Author Archives: Jeff

About Jeff

Lord of all I serve

The Babylon 5 Rewatch Project: Season 2

We took a longer break than expected between seasons in this rewatch. In fact, we watched the entire run of Farscape – another excellent show that I highly recommend you catch (it’s all on Netflix).

But we returned to Babylon 5 finally and have just finished the second season… and what a season it was! A new station commander, a brutal war, and more shocking revelations move the overall story from setting the stage to putting the players in motion, stirring the pot as the plot moves inexorably to a boil (how’s that for mixing metaphors).

Once again, the Facebook page has synopses for all 22 episodes. I noticed that they tended to be significantly longer on average this season. Maybe that has something to do with the increased amount of cool or important moments, or perhaps it’s just that I like to ‘hear myself speak’ – it’s hard to say.

(If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the review of season 1, Signs and Portents, before you get into this season. I’ll be assuming you know who and what I’m talking about.)

Season Two (A.D. 2259) — The Coming of Shadows

Commander Sinclair is reassigned as Earth’s ambassador to Minbar, and Captain John Sheridan assumes command of Babylon 5. Delenn emerges from her cocoon as a Human-Minbari hybrid, much to the horror of her own people. Previously respected, she is now shunned by her homeworld. Lennier, Delenn’s aide, reveals the secret that the slaughter of Earth by the Minbari ten years earlier was halted because the Minbari discovered that their souls were being reborn in Human bodies, and thus they were destroying themselves.

Through his contact, Mr. Morden, Londo enlists the help of a powerful and mysterious race to begin a brutal war with the Narns. When the Centauri bomb the Narn homeworld with asteroids, reducing the green planet to little more than a wasteland, the Narns are beaten and fall to Centauri occupation once again. For his part in achieving victory over the Narn, Londo is regarded very highly by the new Centauri emperor, who was himself installed through backroom manipulations by Londo and Lord Refa. The Centauri begin to rebuild their empire.

Delenn and Garibaldi receive a secret message from Sinclair. He tells them that he has reformed the Anla’Shok, or Rangers, an elite Minbari fighting organization comprised of Humans and Minbari working in secret to learn about the race helping the Centauri. He also tells Garibaldi to “stay close to the Vorlon,” but does not explain why.

Delenn and Kosh tell Sheridan that a dark and terrible ancient enemy, dormant for 1000 years, is beginning to move once again. They know this race by only one name: the Shadows. The Shadows are one of the two remaining oldest races in the galaxy. The other is the Vorlons.

Sheridan learns that Morden was aboard the same exploration vessel as his wife, Anna, and has him detained to try to discover how he survived when his wife and everyone else died. Morden himself is listed in Earth records as deceased. He discovers that the exploration team accidently woke the Shadows when they visited Z’ha’dum and that Morden is constantly accompanied by the (usually) invisible Shadows. Rather than risk letting the Shadows know how much he knows about them, Sheridan lets Morden go.

Delenn and Sheridan are tested by an inquisitor sent by the Vorlons.

Sheridan narrowly escapes a bomb in the transport high above the gardens in the center of the station, but his life is still in danger as he falls toward the garden below. Kosh must reveal himself to save Sheridan, and is seen as an angel of light to everyone but Londo, who sees nothing. Each observer sees an angel of his own race.

As the season closes, the Centauri Empire expands again, the Narn resistance is building, and the first recording of the Shadows – the first proof of their existence – goes public. Babylon 5 as a hope for peace has failed. It has now become our last, best hope for victory.

My rewatch experience

I’m still riding high on the awesomeness that is the back end of this season. The visuals that bothered me early in the first season are almost completely a non-issue now – though I do still lament the lack of a high-quality remastering, the quality of the story in the second season overwhelms any lack in that area.

It’s really amazing to me how quickly I get into these episodes – even the lesser of them. I’ve rewatched other shows and not been nearly as involved with the characters. If you’ve watched this show from the beginning, you can’t help but be invested in these characters and truly care about what happens to them. Yeah, it’s a little embarrassing from time to time when the humor is a little corny, but it’s always at least part of a character moment and I totally get the drive that creates corny humor so I can go with it. (I’m thinking of ‘human style sex’ and ‘babearlon 5’ primarily here – at the least you can’t say those moments aren’t memorable.)

But more than anything, it’s just wonderful to watch the growth of these characters – especially knowing where they are all headed. There are so many things that move forward here: Vir’s confidence, Lennier’s love for Delenn, Delenn and John’s relationship beginning, Londo being built up even faster than he can really handle, and G’Kar’s suffering as he’s brought low and pulls himself up. Even Kosh, while remaining enigmatic, is beginning to be drawn more as an individual, not merely “omniscient” and mysterious, but capable of being influenced by others. And then of course there’s the whole ‘angel’ thing, through which we learn more about the Vorlons and which will have greater implications down the line.

It’s just a joy to watch something this consistently high quality.

The Babylon 5 Rewatch Project: Season 1

B5 STATIONI got a great Christmas present from my wife this year. I now have at my disposal the entire Babylon 5 video collection. That’s all 5 years of the show, all of the TV movies, and the Crusade spin-off. (Okay, so it doesn’t include Legend of the Rangers, but that’s not really a bad thing. The Lost Tales, though… might have to pick that up.)

This is a show that I was obsessed with. I liked Star Trek – a lot. But it never commanded my attention as fully as Babylon 5. My interest owes much to its structured, pre-planned story – a rarity in sci-fi television, even today, but at the time it was unheard of. No one was doing anything except episodic sci-fi where the consequences of what happened in an episode were completely forgotten by the start of the next episode.

Over on my Facebook page, I’ve posted little reviews/synopses of each episode of the first season of Babylon 5. They’re not very long – head over and take a peek. They start just at the end of 2014. The goal was to put up these little reviews as my wife and I rewatched the episodes, and then come here and do a season overview on the blog. So here we are. This one’s going to be a bit longer, because I want to hit the pilot movie, the Gathering, as well. And I found something I had written while the series was still running – the text for a planned B5 themed website I was working on back in the wee-hours of internet time that quickly overviews the whole series. So I share that below. Let’s get started.

It was the dawn of the third age of mankind…

So begins the five-year saga told by Babylon 5’s creator, J. Michael Straczynski (JMS). From its conception, Babylon 5 was to be a coherent story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It broke with the popular theories of episodic television that state that no plot line for any episode can affect the “status quo” of the series. Everything that happens to a character in Babylon 5 has a lasting effect on that character’s development. Even death. Babylon 5 rewrote the rules, set in large part by Star Trek, for science fiction television. And it’s popularity steadily grew throughout its five years, garnering numerous prestigious awards along the way.

Each of the five seasons of the show can be looked at as books, with each season’s 22 episodes representing a chapter. In the first two or three seasons, most of the episodes could be enjoyed without much knowledge of the series at large. As the third season drew to a close, and especially in the fourth, it took a greater understanding of the series to fully appreciate each episode, as the series-wide plot wound tighter. Dilbert creator and one-time B5 guest star, Scott Adams, was quoted as saying that it took three episodes before you could understand the plot, and who was doing what to whom, but it is well worth the effort. The (almost abandoned) fifth season has more episodes than the previous two that can stand alone, but by the second half of the season the plot pulls you from episode to episode through to its stunning conclusion.

Each season spans a year in the series and was named to show the vision of that season’s intended effect on the overall plot:

B5 LogoPilot (A.D. 2257) — The Gathering (2-hour telemovie)

Commander Jeffrey David Sinclair, commanding officer of Earth’s newly operational Babylon 5 space station, is accused of attempting to murder the most mysterious of the arriving ambassadors: Kosh, a Vorlon. It is eventually proven that the would-be assassin is a Minbari radical who, in his last moments, tells Sinclair, “You have a hole in your mind.” Sinclair believes that the Minbari was referring to the 24-hour period that he cannot remember at the end of the Earth-Minbari war, nine years earlier, and vows to discover what transpired during that time. That war was halted suddenly on the eve of Earth’s destruction by the Minbari, who gave no reason for their unexpected surrender.

Season One (A.D. 2258) — Signs and Portents

Commander Sinclair and his new First Officer, Lieutenant Commander Susan Ivanova try to keep peace on the station. Between his battles with raiders and negotiations with the League of Non-Aligned Worlds and the Babylon 5 Advisory Board, Sinclair enlists the aid of his long-time friend and security chief, Michael Garibaldi, to learn more about the “hole” in his mind. Delenn, the Minbari ambassador, is discovered to have been somehow involved in that lost time. A friendship develops between Sinclair and Delenn, but he does not tell her that he is beginning to remember her earlier involvement in his life.

Londo Mollari, the Centauri ambassador, has a prophetic dream of his death at the hands of his enemy, G’Kar, ambassador for the Narn. G’Kar, his people still recovering from 100 years of Centauri occupation, would like nothing better than to turn Londo’s dream into reality. The Centauri are now a crumbling empire, living in the glory of their past.

The planet around which Babylon 5 orbits, thought to be lifeless, is found to house a Great Machine of incredible power.

At one point the previous station, Babylon 4, appears in a region of space where time is disrupted. Sinclair and Garibaldi answer a distress call to evacuate the crew members. While aboard they discover Zathras, who tells Sinclair he has a destiny and that Babylon 4 is needed in a Great War in another time. Zathras identifies his leader as “the One.” Sinclair and Garibaldi escape just before Babylon 4 disappears again into the time rift. From inside the station, an older version of Sinclair watches them leave, remarking that it all occurred just as he remembered it.

An unknown race working in the shadows begins to slowly and quietly affect the lives of those on the station. As the year closes, Earth Alliance President Luis Santiago is assassinated, leaving Vice-President Morgan Clark in his place. Garibaldi is shot and in a coma. The Vorlons and Minbari see the approach of an impending doom. Delenn begins a drastic change. Sinclair, overwhelmed, summarizes the situation: “Nothing’s the same anymore.”

My rewatch experience

As I stated over on Facebook, the CGI work is notably outdated. Early on, it was extremely jarring. I was surprised, however, by how quickly I ceased to care. It took a few episodes, but then it just became part of the aesthetic of the show.

Don’t get me wrong, I would LOVE to see someone update that stuff – it would look awesome – but despite what I thought at the beginning, it hasn’t been a detriment to my enjoyment of the show.

And that’s because this show is built on character and story – the way shows should be built.

It has been at least a decade since I last watched any episodes of this show, and I had forgotten how quickly the plot of the season progresses, and how much is set up that pays off later. I remembered it as a much slower build-up – and it would still probably play that way to a new watcher – but it just seemed to speed through things this time around.

The first episode sets up stuff that we see in the series finale. That’s 5 years later. Everything in between completely changes the meaning of that payoff, too. When you see Londo’s death dream in that first episode, there is absolutely no way for you to understand how meaningful that scene is at the end of the line. This show is all about the journey. And what a journey it is. On its own, this season is a bit of a ride, but its real goal is to set the pieces in place to begin the rest of the story.

I’m looking forward to starting season 2.

Troubleshooting

Hi all,

This is really just a test post to see if the site is working again after an extended downtime. There are a lot of problems behind the scenes, so I threw on a new theme to see if that’s helpful and narrow down the issue. I also want to see what a couple new features are doing for me.

So…. you get to see a completely useless post! Don’t you feel lucky?

Myths, Magic, and Legends – From Atlantis to Camelot

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for The Coalition of Awesomeness blog some time ago. The blog has since gone to an unfortunate (but very awesome) grave so I thought I’d share it here.
This set has my favorite covers

This set has my favorite covers

There are a couple of book series that owned me, to be honest. But only one time was I ever compelled to read a series cover-to-cover twice in a row. As soon as I finished book 3, I was back in book 1 again the following day, and just kept on reading. I never do that. I have re-read series before, but usually with another book or significant time between readings. With Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle, I had to go back right away to re-experience it. And then I went back again a year later.

I want to be clear that I’m talking about the original Cycle, which was a trilogy. When I read the series, that’s all there were. Three books: TaliesinMerlin, and Arthur.  Some time after I read those, two other books were added to the series – but these books were added on and not part of the original, completely self-contained plan. Everything I’ve read about them paints them as inferior to the original trilogy, and the back covers do nothing to persuade me otherwise so I can’t bring myself to read them, as much as I love that world.

That original trilogy, though… you may glean from the titles that the story is essentially that of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table – but that’s really only the end of the tale (and fair warning to the purists, liberties are taken).

The general Arthurian legend, while interesting in its isolated sub-stories, had never held more than a passing interest for me. I’d dabbled around the edges from time to time (most notably, with Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising” set) but it never really grabbed me at its core. And it isn’t why I started Lawhead’s series, either. I got into it because I saw that the second book was called Merlin and I wanted to learn more about that character. I thought it would be cool to read a sorcery story. I didn’t get what I bargained for, but I got so much more.

I will weep no more for the lost, asleep in their water graves.
– Charis in 
Taliesin

The story is simply epic in scope, and I don’t use that term lightly. Generations come and go through the books. Kingdoms (and islands) rise and fall. Taliesin begins as the story of Charis, a young princess of Atlantis who escapes the destruction of her world to see her father become the Fisher King of Britain. She falls in love with the remarkable and mysterious Taliesin, gifted beyond all others, and Merlin is born as tragedy strikes.

This is to be Arthur’s story. Yes, but there is more to Arthur than his birth. To understand him, you have to understand the land. This land, this Island of the Mighty. And you have to understand me, for I am the man who made him.
– Merlin in
 Merlin

As I mentioned, Merlin was the book I was really interested in when this whole thing started. I was right to focus here, but my expectation was way off. While magic certainly played a role, this was much more depth and character focus than I had initially anticipated – and it thrilled me. This was a tragic, yet noble Merlin, long-lived, with experience hard-won. It has been years since I last read this – almost 20, I believe – and a single scene from this book still comes to me from time to time. I still viscerally feel the pain of the event that unfolded. I don’t believe any single moment from a book has ever stuck with me as strongly.

Arthur is no fit king. Uther’s bastard, Merlin’s pet, he is lowborn and a fool. … All these things and more men say of Arthur. Let them. When all the words are spoken and the arguments fall exhausted into silence, this single fact remains: we would follow Arthur to the very gates of Hell and beyond if he asked it. And that is the solitary truth. Show me another who can claim such loyalty.
– Pelleas in 
Arthur

Arthur is, as you would expect, about the boy who would be High King of Britain, his training, his reign, and his downfall. Camelot, Guinevere, Lancelot, the Round Table – all are present. Yet, as with the previous books, all are more nuanced and fully realized than I had encountered prior to that time. The ending is huge, personal, tragic, and triumphant all at once. It is a fitting culmination to a truly epic story.

pendragon3

It is this trilogy to which I compare all other Arthurian retellings. While many are excellent and have nothing to apologize for, none have captivated me the way The Pendragon Cycle did.

I think I just talked myself into reading it again.

“This Child” isn’t who you think

Back in 2004 we were awaiting the birth of our first daughter. I was also beginning to teach myself how to write music around then. And I did a lot of sleeping.

Turns out this is a good opportunity to show off my favorite "day 1" photo... :)

Turns out this is a good opportunity to show off my favorite “day 1” photo… :)

Those things may not seem related at first glance, though they will shortly. But only two of them actually are.

I vividly remember a dream I was having one night. I was walking in various places with a young child. They weren’t always nice places, and the child wasn’t always clean, but the tone was … well it was hard to describe. Kind of pleasantly tense, I guess. It was obvious there was some distress, but people seemed to be handling it well. It wasn’t bad per se, just a bit off-putting. But as the settings changed through the dream, there was one constant: the child was whistling a tune.

It wasn’t a bouncy, happy whistle that might spring to mind when you think of someone whistling a tune. This wasn’t a Disney dream. It was nice, but had a little bit of sad in it. Not haunting at all, but a little tinged with melancholy.  And it got to me. It pervaded me. It made me look around for the kid when I heard it.

There was very little dialogue in the dream.  I may have spoken, but it wasn’t much. Not for any particular reason, but I just knew when the child was whistling the tune she was looking for someone important to her and I would help. When I would hear the tune being whistled out of her presence I was looking for her.

So naturally, when I woke up I remembered the tune. I started writing it down in PrintMusic and developed it a bit, and ended up with a piece I named “This Child.”

When people saw the title, they understandably thought – as perhaps you just did – that it referred to the child whose birth was imminent. I wish I could say it did. It’d be cool to say I wrote a song about my unborn daughter. But it doesn’t. I didn’t.

Oh well.

This recording suffers from a lack of human playback. It should be much more legato – the notes should flow together more than they do. The downside of MIDI, I suppose. It also suffers from me being terrible at audio mastering – the balance of the instruments really isn’t right in a few places. But it’s close enough for now – I’m still pretty happy with how it turned out.

If you’re wondering, the whistle from the dream turned into the French Horn part that starts the song. It’s interesting for me to go back and listen to it. I think if I were writing it now it would be a completely different end product. But I like it the way it turned out.

Update: fixed a serious balance issue with the audio file. Sorry about that. If you heard it before, listen again. It’s better this way.

How I write music

Poorly!  *rim shot*

So I mentioned before that I’d been writing some music for the last several years and some of it may show up here from time to time. This is the first of those times.

Don’t get all excited. It’s very short – four measures. And it’s choral, not pop. And it’s church music. If you’ve got a problem with any of that, you’re on the wrong blog post.

Anyway… instead of just posting the end result, I figured I’d give you a quick overview of the different stages this particular “Amen” went through. The idea is kind of like when an artist shows the sketched and final versions of a picture. Not an exact analogy, but that’s the concept.

I wrote this one almost a decade ago – it was the first thing I wrote and completed. I don’t remember exactly how I developed it – whether it was a full chorus in my head I tried to transcribe, or if I had one part in my head and figured out the other parts around it – but I do know that I was deliberately trying to write an Amen with a “happy” tone to it. Whether I achieved that or not is subjective, I suppose, but I like how it turned out.

I use notation software called PrintMusic, which is part of the Finale line. (I actually wrote this one in the free Finale Notepad, but eventually needed something with more flexibility.) PrintMusic is very easy to use, which is important to me because I have a hard enough time just trying to figure out the music – if the software was difficult I’d have probably quit before I started. It’s very much just point-and-click (well, at least that’s how I use it) and if you’ve got a familiarity with sheet music I don’t think you’d have much trouble. This is what the Amen looks like in the software:

Sheet music for Amen #1

It’s very much a WYSIWYG view. What you see here is the “finished” product. I say “finished” but it’s not really. See, when I offered this to our choir director at church, it completely slipped my mind that I hadn’t written the piano part – it wasn’t meant to be a capella (as it currently appears). When they decided to use this one, the music director/organist had to condense these 4 staves into the two piano staves herself. Pat was very nice about it and didn’t say anything, but I felt bad for providing an unfinished product. In my defense, there were two reasons I hadn’t written out the piano part: 1 – I didn’t actually expect the director to use it, I was just trying to get some feedback, and 2 – PrintMusic uses MIDI for playback, and I had chosen the piano sound for all the voice parts, so to me it sounded like a piano already and I didn’t give it a second thought.

(Since then I’ve gotten better at using PrintMusic and learned how to assign different sounds to the parts, which makes it a little easier to remember to put in the piano part if I need a piano. MIDI has choir ooo and ah sounds, but unfortunately, MIDI voices are really horrible. They grate on my nerves after hours of listening to the same part over and over trying to get it right. I’ve since figured out some alternatives but for a long time it was pretty painful.)

When I was writing this Amen I didn’t put much thought into its tempo. I was just worried about getting the notes and rhythms right. And with the number of times I heard this, I was just as happy to have it play through relatively quickly for review.

So this is what I was hearing when I would play it back through PrintMusic: 

Not bad. A decent, if mechanical, representation of what I was after.

But my jaw dropped when Pat played it:

The slower pace, the added dynamics… I had no idea it could sound that sweet, even in my head. And when the choir sang it I got a little choked up. The performances far surpassed my own understanding of what I had written. That’s not hyperbole, either – I enjoyed and was interested in what I had done, but I was amazed by how much better it sounded “live.” It’s still this simple little Amen, but there’s a huge difference to my ears and heart between what I wrote and the interpreted performance of a professional. I can only imagine what it would be like to have a full song of mine performed.

The fact that Pat and Warren (the choir director) decided to use this – the first thing I’d written, though I don’t think they knew that – was a huge encouragement to me. I’ve written a lot more since then, and I’ll probably share some of it in the future. I know this Amen may not seem like much, but it’s the entry point to a huge journey for me.

MovieWatch 2013

It’s time for my annual(ish) list of movies I want to catch this year. Strap in and let the trailers wash over you like pure adrenalin. (Not that I know what an adrenalin shower is like, ’cause I kind of think that would be a bit… icky. Though that’s not really the feeling I think you should take away from watching these trailers… so… look, just get excited, okay? Sheesh, you people are so literal.)

I kind of liked last year’s categorical approach as opposed to the standard calendar approach, so we’ll be doing that again.

Last year, my mother was on the verge of sale to the Russians. Luckily for her, I had enough cash to get through 6 of the 7 movies I had listed, and enough sense to hold off on the 7th. The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Amazing Spider-man, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Brave, and Skyfall were all very good (though the first half of the list easily outshines the second). Taken 2, the 7th on the must-see list, I still haven’t seen – and I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing.

From my Priority 2 list last year, I caught Snow White and the Huntsman (not bad), MIB3 (eh, liked it better than 2), and Looper (superb). I still want to catch the others at some point – and one of them was delayed for release all the way to this year, so we’ll get to that in a minute. The only other one I saw was at the bottom of the list, buried in Priority 4 – Expendables 2. That one was completely worth it, if only for Chuck Norris’ scenes.

This year I’ve discovered that the Russians have no interest in my mother. So I guess I’m on my own coming up with the funds for this year’s crop.

Priority 1 – Impede me at your own peril (seriously, you could get hurt)

Iron Man 3 (May 3) – This is the kick-off to Marvel’s Phase 2 and Caddick’s “insanely anticipated movies list” (aka, CIAML)

Star Trek Into Darkeness (May 17) – The battle for top spot on the CIAML between this and Iron Man would be EPIC.

Man of Steel (June 14) – I think we’ve been burned by Superman movies so many times that people are overly wary about this one. I think it’s gonna be great (and I hope I’m right).

Thor: The Dark World (November 8th) – I don’t think there’s any surprise at where this sits. No Trailer available yet.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (December 13) – Again, no surprise. No Trailer available yet.

Priority 2 – Impede me and I’ll be very cross with you (there may even be retaliation)

The Wolverine (July 26) – The only reason this isn’t in priority 1 is because of its predecessor. If this had come first, things would be different. They’ve abused my trust. But that trailer looks really good.

Pacific Rim (July 12) – This looks awesome, and squarely in my wheelhouse, but for some reason I’m not quite invested in it enough for priority 1.

Red 2 (July 19) – The first one was absolutely perfect. Helen Mirren as an action star is an idea whose time has come.

Oblivion (April 19) – This one’s teetering on the edge of priority 3 for me. It does look like something I’d like.

After Earth (June 7) – Kind of in the same boat as Oblivion.

Elysium (August 9) – By the guy who did District 9. Looks like a quality flick.

Ender’s Game (November 1) – I know nothing of this except the book’s reputation. Pretty sure I’ll love it. No trailer available yet.

Priority 3 – Impede me and we may end up going out to eat together, but I might try to sneak out to the 2nd run theater later, or maybe we can rent the DVD together

GI Joe: Retaliation (already out) – the only returning contender ever across these lists, I’m pretty sure this is 2nd run material.

Monsters University (June 21) – I don’t know enough about this to know where it fits in the list, really. Monsters Inc is one of my all-time favorite Pixar flix, but the idea of this one doesn’t really appeal to me. Still, I trust Pixar.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (August 6) – I enjoyed the first one.

Riddick (September 6) – Oh, come on… Vin’s in it, it’s sci-fi… when has that ever gone wrong… 😉

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (November 22) – This is a DVD series for me, but I’ll go to the theater if someone wants some company. No trailer available yet.

Jack Ryan (December 25) – I don’t know enough about this one… it might move up on the list. I really like this character. No trailer available yet.

Priority 4 – Impede me, please – at least until DVD

The Lone Ranger (July 3) – This trailer isn’t horrible, but it reminds me too much of Wild, Wild West. Plus, the teaser trailer made such a hugely negative impression on me that I don’t know if I’ll be convinced to spend any money on this one.

Priority 5 – If you make me watch this, make no mistake – I will hurt you.

Smurfs 2 (July 31) – I’m not even going to find out if there’s a trailer.

Honestly, I’m surprised there aren’t more films on this list. The ones in the first category, though, look INCREDIBLY AWESOME.

What do you think of these? Any disagreements? Anything I missed that’s on your list?

Where I’ve been

It’s possible that you’ve noticed that I don’t post a lot here anymore. This blog has admittedly fallen mostly into disuse. This should not be a surprise to anyone.

It occurs to me, though, that some of you may wonder what I’m doing instead of writing blog posts. (Others of you, I’m sure, couldn’t care less. But that’s not going to stop me telling you.) So here I am, back again, to tell you what I’ve been up to and why this blog has taken a bit of a hit since its heyday a few years ago.

I started this blog as a place to test the technology as we considered blogging as a training tool at work. Over the years it evolved from a place to pontificate about training industry and technology topics into a personal outlet for pop-culture. I tried to make it a place where I’d present a topic and have some kind of discussion about it. That worked from time to time, but rather infrequently. It’s hard to keep energy focused on writing things when you’re not getting any feedback, so over time I worked less on trying to generate conversation and tended more towards writing only when I found something I wanted to share or record for myself – and that became less frequent.

This is partially because Facebook came along, and now I tend to post my thoughts and links in short-form on either my personal page or the Caddickisms Facebook Page. A lot of times I feel bad about that since there are topics that I’d rather discuss in longer form here, but a lot of times it doesn’t seem worth the effort.

I’ve stated most of the above before in conversations elsewhere (notably on Lee’s recent posts on his own blogging changes), but something occurred to me tonight about where a lot of the time I used to spend blogging is going. Music.

I’ve mentioned it from time to time, but for those who don’t know, I sometimes write music. This is a bit of a tricky proposition, because I’ve never had formal instruction in music composition or theory, nor do I play any instruments. I do sing in our church choir (and have sung in choirs for decades). Predictably, choral music is the most common type of music I write, and generally it’s pretty simple stuff. I have written some instrumental stuff as well, and oddly I tend to like those better. I have noticed that my attempts are getting more complex lately. I’m still firmly in amateur-land, but it’s definitely a transition toward something more advanced.

The biggest problem is that it takes me forever to actually finish anything. I think this is primarily due to my aforementioned deficiencies in theory and playing. That, and my best ideas occur to me in the shower, which is usually right before I need to leave the house, so by the time I get to capture anything the fullness of it has long faded from memory. If I’m lucky I retain enough of it to get a main idea down and can sometimes rebuild what I had fully realized in my head at the outset. Usually, I get something kind of like what I was thinking and then it develops along a totally separate path – sometimes better, usually worse.

Anyway… my point was that a lot of my ex-blogging time goes into this. I really enjoy it, despite the fact that almost no-one has ever heard any of it (with the exception of one “Amen” I wrote in 2004, which we use in my church periodically) outside of a very few friends and family. I’ve considered sharing it here from time to time, but haven’t. I’ve been bothered by self-criticism, embarrassment, and the fact that I’m not really satisfied with how the MIDI rendering sounds. A few things are changing in at least 2 of those areas, though, so I may do a post here in the future that shares at least something of what I’ve written.

Which leads me to this: this blog is not dead, though you’d be forgiven for thinking it is. I’m not making any pledge to post more frequently. I’ll post if and when it suits me, and that may be very infrequently. But I will post. I still hope some of you comment – honestly it makes this whole endeavor more fun for me – but I’ll be posting because I have something to say that doesn’t really make sense to put in Facebook.

I’m also open to guest posters, so if you’re interested in writing here, let me know.

I will continue to post much more frequently on my Caddickisms Facebook page, so if you’re looking to get more from me, please “like” or follow me there (you can even use the button on the right of this page).

Fact checking the easy stuff

So our water company had a break in at one of their tanks recently and while they’re checking to make sure the water hasn’t been contaminated, they’ve issued a “Do Not Consume” warning. The meat of the official warning, as found on the water company web site, is this:

DO NOT DRINK THE WATER UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Customers are asked to not use the water for drinking, cooking, food preparation, oral hygiene or providing to pets until further notice. Throw away ice cubes if made with tap water after 3:30pm on March 13. The water can be used for sanitary purposes such as bathing and washing. If you have specific health concerns, you may wish to consult your doctor.

Locally, this is kind of a big deal, even if it is just precautionary. So I’m checking out the information about this stuff on two local news stations last night. Both of them screwed it up.

Were the screw-ups important? Depends how you look at it. But come on… this is a pretty easy one to get right.

On the one station, their mistake was on their web site. As these are usually transcriptions of what they say on air it’s possible they said it that way as well. The mistake was that they instructed people to throw away their ice if it was made before 3:30pm. That’s backwards, and if there actually is contamination and people are too stupid to think for themselves, it’s dangerous. Even so, I can see how someone typing this up might have switched the word accidentally – just bad proofreading. Still it should get fixed when people point it out (as I did in the comments section). And it would have been pretty easy, and more accurate, to just copy/paste the same paragraph I did above anyway.

On the other station, the anchors said on-air at 11pm (well after the warning, and plenty of time to research something this simple) that you can’t even use the water to bathe or wash clothes. They emphasized it, and it’s patently opposite what the warning states. During the show I posted a correction on their Facebook page and they acknowledged the mistake there. No on-air correction, but they’ve got a timed show to run, so whatever. What annoyed me was that they ran a brand new report this morning and re-stated the same mistake.

Now I get that they might want to be leaning on the more conservative side – it’s possible to accidentally ingest the water while showering, after all – so I wouldn’t be upset if they stated it more as commentary than as official news. But to repeatedly state something completely the opposite of something clearly stated in the official warning just seems wrong. Do it once, it’s a possibly innocent mistake. Keep doing it after you’ve been corrected? That’s either on purpose or poor journalism.

Either way, it bugs me. If they’re getting something this simple wrong, why should I trust they’re getting bigger stuff right?

The gift of music

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for The Coalition of Awesomeness blog some time ago. The blog has since gone to an unfortunate (but very awesome) grave so I thought I’d share it here. This particular entry has a special meaning for me, and may shed some light on one of the entries on the list in a recent post.

ParsleySageIt wasn’t my birthday, or Christmas, or any of the typical gift giving occasions. It was just a day. I was probably 7 or 8 years old, laying on my bedroom floor, playing with something or coloring. Maybe I was using our portable record player (yes, an actual record player… you know, vinyl, big circle, a needle… never mind… you kids and your technology…) to listen to some kids album or story.

Anyway… I was just there alone in the room and my Dad came in and said he had something for me. He didn’t make a big deal of it. He just said there was a song on this record that he thought I’d like. He put the record on and moved the needle to the right spot to play The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy). And we sat there on the floor and listened together. He was right; I liked it. We listened to it a few more times and sang along with the catchy, happy tune. After a while we listened to a few more of the songs and I got my first taste of “grown up” music. And I liked it. And then he said he was giving me the album.

Thus did Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme become the first album I ever owned. It would have a huge impact on my life. I still love it today.

I didn’t love it all at once. There were a few songs that I tended to skip. But I listened to the ones I liked a lot. And eventually I began to like the others as well. Over my teen years I began to understand more of the layers of the songs as I learned more about the climate in which they were written. And my appreciation of the craft that Paul Simon poured into his songs grew.

As we moved into the era of cassette tapes I got another copy of this album. I also got other Simon and Garfunkel albums, and as cassette players became standard in cars, those tapes became standards on our car trips. Any trip over a half-hour would inevitably find Dad and I singing along with these songs. We still talk about those times singing along with Homeward Bound and Scarborough Fair/Canticle on our way taking me to and from college.

That one understated day in the ’70s when my Dad handed me this album had a huge impact on my life. It was the first time I ever owned something “grown up” – and thus was a rite of passage of sorts; it provided many bonding moments for me and my Dad; it was my introduction to “serious” music; it shaped much of my musical tastes; and it spurred my interest in music as a performer/composer (though the latter wouldn’t really take shape for a few more decades, my analysis of the construction of these songs was undeniably a factor).

The day may have been understated, but it would be hard to overstate how much it ended up meaning to me.

Thanks, Dad.