Monday, October 27, 2008

Mi Amiga, mi amor

Amiga computers changed my life.

Back in 1990, I was an aspiring filmmaker--fresh out of film school and working on a super-low-budget feature film. Then I ran out of money and decided to do freelance work to continue financing the feature. I probably would have continued with that route except that one day, while driving through Aurora, Illinois, I happened to take a wrong turn and pass a sign that said, "Computers for Video!"

The sign was advertising a place (Microtech Computers) that sold Amiga computers with Video Toasters. After stopping in for an impromptu demo of the editing capabilities, I reformulated my plans and wound up starting my own production company. Although the initial plan was just to do live action production, the Toaster came with a 3-D animation program called Lightwave. I'd minored in animation, so I started messing around with the 3-D animation features just because they were there and free. Two years later, more than half of the work my company was doing was computer animation--all of it programmed and rendered on Amigas.

Ah, how I loved my Amigas. They seemed like they were only about 30% scientific machine and the rest was just magic. You couldn't always tell when or how they were going to work, but with the right combination of strange work arounds and mysterious software, you could get them to do almost anything. They were light years ahead of both Macs and PCs in terms of performance, speed and sheer voodoo power. And they were far more financially in reach (and faster to boot) than the Silicon Graphics machines that were the computer animation industry standard at the time. My company started off with one Amiga--with a built in 500 meg drive (the largest money could buy at the time)--and ended with more than a dozen of them. We did 3-D and cell animation, film resolution rendering, music composing and production, off and on-line editing, morphing, accounting, script writing and a hell of a lot of video game playing on those machines.

Amigas built the computer animation reel that eventually landed me a job directing animation at Will Vinton Studios. I started off doing mostly M&M's commercials but then segued into some animated television series work and eventually found my way into character and story consulting. Which is what I do now--and which turns out to be the best job I've ever had. I think it's absolutely safe to say that none of that would have happened if I hadn't taken a wrong turn and run straight into Amigas back in 1990.

Of course, Amiga went out of business back in the mid 1990's and I had to migrate to other platforms (none of which are half as fun or a quarter as dynamic) but I still miss my magic machines.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Helm #4 Release Date Set!

For any of you interested, I just heard from Dark Horse that the release date for issue #4 of the Helm will be November 19th, 2009.

Now, working from past experience, that's not a guarantee or anything, but it looks pretty solid at the moment.

The End is Nigh

I reviewed the final pages for issue #4 of the Helm yesterday! That means the final issue is off to the printers. No word yet on exactly when it will hit stores, but it's likely to be in the next few weeks.

Looking at the final pages, I was again impressed by the tremendous talent and effort on display by Bart Sears, Randy Elliott, Dan Jackson, Dave Lanphear and my editor Dave Land.

So anyway, the final countdown has begun, the end is nigh, we are in the end times. Whoo Hooo! Bring on the apocalypse!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fruit Flies, Genocide and Human Ingenuity

So, we've got fruit flies in our house. I think it's mostly because we don't have any screens on our windows because the painters took them out and put them in the basement and then the movers buried them under seventy two tons of our boxed possessions. But hey, I'm not blaming anyone.

Fruit flies are massively annoying for such little beasts. It's partly because they are so tiny--which makes them hard to shoo away--but it's also because they fly around in swarms and they land on anything you might be eating or thinking of eating. And then they lay eggs on it. Apparently, the average fruit fly can lay 500 eggs, each of which can hatch into larva (on my food) and lay their own 500 eggs, all within the space of a week. Given those numbers, I'm not sure why there is any space in our house not packed to the exploding point with fruit flies, but so far the swarm has been relatively minimal (although no less annoying.)

I've mostly been thwacking them out of the air with dish towels--which is not only not very effective, but causes my oldest daughter to scold me for being, "mean and inhumane." I've tried explaining how the fruit flies are unhygienic barbarian invaders, locked in a life and death struggle with us for the household food supply, but she says they are, "tiny and cute and all creatures deserve to live." Despite her protests, I have begun researching means of inflicting genocide on them.

[DISCLAIMER] Okay, not genocide really. Fruit flies are not a national, racial, political or social group and, just to be really clear, I in no way support the systematic extermination of any peoples based on anything. Crap. When I run for president of the United States--the only country I currently qualify to be president of--I'm sure this blog will be quoted out of context by my esteemed opponent's propaganda machine despite my disclaimer and everyone will believe I support and/or actively participate in genocide. [END DISCLAIMER AND PARANOID TANGENT]

I suppose what I want to inflict on the fruit flies is actually speciecide. Regardless of what you call the total extinction I envision for my fruit flies, I have been able to quickly find an abundance of devious and ingenious ways to accomplish it. Most of them take gleeful advantage of the behavioral weaknesses of the flies. For example:

The Wine Trap: put out a glass of wine. Add one finger tip touch of dish soap to reduce the surface tension of the wine. Fruit flies are attracted to fermentation--but the wine will kill any eggs they manage to lay and the lack of surface tension will drown the flies.

The Oven Trap: Put a piece of fruit in your oven over night--a slice of banana works well. Leave the oven door open. In the morning, sneak up and slam the door closed. Turn the oven on to 400 for ten minutes. Clean the oven thoroughly.

The Blow Drier Trap: Sidle up to a swarm of fruit flies with a plugged in hair dryer in your hand (sidle up because the flies are alarmed by quick movement). Turn on the hair dryer and put the back end of it near the flies. They will be sucked into the heat chamber and fried!

The Vacuum Trap: Suck up entire swarms with the upholstery or crevice attachment. They cannot escape the suction and it will destroy them as they are sucked in.

I could go on for pages, but I think you've got the picture. All of them seem like deeply satisfying and even enjoyable approaches to eliminating my flies. But, of course, my daughter would be inconsolable if she stumbled across my blueprint for a final solution to the fruit fly problem.

The abundance--the over abundance--of speciecide suggestions readily available to anyone with an Internet makes me glad that I am not a non-human living on Earth. We are devilish clever at doing away with things or seeding their downfall by dissecting their behavior. We're really good problem solvers and very good at thinking of anything that bothers us as a problem to be solved even if it is actually another living creature that is part of a much larger living system way more complicated than we can begin to fathom.

So, I'll probably wind up using the Open Jar Trap. It's what it sounds like--an open jar with a piece of fruit in the bottom. When a bunch of flies land on the fruit, you slap a plate over the top and then you take the jar outside and let them all go. That's right. Catch and release. I'll probably turn it into a father/daughter project.

And then the little buggers or their teeming progeny will undoubtedly come back in through the screenless windows. Damn fruit flies.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cat, Dog, Stock Market, Whatever...

So someone wrote to me, not about the Helm, but about my post about the dog alarm clock. Apparently, this guy has been scouring the Internet looking for the dog drill sergeant alarm clock that shouts "WAKE UP! RISE AND SHINE!" because he had a roommate who had one in college--and of course, Google led him to me. He's been looking for one of these clocks for his kids but has been unable to find one anywhere. So, having recently recovered mine from the Borg Cube (I couldn't take it anymore and finally dug it out) I examined mine and discovered that it was made by a company called Rhythm in Japan and sold by the Chicago Clock Company. That gave me enough info for my own Google search--which eventually turned up an image of the clock. Only, lo and behold, it was described as a CAT drill sergeant! That's right. All these years I have been laboring under the misapprehension that the most annoying alarm clock on earth is shaped like a dog, when in fact, it is supposed to be a cat.

Then I discovered that these things sell on eBay for $180 each! I think mine cost me $15.99 when I got it! Damn! I should have been investing in these Cat alarm clocks all these years instead of the stock market! What was I thinking?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Three, the Economy and the Urim & Thummim

The Helm #3 finally came out today! Whoo Hooo!! It was originally supposed to come out in September, then it got moved back to October 1st, and now it is actually out. So, there's that.

Oh, and then there's the fact that the world continues to collapse into economic ruin. Well, I guess you can't have everything. But, and just to be clear, the third issue of the comic book is out now!

In other news, I was driving late at night, listening to Studio 360 on NPR when they did this story about the Urim and Thummim--you know, the ancient biblical divinatory devices. Apparently, some guy thinks he's found them. Only thing is, he believes the Urim and Thummim are a cup which he bought at a Goodwill superstore for 69 cents. Oh yeah! That just feels pretty darn Blurdyesque to me.

You can check out the story at where they also have a trailer for a documentary about the whole thing.