Monday, August 27, 2007


On possibly the most crucial marketing week of my paltry career, my Web host goes kablooey.

I'll keep posting - who knows when it will be back up.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Two more days

Alex Y. reneged on his pledge to give me lifts to and from the convention, which could have been a pain in the ass had I not friends who are willing to pick up the slack.

Yesterday, I was stuck in the morning. I don't have a cell phone - well, let me start there.

All my work is done at home or in the classroom. I have a landline phone I use at home and I wouldn't take alls when I teach. I have no use for a mobile phone when I work, and I don't want calls when I'm off. Once in a while a phone comes in handy, and at those times I borrow Elvi's - not the greatest solution because she uses a phone with a Bay Area area code. Whatever.

OK, back to Anaheim. My host, Roland, has a cell phone but no landline yet. He only moved in a few weeks ago. I borrow his phone when I need it. When I'm with Alex Y., I borrow his phone if I need it. So far, I've only called one when I'm with the other.

Yesterday morning, Roland had an early morning appointment, and Alex was supposed to pick me up at 11. My friend Stuart flew down from the Bay Area for the day to meet me and pick up a book. He e-mailed me offering to pick me up. I e-mailed back saying that Alex would.

I went to wait for Alex in front of the apartment complex, at which point I was without communication. I waited until 11:30, then borrowed a phone to call Alex. It sounds less complex than it was when I describe it, but I got Alex and Stuart in touch from afar and Stuart gave me a lift to the convention.

I've signed some books over the last two days. We haven't sold as many copies as we'd have liked, but sales at the convention as a whole are slow. Alex did find a distributor for the books, which is good for him - irrelevant for me, but good for him. I'm making my money by selling my own copies. It's all part of the joy of small-scale publishing.

I took Roland to the Angels game last night. I wistfully watched Vladimir Guerrero hit two more home runs, this time in an Angels uniform, alas.

Bonus holy cow!

My fantasy baseball team climbed into first place tonight, thanks to a month of better than .300 hitting.

My trades sacrificed some power, and I've lost a point in home runs, but I've climbed from last to sixth in average.

.270 batting average (6th, .0009 out of 4th)
198 HR (4th, four HR out of 3rd)
799 RBI (2nd)
94 SB (8th)
3.85 ERA (2nd, 0.02 out of first)
1.27 WHIP (1st)
62 wins (5th)
25 saves (7th)

I'm going to lose one point in saves and another in steals, but I hope to gain a few more in batting average, and maybe a point in ERA. Prospects look good, but it's a very close race and my pitchers are a little ragged (Chuck James, Chris Young, Chris Sampson).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In the O.C.

I woke this morning at 5:00 a.m. with a baby migraine. I dunked my head in the sink to make my hair presentable, threw some Paul Mitchell in when that didn't work, and had a pill for breakfast.

The pill kicked in before boarding at 6:30, thank goodness, but the nausea lasted almost three hours more and detracted from my enjoyment of the in-flight movie, "Waitress".

I found the movie fascinating, because you can clearly see the each of the major influences on the story: writer, actor, and director. I liked the dialogue, which helped define each role. You know how they say that you should be able to tell who's speaking without character slugs? That's hyperbole, but you can see the advice at work in this film.

I'd have gone a touch more subtle, but what do I know - I tend to go too subtle. You can also see the choices the actors made. Maybe it's the testosterone in me, but I thought all the male roles performed amazingly, especially Jeremy Sisto (Earl), in a movie in which all the men were defective in one way or another. In fact, Sisto was so good, he turned his despicable wife-abuser into someone you could almost heer for, which unfortunately brought out the bad side of the protagonist,Jenna, in high relief.

Then there's the directing, which got too cute. I think the story would have come across more powerfully had the director not used swelling sacred music, quick jump cuts, and long, emotional shots to bludgeon us.

(Um, hours after writing that, I learned of the director's murder. That was an unfortunate choice of word.)

Watch the movie. It's not a great film, but I think it has lessons to teach movie-makers and even audiences.

I'm posting this from my pal Roland's apartment. He was my executive officer in the virtual 101 Squadron when he lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He moved to Anaheim a month ago and it's a happy coincidence. I'm staying with him and he lives only a few blocks from the modeller convention at which my book is being launched.

I stopped by the convention for an hour. People are still setting up, so there's not much reason to be there today. One guy bought our book. I introduced myself as author. He said he was glad that the book exists and that he'd found a lot of info about the S-199 online. I told him it was probably my site, He said that was it. The look on his face was hard to interpret. Either he was impressed, surprised the the site and book came from the same source, or shocked that some guy in such a metrosexual shirt - my purplish hibiscus print - could write such hard-core geeky material.

Wandering the floor, I recognized a face. I wagged a finger as I struggled for the name that went with, but I found it. Mo! Mo used to lead WarBirds, then led World War II Online. He was at the convention with a group for which he manages the Web presence. We'd run into each other at WarBirds cons in the past and gotten along well. We had a nice chat and I look forward to seeing him again tomorrow.

Now, off to catch a movie....

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Airplane stories past and future

Having finished up some deadline work (well, just about, anyway), I'll take a moment to fill all in on what I alluded to in an earlier post.

Last Tuesday, Mark (director and DoP on Alex's short) came over to talk about a project we'd like to get off the ground - yes, an airplane picture. He is meeting a producer Friday and we thought that creating a little video would help express the emotion and excitement of the thing.

We would create mechanima - meaning we'd use a game, WarBirds, to generate the footage - but this wasn't going to be a run of the mill YouTube quickie. I wrote a script with some meaning to it. The game limits dialogue to voiceover, but I was able to build quite a bit of character in the few lines I allowed myself.

Mark had left town Friday, and I'm leaving town tomorrow, which limited the window in which to accomplish this.

There are two primary variables to filming in WarBirds: the technology of recording and the use of human pilots versus computer pilots.

I decided to run a test Friday night with human pilots. I don't have a digital camcorder, so doing it myself with AI wouldn't work. I had a player set to record the video for me on his camcorder, but he lost his DSL connection and could not.

I had to settle for ACMcam files, which record flights for later playback in the game. It sounds like a good idea, and lets you view the same flights from a variety of (camera) angles, but it's just too jerky to use in a pro pitch.

Our session, helpfully set up by IEN (the company that owns WarBirds) went for nought - other than lessons learned. I can program the game to fly our choreographed fights by itself and record those, but I can't figure out how to get it to operate properly within the game. I can run the results in the Mission Builder, but there's no sound there.

Regardless, we won't have anything for this Friday but the stills in this post. They do look cool. Grognards will be able to discern our subject from the photos alone; pasty-white writers will not.

The near future also holds airplanes for me. I fly down to Anaheim tomorrow morning to attend the IPMS USA 2007 convention (plastic scale models) and my book launch there.

Come by and say hi. (Directions and map here.) I should be at our booth most of the day Thursday through Saturday. Look for the Israelis in the red caps with winged-skull logo. Or just look for the short guy who looks exactly like the South Parkian image to the right.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dog stories

After the final T-ball game, we headed to Cornwall to spend the weekend with some friends at their annual pig barbecue.

We took our new old van. We acquired a 1997 (I think) Honda Odyssey. It has a few spots of rust but is otherwise in great shape.

While following another van along the 40 between Vaudreuil-Dorion and the Ontario border, I spotted a dog ahead of us. The animal was your average size dog, mostly white short-hair with a brown saddle. The face resembled a pug/boxer/Boston terrier. It was trotting toward us on the gravel shoulder.

Noting the potential for trouble, I slowed down. Good thing. The dog inexplicably turned around to run after or into the blue van ahead of us and absorbed a powerful blow in the left hindquarters. It hurtled six feet into the air, rolling quickly. Its legs whipped around and around as it flew over the shoulder to land in the soft grass alongside the highway.

We saw no blood or any sign of injury but that dog could not have enjoyed the flight. The van that hit it braked and pulled over, so we kept on going. I've been in animal-vehicle collisions before (never as a driver; it's a funny story, but not for all the deer involved) but the choreographic beauty of the flying dog will stick with me for a while.

We had our own dog in the car (that's him in the photo). He got to play with three other visiting dogs at our destination. In fact, for the balance of the afternoon, a female poodle kept mounting him.

Bonus work update:

I spent much of late last week working on a film project. I haven't had time to blog about it, but I will soon.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Business card and T-ball wrap-ups

Here's what we came up with. At this resolution, the document doesn't show up well - it's a page from a logbook.

Also, this morning the Reds took to the T-ball field to contest the league championship. Like the similarly miraculous Bad News Bears, the Reds lost. Unlike the Bears, the Reds lost by a lot. A whole lot. 34-18 lot. Yes, the defense converted fourteen outs over 48 at-bats.

Next up, hockey!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Still champion

This blog remains the holder of the top Google result for a search of the words "early senility".

I was going to write something else, too, but I've forgotten what it was.

Bonus salutation:

Thank you. Thank you. Try the veal.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Band news of two sorts

First, the not-at-all bad news. I went to a barbecue at our friends Carol and Charles. Carol's brother is visiting, and he's friends with some really tall dude, who is the fiance of Marika Anthony-Shaw, who plays with Arcade Fire, which I've started calling the biggest Montreal band since April Wine - although Men Without Hats might throw its collective hat into the ring, had it one.

So Marika was at the party, too, blowing off a few hours before flying to Belgium on band-related business. Carol and Charles live five minutes from the airport. Marika called bandmate Richard Parry and learned he was already at the airport with nothing to do. She invited him over and went to pick him up.

That's my celebrity encounter and name-dropping this week. It was a pleasant enough night, ruined only slightly by one of Carol's starstruck neighbours who asked Richard defiantly important questions like "Are you happy?"

I was particularly happy for Elvi that these musicians came. She appreciates Arcade Fire more than I do and she wants to find a band to play with.

"What?", I hear the masses ask.

Yes, the Disciples of Ursula Big Band is no more. Bandleader Clement cut the band down to eight people and fired the rest, including Elvi. After nine years, he is turning what's left of DUBB into a back-up band for his singer (and wife).

Elvi wants to keep playing, but she didn't have much hope of finding a band that needed a clarinet. Marika, however, told her that there are lots of bands looking for clarinets and similar instruments. I hope she can find a new band with people as freindly and comfortable as DUBB was.

Bonus explanation of the impending flood of posts:

The FTP function of my host server is wonky. As soon as its fixed, all these posts I've written will flood it and the RSS feeds. Sorry about that.

Blogger won't post

This is a test of the Blogger FTP system. Do not be alarmed. If this were a real emergency, authorities would direct you to the nearest underground bunker.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

It's just like in the movies

I haven't kvetched about coaching T-ball (that really should be "tee-ball", but...) as much in the blog as I have in person. (What do you know? "Kvetched" passes the spellchecker. But "spellchecker" doesn't.)

My team officially finished with two wins on the year, but all four teams make the playoffs, which run in double-elimination format.

Our first playoff game saw us facing the first-place As, who were missing some of their better players. Our boys (we have all boys) played well, and we pulled off an upset 21-15.

(In T-ball, each inning is once through the line-up. If one team has fewer players, some of the kids bat twice to make an equal number of at-bats for each team. In the last at-bat of an inning, the kids keep running until they score or are out at home. The last batter is the only real clean-up hitter and each out you make prevents a run.)

While the As did play short-handed, we played well to limit them to 15 runs in four innings (36 batters total). Two kids in particular have improved immensely. Denis is so good with he glove now, he plays shortstop despite throwing left-handed. Michail was always fast, but now he can catch pop flies and even sorta, kinda throw. He's our centerfielder. Those two couldn't touch a ball two months ago.

After that first playoff game, we lost unquestionably our best player and first baseman (because he was one of the few kids who could catch a ball) because he left town. Another kid who was close to if not our second-best player also left town.

The third-place Orioles won their first playoff game against the second-place Pirates by forfeit. They won only three games in the season, and we'd beaten them twice. Unfortunately, we turned in a lousy effort, falling behind 30-18 in three and a quarter innings (the ump called the game).

That meant we had to face the Pirates, who most of the league's coaches felt was the most talented team. They had six all-stars; we had two, and both were missing.

Many weekend plans changed as our kids played their most fundamentally sound game of the year. In one inning, they allowed only two runs(!) as we took it 22-18. It sure helped that the Pirates' last hitter dribbled out to the pitcher three out of four at-bats, leaving six men on base, nine including himself. The score is closer than the game was - the Pirates started batting in the bottom of the last inning down by 11 runs with ten players, meaning that we had already sealed the victory.

So now we play Saturday against the Orioles in the championship. In the double-elimination format, we need to win two games in a row to take the crown. Wish us luck.

Bonus morning musing:

Instead of calling the hobby "amateur photography", they should call it "shutterbuggery".

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ripping the RIP

Last week, a British rabbi contacted me to inform me that Leslie Shagam died. He flew with 101 Squadron in 1948. The rabbi asked me for some biographical information to help her with the eulogy.

I don't have much on Shagam, and what I do have, I haven't posted on a profile page for him. I whipped it into shape for the rabbi and sent it off:

In 1946, Les co-founded Commercial Air Services in South Africa, which helped him keep his flying current. In 1947, he sold two Bonanzas to the Yishuv, through Boris Senior. At the beginning of May 1948, Les volunteered himself to Jewish recruiters in the country.

Around mid-June, Shagam and fellow volunteer Syd Cohen arrived in Israel. Within days, they flew to Czechoslovakia for training. They arrived at Ceske Budejovice (pronounced "chesky boodehyovitseh") airfield along with fellow pilots Rudy Augarten (US), Alfred “Al” Freeman (US), Sandy Jacobs (Isr), Chris Magee (US), and Boris Senior (S. Afr.). They trained to fly the Avia S-199 (an underpowered, unwieldy Czech version of the Messerschmitt 109 fighter) under the tutelage of George Lichter (US).

(Magee had flown with Pappy Boyington in the famous/infamous Black Sheep Squadron of the US Marine Corps.)

Les was flying missions in Israel by July 9, so the training was rudimentary at best.

Within a few days, there was trouble. Les and Syd took off from Herzliya (actually in Kfar Shmaryahu, but called Herzliya) on a mission, Syd's first. Syd tested his guns over the sea and his S-199 started shaking violently. Les escorted him back to Herzliya where the squadron discovered that Syd's cowl machine guns had put holes in his own propeller.

Les flew less than a month with 101 Squadron. By the end of July, he had transferred to Air Force HQ. He was tasked with forming a second fighter squadron, to be called 105 Squadron. He would be second in command (under Boris Senior) of a squadron of Spitfires that Israel had recently agreed to purchase from Czechoslovakia.

Les helped plan the complex ferry operation that flew the much-needed Spitfires from Czechoslovakia to Yugoslavia and then to Israel. He himself did not fly in the operation, but he was responsible for its name: Operation Velveta, named after a brand of cream.

He organized 105 Squadron and equipment at Kfar Sirkin airfield, but was forced to leave by the threat of Transjordanian artillery. When the Spits finally did arrive at the end of September, they joined 101 Squadron. I'm not sure what happened to Les, but he didn't return to 101 Squadron.

I also posted that to IDForce, a Yahoo group focusing on the Israeli Air Force.

Last night, I was browsing AGW (see link in sidebar) and my friend Krod posted the bio I wrote, which he had received as part of SAAF News, another mailing list. This passage prefaced my miniature essay: "He died in Israel last week and a friend sent me the following which he had written as background for the eulogy."

(He died in England.)

The man who cut my work from one mailing list and pasted it without any real attribution into the second has been helpful in the past. He has let me use some of his photos with permission on my Web site. Those key words, "with permission", are the focus of my consternation.

I sent off a polite note that chided him for not asking permission and not even noting me as author.

He just wrote back with an apology, and sent off a second note with an attribution.

It's not like I've lost any income, but this sort of thing aggravates me. I'm not sure if I'm overly or rightly sensitive about it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

HTML 5 and the blogging screenwriter

Since 1999, HTML has been frozen at the 4.01 standard. Web design technology has progressed despite that with XML, XHTML, and other advances, but the standard remained static.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the group responsible for maintaining such standards, has started to move on HTML 5, a generation that owes much to advances in CSS code.

IBM has an article that explains the development and features of HTML 5, and I'll point you there rather than repeat it all here.

However, I do want to highlight some of these, including some new tags with interesting implications for screenwriters and others who want to post formatted pages with code (versus an image format).

The important innovations are the division of the basic Web page body into several areas. A page will have header (not the same as the <head> in code) and footer areas to play with. No longer will Web designers have to hard-code such areas with tables or divs.

Text also receives renovation. It may be treated like a giant list, with subgroups called sections and articles joining the existing blockquote format.

Best of all is the new dialog tag, meant for the representation of conversation in text - i.e. a screenplay. Sure, screenwriters have accomplished the same thing with some hard work, but it's not free of problems. Standards takes care of that. The tags will operate much like table tags do now, with one tag indicating the speaker's name and another to indicate the spoken dialogue. The IBM article notes:

The exact syntax of this element is still being argued over. Some people want to embed additional nondialogue text (such as stage directions) inside the dialog element, and others aren't happy with the overloading of dt and dd. However, most everyone agrees that some such semantic representation of dialogue is a good thing, even if they haven't yet agreed on the exact syntax.

Speaking as an amateur Web designer, HTML 5 will make life so much simpler. I look forward to its acceptance as a standard even if that would force me to do more work to teach it.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What not to market

See the Sadvertising link down there in the right column? That belongs to Wily, an old WarBirds crony who happens to be a marketing consultant. You can tell he's cool by his use of a four-letter handle that starts with W.

Wily commented on my potential business cards and when I asked him to elaborate, not only did he mock up some samples, but he gave my whole approach a marketing makeover.

His business-card design is certainly more eye-catching than mine, but possibly most helpful was his advice that I drop the cute quote from my e-mail signature.

If you've had any e-mail contact with me over the last 14 years, you've probably seen the quote that sits under my contact info and micro-resume. I do love that quote, since I think it sums up the human condition succinctly and with humour. Wily points out that the quote is dated - true, it's nearly 20 years old now - and he made a point that strikes right at the heart of us writers:

"Remember, you're a 'creative'," he wrote. "The rest of the world is NOT. What you see as irony, amusing, clever, can be seen any number of ways by someone else." (I modified his punctuation.)

That's a lesson not only for business cards and e-mail signatures, but for stories as well. It means "kill your darlings." It means "don't use private jokes." It means "don't talk down to your audience." Lessons, lessons everywhere....

By now, you're probably wondering about the quote, unless we've communicated through e-mail. It comes from an episode of "Northern Exposure" called "Animals R Us", broadcast in 1991 and written by Robin Green. Green has won several Emmy awards for writing and supervising/co-executive/executive producing "Northern Exposure" and "The Sopranos". Nice pedigree, eh?

The line comes from Grandma Woody, a fictional grandmother of Woody Allen played by the diminuitive Sparkle Stillman. She lectures Ed about capturing human behaviour on film and comes out with this line, my quote: "All we are, basically, are monkeys with car keys."

So it's struck from my e-mail sig, which now looks more professional, but I did find a place for it to go....

Now, time to get cracking on a Web page for Alex E.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Unusual week

The wife was out of town and the girls are in camp, so Child Three and I spent this week alone - well, if you discount all the animals.

Monday, our fourth-place (of four) T-ball team laid a beating on the first-place team to win the first playoff game. The other coach expressed his admiration at our players' play. They did play well. They've improved much more than I had expected.

Thursday I dropped him at a babysitter while I attended a meeting of screenwriters. I met some fun people, and had a few productive discussions. I had managed to beat out 15 pages of script earlier in the day, and I wonder if the get together spurred me on.

Yesterday, I took the boy to see "Transformers". It was the best Michael Bay-directed film I've ever seen. I had trouble following the action, but I'm probably just getting old. I'm still not sure how or, more specifically, why Megatron bought it. The sequence in which the Autobots hide in the yard from Sam's parents for me was by far the best part of the movie. The comedy helped.

The wife returns in a few hours.

Bonus fantasy baseball update:

I spent my monthly pick-up on Tad Iguchi, once Teixeira and Wigginton disappeared. It has paid off well so far, as has last month's pick of Milton Bradley, and I spent half the week in the money, in third place. Less glorious so far is my trade of Austin Kearns for Conor Jackson.

The injury bug has bitten, though: Bradley, Beltran, Chris Young the pitcher, and Chris Sampson all have lost or will lose time. I'm so close to picking up points in the hitting categories and ERA. I'm currently half a point out of third, two points out of second, and five and half points out of first.

.264 batting average (9th)
167 HR (3rd)
666 RBI (5th, 13 RBI out of 3rd)
85 SB (tied 6th, 2 SBs out of 4th)
3.87 ERA (2nd)
1.28 WHIP (1st)
53 wins (5th)
25 saves (7th)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Business cards

It's time to get some. I like the effect of the colour gradient and the olive/red colour combination is my brand now, I suppose, so I should keep it.

I have two designs in mind, one with an aircraft photo and the other with a stylized aircraft. I like the aircraft motif because it will pique curiosity and it's memorable. That's all you can ask for from a card.

Which style do you like better? I can always refine the design somewhat (one concern is the Star of David, for example), but I would like advice if you have any. Which style do you like better?

And now, a third option after some feedback elsewhere:

We value your opinion.

(The address and phone number on the cards are not real, for now.)

Bonus elucidation:

Original I had JPEGs in CMYK mode posted here, copies of the layered files I had saved for CMYK printing. Windows browsers could not read those files, so I resaved them in RGB mode and now they show up fine.

Poor juxtaposition

A front-page story in this morning's Gazette discusses a pedophile Web site that promotes Montreal as a good place to watch children.

The story went up on the paper's Web site last night, with an ad for pool safety embedded at the top:

I wonder if that was a random accident or the result of careless oversight or automated keyword matching.