for any audience other than my cat. Second because many of my songs are ones a guy would sing to his girlfriend and I didn't want to give Jamie the wrong idea. I was a house guest. She shouldn't have to worry that I was looking for an opening to put the moves on her. That's why the pictures she took of me playing don't include me looking at her.

Reunion Tour

John James Audubon's mansion is not the only sight to see in his namesake town. No, sir-ree. There's the former Audubon Inn, which now houses a lawyer's office. And old Bud's Bar, which has seen better days. If you can look past the paint scheme, which was not there when I last saw it, you'll notice on the left where the building appears to have been carved into to accommodate cars and trucks. I don't think that was planned. I think passing traffic simply knocked away part of the building.

I did drive by the house I lived in but didn't stop to photograph it since I already have pictures of it from the time I lived there. Those are more relevant to me. I did take pictures at my old high school. I didn't have any of those.

From there I wandered west toward Collegeville, stopping along the Perkiomen Creek to take a couple of shots there. After a lunch of genuine Philly soft pretzels from the Pretzel Factory in Collegeville -- MMMMMM! I circled back around to Route 363 and stopped at the Worcester Historical Society building and the cemetery behind it. Later I drove by Markley Farms Swim Club, where I worked one summer as a lifeguard making a whopping $2.95 an hour.

It's also the place where I suffered the only injuries requiring stitches so far in my life. Once I hit my head on the diving board in an ill-fated attempt doing a back flip. The other time I hit my face just below my mouth on a basketball moving at high speed when my friend Rich made an ill-fated attempt at a trick shot.

That didn't come up in conversation when I visited Rich at his house that night.

Below is a Flash slide show of pictures I took during my travels that day. It doesn't seem to work in Internet Explorer but if you have a Firefox browser, it should display fine.


Audubon

As mentioned, I ventured north to take part in an alumni swim meet at my old high school. Note use of the phrase "take part" rather than "compete." I am happy enough to report that I did not require emergency medical assistance afterwards.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I flew to Philadelphia Thursday, hopped into the best Chevy Cobalt that Enterprise had available and drove to Audubon, the small town in the Philly suburbs where I went though middle and high school. Yes, Audubon is named for the bird guy John James Audubon and, yes, the streets are all named after birds.


OK, there is Egypt Road so not all of them are but let's not get bogged down in technicalities here. I lived on Mourning Dove Road, which connected to Falcon Drive, which also branched off onto Meadowlark and Mockingbird Lanes. Bud's Bar wasn't always that color. However, for as long as I remember, it has been missing a chunk that appears to have been knocked out by passing traffic.

When I lived in Audubon, there was a bird sanctuary but I don't remember ever visiting it and I don't recall that there was supposed to be much to see for anyone who did. Not now. Now Montgomery County, probably to justify not letting developers plow the place under for new McMansions, has made the place into the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove. There's a paved driveway and places to park and everything.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Posing

Season's Greetings! It's Christmas season and I apologize for not spending the postage to send you a card to mark the occasion. Hallmark needs the money, you know, and I'm not being a good little consumer unless I spend, spend, spend! That's what the holidays are all about -- just ask any pundit judging the health of the U.S. economy by how much debt we're willing to pile up to pile gifts under the Christmas tree.

If you're on this woman's list, don't use the occasion to send one of those lovely home-made cards featuring the beatific faces of your smiling children. It's Christmas, not MyFamilyMas, according to this Grinch, with whom I'd rather not trade holiday cards anyway. Oops. I'm sure she's offended by my calling them holiday cards. It's Christmas; it's not a holiday.

A friend of mine who is a devout Christian (and who, fortunately, did not lose his sense of humor or good grace when he was reborn) wondered on his blog if he should feel guilty because his holi, er, Christmas card apparently declared war on Christians by featuring a photograph of his family.

I e-mailed him my thoughts that he should not feel bad. While I understood this woman's point, "it would be a shame to see Christmas become just a joyless exercise in proselytization."

In writing back, he brought up another common -- and commonly annoying -- annual practice of including a detailed account of the past year for the family. As if "see how wonderful we look" wasn't enough, they have to spell out how wonderful their lives are too. He wrote that he'd love to see one of these Christmas letters get real:

"....the kids are out of control; little Billy is now on Ritalin to control his violent outbursts, Megan makes mostly C's and a few B's in her special ed courses, and Johnny is also quite the underachiever. None of them are any good at sports, but they do love to play violent video games, and sometimes re-enact the games at home. It's a freaking circus around here. Bill and I both hate our jobs, and are now both on anti-depressants, which has leveled out our melancholy, but totally wiped out our sex drives...."

I told you he hadn't lost his humor! That was hilarious! He then closed by suggesting that I be the one to start the new trend. I wish I could but I'm as much of a poseur as the next guy. OK, maybe not but I have found it strangely coincident that while a reunion with high school classmates I haven't seen for at least a decade looms I have had no trouble finding motivation to go to the gym.

I have been affected less by the "keeping up with the Joneses" syndrome than most. I'm sure many of my former classmates now live in larger homes and drive fancier cars than I do. Many have been luckier in love than I have and married and had children while I live with a cat. Many of them make more money than I do. At least I hope they do -- what with all the spouses and children and houses and cars they're paying for.

I have had successes and failures over the years and, in all, I can't complain how things have worked out so far. I still have the means to grow and the room to do it. I'm not optimistic by nature yet for some reason I still believe in the possibility that my best days lie ahead. Besides, who wants to read the myriad ways I have managed to screw my life up over the years? Even if I could get my cat to smile for the picture on the card.

So, don't worry, if I haven't kept in contact with you. I won't inflict the details on you unless you ask for them.

Travel Ready

"When I die, I'm not going to wish that I had done more push-ups;
I'm going to regret not playing my guitar more."
I just printed the boarding passes for my US Airways flight to Philadelphia tomorrow. I'm going north to take part in an alumni swim meet at my high school. My first trip back to the area in more than ten years was spurred in part by a correspondence with an old classmate. We had no contact since high school until she e-mailed me out of the blue last month. Thank you, Google.

That experience could inspire an essay of its own. For now, I'll say that absence might make the heart grow fonder but it makes the brain grow forgetful. I have spent a lot of time lately thinking back to high school and the most striking thing is how little of it I remember. Like shards from a shattered mirror, I have only bits and pieces that still reflect anything from that time. There is no making up for 23 years of lost contact. In many cases, seeing old classmates will be like meeting new people except that I'll be pre-disposed to liking them and will be able to picture them with 80s hair.

I packed this morning before work, wondering if my few remaining winter clothes will be enough to withstand a Pennsylvania December. It was only a few days ago that my air conditioner stopped running. Last week, I swam a few practice laps in my community's outdoor pool.

Whenever I'm about to travel, a part of my brain acts as though I'm going away and never coming back. I have to set things in order. At the office today, I cleaned my desk, cleared out my e-mail box, caught up on any outstanding tasks I had and, save for a few slices of cheese, ate the last of the food I had in the office fridge.

I have a compulsion to clean the house before I go too. The place is pretty neat ordinarily but my computer room has some clutter that needs sorting and storing, the upstairs bathroom will get a good scrubbing and my home refrigerator is already clear of any open containers. I even did laundry this past weekend and if you have ever seen how high I can let that pile up, you'd know what a feat it was.

I don't know why I do all of this. I don't think it's because I'm afraid the plane will crash. I go through the same thing before I travel by car. It sometimes happens even before I go through a stretch of heavy freelance work in addition to my regular job. And if I really worried that I might die, maybe I'd do something sensible like have a will written. Instead I dust.

Maybe traveling is a mental chapter and cleaning before I go is a way of tying up the loose ends of one part of the story so I can start the next one fresh. The days before a trip do feel like an ending. There are arrangements to make and goodbyes to say and I find myself regretting things I can't squeeze into the schedule before I leave.

I haven't been playing my guitar as much as I'd like lately and last night, as I cleaned the stove top, a PBS show about Ralph Nader's run for the presidency played on the TV. Footage from a Nader campaign rally included Eddie Vedder singing and playing acoustic guitar and it saddened me that I haven't played my guitar as much as I should have. I haven't missed any workouts in the past few weeks, which is understandable for anyone about to show himself to old high school classmates in a Speedo, but it made me think: When I die, I'm not going to wish that I had done more push-ups; I will regret not playing my guitar or piano, taking pictures, telling TV stories or doing something else that created something, touched someone and nourished my soul.

It's great to put one's house in order. Better to have that task rightly prioritized far below things that should matter more.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Interesting Idea

Terri Bennett hadn't seen it coming. The longtime television weathercaster in Charlotte, NC suddenly found herself unemployed this summer when her station failed to renew her contract. A non-compete restriction will keep her off of any other station in town for at least a year -- yes, even though they fired her! -- so she took another tack.

She started her own local weather channel and put it on the web. Check out TerriBennett.com. Can she turn her name into a weather brand? More than 15 years on the air in that market should help. She can do a lot more with the site to engage visitors and to keep them coming back but the idea that one person can create her own "channel" intrigues people like me who believe this could be a niche in broadcasting's future.

Not ALL of broadcasting's future but a profitable part of it for the people who have the skills and savvy to create original and interesting content on a regular (preferably daily) basis, especially those who recognize how much more intimate the Internet is than traditional media and can make visitors feel like they're interacting individually with them.

This is especially true in weather because you can create content relevent to a large audience for little in production costs. Other general interest topics such as consumer news might be other avenues to explore. A story about one shopper's bad experience can serve as an object lesson for many shoppers.

Sports and news are more difficult because they tend to focus on events that might hold little interest to people not affected. Without a large staff creating content across a wide area, those topics might be better left to traditional media. There is still room for magazine-type feature stories. Those are labor-intensive to produce so it would be difficult to crank them out daily but the possibilities exist.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Goodbye Gala

Friday I went to a farewell party for a friend of mine. She and I had both started working at WFLA-TV in Tampa in 1997. I lasted two years; she stayed a decade. Unless there's a story she's not sharing, she resigned voluntarily without having another job lined up.

That is a scary prospect, as I know from experience. But I survived and I know she will too. If all else fails she'll have no trouble returning to television but after ten years of knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, casting yourself adrift into the unknown can cause some sleepless nights.

So it is understandable that her gala was marked with many smiles and a few tears. I e-mailed later to tell her that it was right that she feel mixed emotions. I wrote about an old PBS show about birds I remember watching years ago. It was time for a nervous fledgling to take his first flight. As he launched himself, he defecated what looked like half his body weight. The moral was clear: Even if you have wings, taking a big leap can scare the crap out of you.

When I say that I don't miss TV news, that's true. But even now the fear will occasionally flash through my head: "What have I done! I left the greatest job I will ever have!" You know what? I'm grateful for that because if I never missed it, it would mean that all the time and effort I poured into it was wasted. What a shame that would be. So don't panic, I wrote to her, if it happens to you.

It has helped me that I still do some freelance work and I'm sure it's an avenue she'll explore.

She took pains to remind everyone that she was merely leaving the station, not the area. Some people will forget anyway. Out of sight, out of mind. I told her it would not be a reflection on her. She is more memorable than most. She greeted everyone at the party with an enthusiasm that that made each feel as if he or she were the one person she was most glad showed up. I know I felt it -- at least until I saw her give the next person the same welcome.

That may be the greatest talent a person can have. And it's one reason I'm glad I stayed in touch all these years. Well, OK. She's also cute.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Candlelight

Actual picture of actual candles actually photographed by the author.


Nothing soothes the soul like candlelight. Of course, it's much more soothing if there is smooth jazz and a beautiful woman1 involved but even if it's just my couch, my cat and I watching the glow play on the wall it's a wonderful exercise in serenity.2,3

I've read that people shouldn't burn candles if the power goes out. The fire danger apparently presents more of a health risk than stumbling around in the dark. I don't care. I'll continue to use them whether there's electricity available or not.


1 With the added benefit that the flattering light from candles expands the number of women who can claim this distinction.

2 My second favorite exercise after co-ed naked aerobics.

3 I don't know if serenity is something you can exercise. Note to self: polish this phrase if there's a danger more than five people will read it, especially any who might be willing to engage in my favorite exercise.4

4 With me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Old Meets New Media

The average TV news viewer sees TV news reporting as much more glamorous than it is. The few seconds you see a reporter on camera constitutes a tiny fraction of his day, much of which is often spent asking strangers for information and on-camera interviews. You can arrange interviews ahead of time for many stories but for the low crimes that make up much of TV news, you have to put foot to pavement and knuckle to doorknocker, hope that people with answers will open their doors and that you can convince them to go on camera. Those days I was no more than a well-dressed beggar, hoping for a handout. A few scraps of detail or a few bites of sound.

The new interactivity between the media and their readers and viewers might change some of that. Oh, reporters will probably always have to go knocking on neighbors doors. But now if they won't talk when you go to them, you can ask people who knew a murder victim and her killer to come to you. At the bottom of a breaking news article about a murder/suicide, the St. Petersburg Times solicits people who knew the couple to leave a comment or contact the reporter.

Based on the first person's comments, I'd say it's a good thing that you can't libel a dead person. But people are responding. Since commenters are anonymous, there's no way to verify that they knew the victim or the shooter and aren't just making stuff up. (I'd say "alleged" shooter but if the Times isn't worried about libel, neither am I.) That's one benefit of physically going to the scene. If you knock on someone's door, you have at least some assurance that the person who opens it has a connection to the area. You can look the person in the eye and sense if they know what they're talking about. Or whom they're talking about.

I know that ever more of the information we get will come straight from citizens rather than filtered through journalists. Blogs devoted to neighborhood news like The Seminole Heights Blog devoted to that section of Tampa will satisfy many people's interest for neighborhood news. Yes, many of the items refer to and quote material from either the Times or the Tampa Tribune but there's a surprising amount of original reporting.

But who are the reporters? Distrusted as they may be, the big media outlets at least give you someone to hold accountable. They have ethical and stylistic standards meant to ensure that you can trust that their stories are factually accurate. You might believe that the Times' coverage matches the leftward lean of its editoral pages but at least there are names attached to the articles. Names whose credibility -- and future career prospects -- depending on getting the story straight.

I'm glad there are outlets outside the mainstream media for people to read and watch news and information. You're reading the one I write. But if the day ever came when we relied solely on anonymous bloggers for information, we as a voting public would be wandering though the world in darkness.

So those beggars holding notebooks and microphones instead of "will work for beer" signs do have a useful purpose, unglamorous as it may be compared to what it might seem.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Explaining Halloween

A friend and former collegue of mine and his wife recently adopted two teenage orphan girls from Ukraine. Jim has detailed the joys and sorrows of the process on his blog.

He recently posted a photo of one of the girls and her new younger brother dressed in their Halloween costumes. It made me wonder: As the girls acclimate to American life, how must some aspects of it seem to them?

Like Halloween.

Do they celebrate Halloween in Ukraine? If not, how'd the girls take it when Jim explained it? Maybe Halloween is world-wide but it would have to seem completely nuts to someone unfamiliar with the custom. That would have been a conversation to hear.

Father: "First, dear, your brother's going to dress like a pirate and you're going to dress up like a cat."

Daughter: "Is that so people won't know we're your children?"

Father: "Then you're going to go knock on people's doors and demand candy."

Daughter: "With a house this big I never thought you'd have to send us out to beg for food."

She and her sister will get even soon enough. If it hasn't happened yet, it won't be long before boys come calling on the lasses. Sending them out trick-or-treating is one thing. Sending them off on their first dates? That's going to be a fright night.

Stately

This song is based on a recording I made so long ago that it was in mono because that took less space on my computer's hard drive, which at the time measured all of 1 gigabyte. One!

To modernize it, I brought the mono file into my Sony Acid program and added some drum loops and a couple of keyboard fills. I recently figured out that Acid will adjust the tempo of any loop to match that of the song. Quite convenient.

I have another version of this song with a lead guitar part but this one goes without a dominant melody.






Stately

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More Guitar Talk

Here is a slightly more polished version of the tune I recorded when I first bought my new acoustic guitar. I'm trying a variable bit rate file so if you have a fast connection it should play up to 320 kb/sec. Unfortunately, it's still going to be my playing so don't expect a dramatic improvement in sound quality.






New Acoustic Test Two
The lead guitar is a little smoother and there's a keyboard fill way back in the background there too. I don't have the ideal recording set-up, even without the microphone leg balance exercise involved. I think I'm going to have to try to run the audio through a mixer on its way to the computer. That's how I used to record guitars and vocals before I got my guitar port and thought I could box up my analog guitar pedal until it was a museum piece.

Being able to add a good acoustic guitar sound to songs excites me. I've also made an effort to play the guitar at least a little bit every day. I've kept the streak going since I bought the new guitar. My callouses are coming back but playing still hurts my fingertips.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reminder

I got a reminder of my former life as a TV news reporter yesterday. It came from an e-mail. I didn't know the sender but it didn't look like spam and it didn't have any attachments so I opened it. A woman had written to ask me if I could put her in contact with LC or Sharon Nolan. I didn't recognize the names. The sender was taking part in a quiet vigil in Covington, Kentucky - just over the Ohio River from Cincinnati - for a shooting victim named Betty Hamilton that she thought had died in a case of domestic violence. I'd never heard of her but it dawned on me that the sender thought I still worked at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

A Google search for LC Nolan showed the connection. The Nolans had lost their daughter when her husband beat her to death with a baseball bat in 2001. She was pregnant at the time. The Nolans have since become advocates for domestic violence victims and I interviewed them for a story in September of 2004.

I remembered this only because the first result in the Google search for LC Nolan was a journal entry I published on my web site about it, which would explain how the e-mail sender found me.

Then I remembered. I remembered how the Nolans clutched their daughter's memory probably more tightly than they held her when she was alive. I remembered how heartbroken they still were and always would be. I remember wishing I had met their daughter, who sounded like a loving, caring young lady who deserved a much better life than she lived. And I remembered the frustrations of trying to tell the story that I detailed in my journal entry that I won't regurgitate here.

I also remembered, sad as the circumstances were, how glad I was that I got to meet the Nolans and tell their story. The hardest people to approach are often the most rewarding to talk to.

I replied to the e-mailer that I had left Cincinnati three years ago and didn't take my Rolodex with me. The Google search yielded a couple of recent articles in the Cincinnati Enquirer that mentioned the Nolans. I passed the links on to her, explained that maybe the writers of the stories could help her and closed with an apology that I could not be more helpful.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Guitar Trouble

The guitar is fine. I just liked the title, which I borrowed from a Tommy Conwell album. It's my fingers that aren't working so well. I stayed up until 1 a.m. trying to record a song. You'll notice there's no link to the results. That's because what I have so far is terrible. Granted, that's not much worse than anything else I've recorded but at least I like some of that.

This is a song I recorded years ago and am re-doing now that I have better instruments. The basic track of the bass and percussion with some synth fills still exists so all I needed to do was re-record the guitar parts -- one acoustic and one electric.

Before I could record them, I had to re-learn them. I don't read music (which might help explain why it's so hard for me to write) so recordings are the only way I can "write" the song parts down. Learning the parts of old songs works just like trying to learn any song by ear, except that having played it before gives me some confidence that I can learn it again.

The acoustic part is simple. There are only four chords. But simple doesn't mean easy, especially for underpracticed and overly sore fingertips. It hurt when I recorded the original version and it hurt again this time. The acoustic guitar serves as a rhythm instrument on this song so I have to play the chords very fast. Unfortunately I did not realize this until later.

In the meantime, I move to the electric guitar part. This took forever for a number of reasons. First, since this part consists of individual notes rather than just four chords, learning the sequence of the melody took time. Then once I knew all the notes, I had to practice playing them so that I could do it accurately enough to record it. While neither terribly complicated nor hard on the fingertips, the fingering is unusual and I ended up having to use my pinkie a lot. Finally, I had to find the right sound using the knobs on my guitar and the settings on my Guitar Port computer software. I don't know how long I spent going through different setting hoping to stumble across the right combination. I know I never quite found it. But I got close enough to record a demo.

And it stunk. The playing was poor and the sound didn't work. I thought I could use a slower strumming rhythm on the acoustic than I did on the original. I can't. So I'll have to re-do that. And I have to play the electric part much more precisely. The sound still bothers me. Maybe I'll have to pull the old Korg pedal I used on the orignal out of the closet and try that.

You deserve a reward for reading all of that for no reason. So thanks to a fan who built a tribute site, below is a track by Tommy Conwell. It's not from the Guitar Trouble album. Can't be. That would have worked and nothing else here has.






Here I Come

Monday, October 22, 2007

New Guitar

My left-hand fingertips are very sore. However, the item pictured below is not the primary culprit. It was my old guitar on which I had nearly blistered my fingers as I convinced myself that I would play a new one enough to justify its purchase.


That means that I did not drive straight home from the guitar store and play my fingertips off since they were pretty raw already. (I can feel them just typing this.) But since another of my rationalizations for laying out way too much money for a guitar was that I would use it to record, I had to try recording it.

The guitar has electronics that let you plug it in just like an electric. When I tried that, it sounded like most acoustic guitars sound when you hear someone play them in concerts. It wasn't horrible but it wasn't the rich, beautiful sound that you hear on recorded songs -- and that I could hear from the guitar. So I tried this:


That's an electronic newsgathering microphone I use with my video camera. And, as you can see, I didn't have a regular mic stand for it so I had to balance it on my right thigh as I played. It looks awkward but it works and the results are the kind of sound I was looking for.

Then in my trusty Sony Acid Music program, I duplicated the guitar track then staggered it so that they were about 1/10th of a second apart. Then I panned each track so that one played only in the left channel and the other in the right. This creates a good stereo sound and makes it sound like there were two guitars.


Yes, I know it's only two chords. I know the lead guitar is unfocused, meandering and imprecisely played. And I know that the drums are the same ones I used for Big Room Boom. I just wanted some sounds to fill in around the acoustic to hear how it sounds.






New Acoustic Test

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Project Cure Shoot

We shot another story for WEDU yesterday. As part of a project for her church, a woman who lives in Venice, FL named Judy Kraut thought she might be able to dig up an old stethescope. She started asking around for other medical supplies "and the whole thing just snowballed." Now hospitals around the world who use equipment donated from around the world can trace some of their supplies back to Venice, Florida.

Judy and her husband Bill collect supplies by the van load, rent storage space for it until it can fill half a tractor-trailer load and truck it off to an organization called Project Cure, which then sends the stuff to needy hospitals in places across the globe.


Judy was particularly excited to note that the hospital beds she was helping load were hand-crank beds. "Many places," she said of the beds' potential destinations, "don't have electricity."

It wasn't a complicated shoot since all that was going on was people loading boxes onto a truck. Lucky for me, Bob Hansen, the photographer I mention in the previous post, would know how to make the most of the situation. I mentioned looking forward to working with him again. Though we had kept in touch since I left WFLA in 1999, it had been more than eight years since we had been on a shoot together. I worried that maybe I had idealized our work together and we wouldn't mesh as well now as I remembered we once had.

Not a problem. My job would consist mostly of helping to carry stuff and staying out of the way. The hard part comes for me now that the story is shot. I'll get copies of the tapes, including one provided by Project Cure showing some of the overseas hospitals it serves, and go through them to see what we have. The thing about television is that it doesn't matter what the story looked like when you saw it yourself. You can only tell the parts of it that you have recorded on tape.

Sometime next week I should get a package from WEDU with DVDs that will show me what I have. Then I'll try to take the two hours or so of footage we shot and plan how to distill it into four minutes of interesting television.

Monday, October 15, 2007

WEDU Story Airs


A mere four months after we began shooting it, the first story I produced for Tampa’s PBS affiliate aired. "Radio Controlled Chaos" was featured in the September edition of WEDU’s A Gulf Coast Journal. You can watch it on WEDU’s web site. It’s the last story in the show and I don’t know if the video player will let you scroll past the others so I forgive you in advance if you don't wait long enough to watch.

Because of my work schedule, I oversaw almost none of the story's editing. The show producer took a pretty heavy ax to it, cutting all the material we trekked to Englewood a second time to shoot. That did not shock me. The photographer warned me that we were shooting too much material. He promised that even though I was told to script a story between five-and-a-half and six minutes long it would wind up running no more than three-and-a-half. I'm glad I didn't bet him. Its final running time was 3:40.

But the show producer, the host and apparently even the bigwigs at the station were happy; I got mileage reimbursed and the check from WEDU came less than a week after I submitted an invoice so I can't complain about the result.

We shoot another piece tomorrow that will reunite me with an old colleague named Bob Hansen. He was the sports shooter at WFLA-TV when I worked there as the weekend sports anchor. While I was gallivanting through Kentucky, Ohio and back here to Florida, he managed to stay employed at the same place. He occasionally does some freelance on the side for WEDU and he recommended me to the show producer.

I get to pay him back for the reference by giving him some freelance work. And I also get to work with a guy whose unique skills produced some of the best stories of my career when I worked at WFLA.

Tis What Season?

With daytime temperatures still nearly reaching 90 degrees and nighttime lows barely dipping into the 60s, you'll forgive me if I fail to feel compelled not to pass Go, not collect $200 and go directly to CHRISTMAS!


At least two of my neighbors apparently disagree. I snapped these photos last night -- October 14th.

The Plumber File (con't)

I wish I kept track of how many people find my blog by searching for a plumbing company with which I had some unpleasant dealings over a year ago. Most now land directly on the page on which I detail my gripe with Chris's Plumbing Service in Riverview, FL. While I haven't totaled numbers from my stat counter, I do know that the number is large enough that if you Google the phrase "Chris's Plumbing Service" that his site doesn't come up as the top result.

Mine does.

Recently I got a a comment from a visitor indicating that customers weren't the only people dissatisfied with the company. That's the second time someone has commented that Chris's (spelled that way in the company name -- I realize that the second "s" may be redundant) employees don't like him any more than I do.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I'm a Moron

I went with some some co-workers to pick up lunch. Getting into the car I banged the door into the car next to it.

Mine.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Traffic

I did the traffic on WTSP this morning. It reminded me of a cold truth about TV news; someone else's tragedy can mean something good for me. Two people died in a crash on I-75 that involved a tractor-trailer and nine other cars. It happened in Sarasota County shortly after midnight and closed the northbound lanes of the Interstate for more than 7 hours.

That meant that in the 5-7 a.m. block of local news when traffic is usually light and I struggle to find things to talk about I had something compelling to talk about.

My performance wasn't brilliant but it didn't involve any more stammering, stumbling or general incoherence than usual so I was happy. I've explained that I rarely fill in so I've had to accept the fact that I'm never going to me totally smooth up there. I was smoother in one aspect, though. My pate. Not needing it for my regular job, I've taken to cutting most of my hair off. I used to let it grow out when I was going to work at the station but this time I didn't. No one ever hired me for my hair anyway but if anyone hires me again, he might have to hire me without it. It's disappearing anyway.

Self-portrait of balding substitute traffic guy

Deborah Norville made a special guest appearance. She's in town hawking a book she's written, here for a charity event and to plug the fact that her show "Inside Edition" now airs on WTSP. She did two interviews during our morning show. One with our morning reporter and the other one with the anchors on the set later. She had an assistant helping her navigate through the day and someone else to do her makeup. She seemed nice and she certainly knew her station relations, making sure to express how glad she was that her program now airs on "Tampa Bay's 10," even correctly using the branding.

I did not introduce myself. I didn't have anything thoughtful to say or to ask so I didn't waste her time or mine. The only reason I would have done it was to say that I had met Deborah Norville and to whom would I want to say it?

Someone found my blog doing an MSN search for "john mcquiston tampa bay's 10." Not being an employee of the station, I don't appear on its web site except for occasional brief mentions by the regular traffic anchor Meredyth Censullo in her station blog. I appear so infrequently that it must puzzle people to see me and I'm not surprised that someone might wonder, "who in the world is this guy?" Sometimes I wonder that myself.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Really

Our trusty IT department at work is migrating our e-mail server. Who knew that e-mail servers had to fly south for the winter? Especially since we're in Florida.

Anyhoo. Our e-mail is working spotty at best. A colleague in another part of the state kept having e-mails to our office bounce back.

To let us know about it, she sent us an e-mail.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Now on YouTube

Here are two attempts to load large Flash video files to YouTube:

The Light Wires:



Magicicada Septendecim:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Family Guy

Volume 5 of the FOX show Family Guy came out this week. They come in volumes rather than seasons because volume 1 has seasons 1 and 2 on it. This week Best Buy has the previous volumes on sale for $17.99. I highly recommend it. It's completely politically incorrect and utterly hilarious.

I'm glad I noticed that I was missing volume 2. I the cat wishes I still was. I scare Annie laughing at the TV. She prefers that I watch movies. If I pop in a movie and lie down on the couch she knows she can sleep on top of me undisturbed for an hour. So don't you call me a couch potato; I'm a couch pillow.

Unrelated, I sent an e-mail to a friend yesterday blabbering on about the same stuff I usually do. She wrote back: "You never fail to deliver a heartfelt message." I confessed in reply that "they're only heartfelt because I lack the inventiveness to tell good lies."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Heat Break


It has rained most of the past two days. The cloud cover has broken the summer-long heatwave. We're only in the mid 80s. And my car's clean.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

More Video

As you might have noticed, the embedded code to play the flash video from the b-roll.net site is not working. It doesn't work on my Geocities site either.

The video does sparkle on b-roll.net, though. I uploaded a couple of other short films I've done.

Magicicada Septendicim

and

The Light Wires

B-roll.net and other sites that allow you to upload video, such as YouTube and Google Video have a 100MB limit on the size of the video file you can upload. To maximize quality, I made Flash video files come as close to 100MB as I could. The Light Wires video came out to 99.2MB. They'll still get compressed to something more manageable for streaming on the web but the better quality that goes in, I figure, the better it will come out.

It seems to work on b-roll.net. I'll try YouTube and Google Video later.

The Combine

A site I frequent called b-roll.net allows people to upload and store videos on its site. The video quality is high so I thought I'd try uploading one of my projects.

I found a program that will encode AVI files into Flash video (FLV) files. Flash video, I keep reading, is becoming the standard for video on the web. Now if I can just get it to work on my site. The story I uploaded looks terrific on b-roll.net. Click here to see for yourself. It's one I did several years ago after I got my first camera. Let's see if it will work embedded here on my blog:






Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Unclehood

I recently congratulated a single friend of mine when she became an aunt for the first time. I know when my younger brother and his wife had their first child it meant I would never feel pressure to produce an heir. Funny enough, my brother initially wanted to name the boy "John" in honor of our father (I'm John Jr.) but decided against it. "I saved it for you," he said.

Ha!

I suspect that if I ever marry it will be to a woman who had children the first time around and I'll content myself with being a step-dad. And the kids will have to content themselves with the fact that I'm not the cool beer-drinking-buddy step-dad they hoped for. They also better not come to me looking for hyphens because I'm all out now.

Rest assured that in the unlikely event I father children and in the even slimmer chances that there is a John III among them, he will not be nicknamed Trey, Tri, Tripp or any other variation of the theme. I read that the golfer Davis Love III continued the line with his son and calls him "Dru" for quaDRUple. If the trend goes two more generations, does that kid go through life with everyone calling him "Sex"?

(Pause to give you the opportunity to judge whether there was a joke there. And, if so, what it was.)

The best thing about auntie or uncle-hood is that when the baby smells like it needs a diaper change, you hand it back to its parents and let them handle it. Not all parents believe that their spawn ever stinks, though. Once when "Almost John" and his younger brother started acting up I offended my brother when I left the room. I probably didn't have to cite "my allergy to children" as the reason.

I better be careful. I'm running dangerously low on quotation marks now, too.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Still Another Video Format

As you might have noticed, I'm having trouble getting a Flash Video movie to play here in the blog. It works fine on on the Internet Archive, which even has code you're supposed to be able to copy and paste into your own web page. When I tried that, nothing showed up. The experimentation continues.

For people who can't see the Windows Media version posted earlier, that leaves, ugh, YouTube. This should work. If not, here is the link.



I also tried Google video. Google owns YouTube so I suspect that the video quality will be similar. Let's see, shall we?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Really?

Study: Men go for good looks

This was an actual headline linking to an actual article on MSNBC. It details how men say they desire numerous traits in women unrelated to appearance but when it comes to choosing them in the flesh they go for the hotties. They needed scientists to tell us this?

I can just see some of the other gems these whiz kids uncover*:

Study: Liquid Intake Tied to Urination

Study: Day Brighter Than Night; Sun May be Cause

Study: Plane Crashes Deadlier Than Safe Landings

*These are preliminary studies, of course. Follow-ups will be needed to confirm them.

Different Video Format

Someone mentioned that he could not watch the Sunken Gardens video I posted in Windows Media Format. Flash video (FLV) seems to be the most universally viewable format. Unfortunately, my Adobe Premiere Pro refuses to create FLV files. I found a program that will convert AVI files into FLV files so I've tried that.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Dear Abby

My web site JohnMcQuiston.com draws emails from people wanting to know how to find jobs in TV news. I reply to all of them. Occasionally, I'll get a question that I've addressed thoroughly on my site and I give the direct link. Otherwise I'll take a stab at any query to which I might offer a reasonably educated guess. I traded several e-mails over last weekend with a college senior.
Gavin:

Thanks for visiting my site. I'm glad you found useful information. See my attempts to answer your questions below.

John McQuiston

----Original Message Follows----
From: Gavin
To: johnmcq@hotmail.com
Subject: Q&A
Date: Sun, 2 Sep 2007 09:40:51 -0700 (PDT)

To John McQuiston,

My name is Gavin, and I'm a senior at the State University of (a large northeastern state). I've been checking out your website for a long time. And I must say that it's very good information you give to propspective Broadcast Journalist like myself.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I'm a Broadcast Journalism major and I graduate in May of 2008, and I want to ask you a few questions:

1. How do you dub a resume tape?


This depends on how your create your master tape, the one from which you'll make your dubs, so it is difficult for me to answer. When I sent out tapes I had found a way to attach a VHS videotape player to my computer so I could dub straight from my computer. If I had to do it now, I would probably connect the VHS recorder through a Mini DV camcorder to the computer using a firewire cable.

2. How many should I be sending out to TV stations across the country?

As many as it takes to get your first job. I do not recommend sending them blindly. Send them either in response to job ads or to stations in markets you're specifically targeting -- say ones you would like to visit trying to show your tape to a news director in person.

3. What markets should I be searching for before I send the Resume tapes out?

Get a list of market size rankings. A Google search ought to lead you to something. Look at small markets likely to hire beginners. It's hard to give a specific market size for that since some stations in small markets require previous experience and some in top-100 size markets do not. Do some research to find the websites of the stations. Most list job openings on their sites and they'll indicate how much experience they seek. I would also look for small market stations within easy driving distance and try to arrange meetings with the news directors to show them your tape. That's how I landed my first TWO jobs.

Try in your remaining time in school to get an internship at a local station, if you have not already. Heck, do it even if you have had an internship already, if that's possible. You'll meet people who can help you both learn the craft and navigate the job search process.

John

He follows up later that day with another round of questions.

Hello again, Gavin. Answers below.

1. The Studio Manager here at (my school) told me that News Directors are looking for Resume Tapes in DVD's now. Is that true?

Some do. But my understanding is that VHS tape is still the standard. Most job ads specify what formats stations will accept for resume "tapes."

2. Is Charleston, South Carolina considered a small market? Not to mention, it ranks #100.

Any station ranked 100 or lower is considered a small market. However, not all small markets hire beginners. Even within a market the experience level required can vary among stations. A good way to check is to visit stations' web sites and look for the bios of the news team. If the people have worked at other stations before this one, it's likely not an entry-level station. If the bios indicate where people came from, that will yield clues to stations you can target.

3. Is it possible that I start out in my hometown which is Albany, New York or just go to a smaller market?

I don't know enough about Albany to answer for sure. Are you unusually talented? Is someone in Albany aware of your skills and interest who has the authority to hire you? If not, you'll probably have to start smaller and work your way up.

Good luck.

John McQuiston

The following day he writes back with more questions.

Gavin: Here you go:

1. Does a news reporter have to know Non-Linear editing?

Probably. I'm not sure how many small market stations have moved to non-linear editing. You will almost certainly need to know linear (or "tape-to-tape") editing.

2. If I decided to start in Radio news, which I'm still considering, but I still want to do TV, how do Radio News Reporters make a transition to TV news? Meaning where do they get their resume tape from if they want to work in TV, but started in radio?

I detail some of the possible ways to create a tape on my web site JohnMcQuiston.com. Here is the specific page.

3. Do you think I have to start out as a one-man band when I do my job search?

Yes. Not all entry-level reporting jobs require you to shoot your own stories but many of them do. It will make you more marketable if you can list on your resume an ability to shoot and edit your own stories.

John

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

High School Football

First thing: I figured out why all the videos were automatically playing once they loaded. Even better, I figured out how to make it stop. It annoyed me too.

Friday night I went to a high school football game a few miles away from me. Armwood vs. Plant. It's the first football game I've shot with my not-so-new-anymore camera. I shot it in standard definition since the high school show for which I do stories is in standard def. I didn't have a story assignment going into this one but one of the schools is a perennial state powerhouse and the other was a defending state champion. The video could prove useful later but a couple of shots will make me regret not shooting in HD to use as future stock footage. You'll see what I mean. Lesson learned.

As always, click the play button (you might have to do it twice) then be patient.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Whew!

I hadn't written about Monday's day doing traffic at WTSP and you might have construed the silence to mean disaster had happened. Fortunately, no. It went a little more smoothly than Friday, though the rust still shows.

More explanation and a couple of clips in the video file below. It's in Windows Media format and it's going to take a while to load after you click on the play button.


Portions courtesy WTSP-TV

Later today, I go to WEDU, Tampa's PBS affiliate, where we're scheduled to edit my first story for A Gulf Coast Journal. Considering I made my first arrangements to shoot this story in May, I'm especially eager to finally finish. I'm also curious to see how such a disconnected procedure comes together. I shot it with a photographer I met for the first time when he arrived at the shoot. The station mailed me DVDs of the tapes and I logged them and wrote the script at home by myself. The script approval process with the show producer happened by e-mail. E-mails with WEDU's production coordinator set our edit dates. Then I sent the script to the program's host Jack Perkins for him to record the narration. A brief e-mail exchange is the only interaction we had. He e-mailed an mp3 file of the recording to the station. Separately, I e-mailed a copy of the script to the editor, whom I had not met until yesterday. We were supposed to edit then but the editor got sidetracked by other projects. I was glad to learn that he had received the script and Jack's narration and it all made sense.

The story should be largely finished by the time I can get to the station after work today. I hope that the show producer correctly assessed the editor's ability to work unsupervised. If so, and the story turns out well, I'll want to produce more of them. Let's get this one finished first.

Friday, August 24, 2007

TV Traffic Anxiety

I survived traffic again. I realize that's what I always say when I fill-in doing the traffic reports on WTSP-TV but that's the truth of it. After a few fitful hours of sleep, my alarm clock jars me awake 3:10 a.m. and I bolt out of bed before I give myself the chance to fall back asleep. That's the single biggest source of anxiety surrounding the job: Failing to show up.

I worry about whether the computer will work. I worry about whether I'll remember how to work the computer. I worry about remembering the anchor's names. I worry about saying something stupid enough to land me on YouTube. But mostly I worry that I'll wake up 20 minutes before I'm supposed to go on the air at a TV station that's a 25 minute drive away.

This morning was my fourth day this year. I joked off camera that Meredyth Censullo, the regular (and very good) traffic anchor, gets separation anxiety when she's away from work for too long. I was only half kidding. Before I landed the job as her backup, she had happily worked more than a year without a day off. Since I started, her longest absense has been four days. And that was for a family emergency.

So I'm rarely there. Adding to the strangeness is the fact that I do not watch the program on which I occasionally appear. I don't have cable or satellite TV at home and WTSP's signal comes in very poorly. Plus, if I'm awake before 7 a.m., I'm at the gym or on the way there. It adds up to an almost surreal experience. I get up at an ungodly hour and drive to a foreign place to do a job I've done only a handful of times. At least I'm familiar with the roads I'm talking about or it would be Twilight Zone weird.

Why do a job that apparenlty causes me so much anxiety? A few reasons. It's another way to stay in touch with the business. It looks good on a resume. The people at WTSP have treated me wonderfully. And if I can't relax enough to enjoy doing the job, I do feel good once I've finished and can say I survived. That's accomplishment enough.

A Scam Indeed?

I got an interesting piece of mail yesterday that immediately screamed "SCAM!" at me.

An outfit calling itself "FL Certified Deed Services" sent me a letter offering me a "Certified Copy of your Deed." "If you don't already have this important document," the letter states, "you should obtain one NOW." Conveniently enough, FL Certified Deed Services will do it for me for a mere $65.00, plus $4.95 for shipping and handling.

Let's forget for a moment that I can call the Hillsborough County Clerk of Circuit Court's office myself (Phone: 813-276-8100, ext. 3461 for the Official Records Department) and get a certified copy of my deed for less than $10. It costs $2.50 per page. The woman I spoke to said that deeds generally run 1-3 pages.

If I don't need a certified copy, I can get one for free from the Clerk's web site. In fact, I did.

I logged on to hillsclerk.com, and clicked "Online Services" on the left-hand side of the page. That offers a drop-down menu. I clicked "Online Searches" then "Search Official Records." I agreed to the disclaimer and it took me to the search page. I typed my name in, specified a date range, hit "Search" and up came the matching record. I clicked on that and the site generated a PDF file of my deed. Done.

Even before I took the time to discover that, some things about the letter smelled fishy. It explained that the deed to my property was recorded by the "Hillsborough County Register's office." No such office exists. The letter cited the "U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center" as recommending that property owners have a certified copy of their deed. But Google "U.S. Government Federal Citizen Information Center" and you learn that there is no office by that name. In fact most of the results point to articles and even government sites warning people away from these "deed services" offering the same overpriced deal.

It doesn't help its case that FL Deed Services says it's located in Miami but the phone number to which you fax your order (609-360-0416) has the area code of Trenton, New Jersey. Google that and you find that NY Deed Services also uses the same number.

And the final giveaway is at the bottom of the page:

FL Certified Deed Services is not affiliated
with the "State of Florida."
MANY GOVERNMENT RECORDS ARE AVAILABLE FREE OR 
AT A NOMINAL COST FROM GOVERNMENT AGENCIES

These aren't technically scams. But if I sent you a letter offering to order a pizza for you for 80 bucks, you'd know that you can call Papa John's yourself and have one delivered for a fraction of that price. When I asked the woman at the Clerk's office about the letter I had received from FL Certified Deed Services, she replied with a question of her own: "Do you have a garbage can?"

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sunken Gardens 2

As mentioned, I toted my HD camera with me to Sunken Gardens in St. Pete Sunday. I remembered to shoot shots specifically for me to use with the green screen. Unfortunately, I did not remember my bug spray. Don't worry. No shots of my mosquito-ravaged legs appear.

I did script this one, which is why I speak so much faster in this one than I did in the Big Cat Rescue story. Again, I wasn't too concerned about the performance. I mostly wanted to work with editing HDV and using the green screen. One cool thing about the green screen is that I can shoot myself centered in front of it, then move myself to different positions in the frame in editing.

It takes the video some time to load so don't panic when you press the play button and nothing happens. It will. That's when you panic.



Monday, August 13, 2007

Sunken Gardens 1

The next green screen test I will create entirely from video. I took my camera to Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg Sunday. Nobody looked at me funny when I ambled up to the ticket counter with my big lens camera. They probably don't care what kind of camera you have as long as you’re willing to pony up the $8 admission fee.

The images in the slide show below are still frames from the video I shot. I haven’t shot my part in front of the green screen yet. I might script this one to see if the time that saves in editing is more than the time it takes to write it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

More HD Green Screen Test

Windows Media Version of the HD Green Screen Test below. Again this was ad-libbed and its purpose was to try out my HD camera in front of the green screen and to practice editing using the chroma key feature.



The video above may take a moment to
load depending on your connection speed.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

HD Green Screen Test

It works. Not like it's supposed to, probably, but I figured something out. I usually do. I did some poking around Internet forums and some playing around with my video editing program, Adobe Premiere Pro, and eventually found a way to generate the QuickTime movie below.

Don't judge the on-camera performance too critically. Speaking extemporaneously is not one of my gifts. There was no script, though I did have my laptop with the thumbnails of the photos nearby for reference. That's what you see me looking down at periodically. I did edit parts out where I talked too long about things I didn't have pictures of. That cut the running time from almost 15 minutes to just over nine.


I was also able to burn a DVD and to create a Windows Media File, which is a smaller file size but looks better than the QuickTime movie. I'll post that here when I get chance.

For more on the controversial history of Big Cat Rescue and its founder, check out this article in the St. Petersburg Times.

Trial and Errors

I finished the HD green screen test last night. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to show it to you yet. Let's see if I can explain this.

My HDV camera shoots frames that measure 1280 by 720 pixels. That's what I see in my Adobe Premiere Pro video editing program. If I use only video shot with that camera, it's fine. You can see that in the first HD test I posted.

But this time, I used an animated background and photographs of different dimensions. When I import them into Premiere Pro and add them to the video timeline, I can get them properly framed in the monitor window. Within the program the video plays in its proper 16:9 aspect ratio and looks like it should, as the still frame capture below shows.


The problem comes when I try to export the finished movie. When I export it as an AVI file, look what happens:


Instead of the 16:9 ratio, it creates a video file that's 4:3. Worse, it shows parts of the background photo that are supposed to be cropped just like in the first still frame capture. Back on the original HD test, I couldn't tell there was a problem because there was no background (or foreground, in the instances where I cover my face with a photo or video) so when creating the AVI file the extra space above and below the frame showed up black -- the so called "letterboxing" effect.

Premiere Pro has encoding software for other formats so I tried some. Flash video (FLV) would be great, that's the most easily viewed by Internet browsers, so it would work better here than the QuickTime movies I usually use. So I tried that.


Oops. That's not good. I noticed that in the place where I want to save the Flash file I'm creating, it makes the file but adds a ".mov" end the end of the file name. Something like this: "HDGreenScreen1.flv.mov" which is obviously not right.

What about QuickTime? That seemed to work. I could adjust the dimensions so that it would create a 16:9 file. Great! But when I played the QuickTime movie, the audio and video came unsynched about a minute or so into it. By two to three seconds. It did not seem to get progressively worse as the file played. The audio began lagging suddenly and stayed the same distance behind for the rest of the movie. The video turned white when the last video frame ended as the audio kept going.

I made a Windows Media file but that had the same problems as the AVI. I exported the movie as an MPEG2 file but the file it created had a .m2t suffix that my computer didn't recognize. I tried to burn a DVD from the timeline but it would create only a 720x480 size, not only the wrong aspect ratio but much smaller than the 1280x720. And it didn't shrink the video to fit in the frame, it simply cropped it.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I've got some research to do before I can show you how well (I think) my green screen test worked. I'd look in my Adobe user guide but it's not really helpful. They want you to buy the tutorial. It's not enough to pay for the program. Adobe wants you to pay again if you want to learn how to use it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Rendering

I shot my HD green screen test last night and hoped to have a clip for your visual consumption by now but rendering the green screen effects plus photographs takes FOREVER!

Here is a still frame:

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Total time for the project is about 11 minutes right now and I've completed about 4:30 of that. There could be more cuts as I go. But if I have enough pictures to cover my rambling recollection of my trip to Big Cat Rescue, I'll let it go. If I can't be self-indulgent on my own blog, where can I?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Big Cat Rescue

I plan to do a green screen test in HD soon. When I do, I'll talk more about the tour of Big Cat Rescue I took Saturday. It's a sanctuary for big cats retired from roadside acts or people who thought they'd make cool pets only to realize they don't.

The organizaton's web site BigCatRescue.org features bios of the animals it houses. The site also has information about its guided tours. The place is not without controversy, as outlined in a St. Petersburg Times article.

Because it was created to serve as a sanctuary for the cats rather than as a venue to display them, it's not a great place to go if you're primarily interested in taking photographs. I took almost 170 pictures when I went. The fencing gets in the way of most of them.

As you can see for yourself:

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Inevitable

"Good putt," my dad said after I made an 8 footer to finish the tenth hole. I had splashed my tee shot into the water, hit my next shot into a sand trap, flubbed the sand shot and got to hit another one before finally sinking the putt.

"Hit enough shots," I said, "and one of them's bound to be good."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

HD Camera Test


I've had my JVC GY-HD110 camera for several months but not until last night had I attempted to shoot anything HD with it. In this brief test the camera was connected directly to my computer via a firewire cable so it's not quite the same thing but it's enough to see that the computer can see the camera and can take video from it in HDV.

The lighting stinks and I didn't even mic myself up. I just used sound from the "shotgun" mic attached to the camera. That's why it sounds so tinny. You can see the 16:9 aspect ratio shoots a much wider frame (hence the black bars at the top and bottom).


Next task will be to try a green screen test.