Ethereality News & Weblog

February 17, 2008

When life’s current just sweeps you along

I’ve been feeling kind of blah lately. Of course, Elena being away for so many weeks is one reason (she’s on a business trip again in China, and also scoping out construction companies for the interior modeling of our apartment and my recording studio), but it’s also the lack of free time to do the things I really want and need to do. I’m one of those people that’s got a huge “To Do” list at any given moment, and it never seems to get any shorter year after year. To give you an idea of how extensive that list is–here’s an excerpt:

-Get all medical appoints out of the way
-Finish processing latest photo session
-Finish all freelance work
-Finish current concept art tasks for Black Mesa
-Finish business plan (can’t talk about this yet, I will once things pan out)
-Write a new song and record Carol as the vocalist
-Get Tenacious Games to pay me the money they owe me for the coloring job on The Spoils.
-Test out the Shure SM7A
-Chase down the guy that sold me the Variax Acoustic 700 for the missing cable and manual.

-Finish ripping the rest of the CD collection into mp3’s,
-Finish archiving old out-of-print cassette tapes
-Finish digitizing old out-of-print/personal VHS tapes
-Find ways to finance a Musicman Bongo Stealth 5-string, a Zendrum ZAP, and a Parker Fly Deluxe
-Sell off as much stuff as possible before the big move
-Build a new DAW and an isolation box for all computers in the studio
-Build shipping cases for all instruments before the big move.

-Finish writing screenplays and novels that’s been on hold due to lack of free time
-Get up to session player level on all instruments I play (drums, guitar, bass, keyboards)
-Finish up all unfinished paintings
-Finish up all unfinished music

That list is just a fraction of the actual one I have in a Word file. I predict some of those tasks and goals on that list will still be there by the time I retire. That’s a pretty depressing thought, because I’m only thirty-five.

My friend Lisa (from when I lived briefly in Kentucky) came up from L.A. to visit. We hung out and did a fairly casual photo session of her with just makeshift household lights and window light. She’s also a photographer and currently still shoots film,. I’ve been trying to convince her to give digital a try for years now, but she’s pretty attached to film. I showed her my entire digital workflow–from shooting with the Canon 1D MarkII, processing the RAW’s, editing in Photoshop, to organizing with ACDSee Pro. If that couldn’t change her mind about digital, then nothing ever would. Once I’ve had time to finish processing the photos from that session I’ll upload them. For now, here’s one image I did process:

I have been adding a lot of gear to the studio in the last few months. All the gears were carefully researched, very practical, and none were impulse buys or luxury items. Here’s a list of the gear I’ve added to the studio in the last few months, with brief comments about each:

yamaha BC-3 Breath-Controller (for my Kurzweil PC2X) – I was quite disappointed by the lack of sensitivity and control with it. Fading in volume is fine, but the fade outs are almost impossible to control smoothly–it tends to just drop out once you start to ease up on the breath pressure.

Yamaha FC-7 Expression Pedal (for my Kurzweil PC2X) – Not much to say. It does the job.

Kurzweil Ribbon Controller (for my Kurzweil PC2X) – Pretty good. I taped no-slip discs under it so it won’t slide around when placed on top of the PC2X.

Line 6 Variax 700 Acoustic Guitar – I think this is probably the best product in the Variax range. It feels great, plays great, and has some killer guitar models. The ethnic instruments are a joke, but I got it mainly for the various acoustic guitar models and the mandola.

Line 6 Variax 700 Electric Guitar – Nice build, sounds pretty good, and not much to complain about. The acoustic models on it are not nearly as good as the ones on the acoustic Variax (that’s why I got both).

Line 6 Variax 700B Electric Bass – I got this mostly for a few of the models like the Thunderchief, the 8 & 12 string models, and the Precision Bass model. The rest are ok, but nothing to write home about.

Line 6 Lowdown Studio 110 Bass Amp – This little guy delivers some serious power for its size–enough so that I can’t really use it in the apartment or the grumpy guy upstairs will freak out and call the manager on me.

Audio-Technica 4033 large diaphragm condensor microphone – Pristine sound. No complaints.

Shure SM7A dynamic microphone – Still waiting for the package to arrive.

Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor pedal – Works like a charm. Took the hum right out of my Fender Strat.

Warwick Rockstand (7 slots) – Spacing is too tight–you’d knock your axes on each other if you’re not careful. But I can’t complain since it freed up so much space in the studio. It takes up about the amount of space as two to three regular guitar stands, but holds 7. What’s to complain about?

Line 6 Toneport UX2 audio interface – I’ve been fairly happy with this, but I think it’s lame for Line 6 to charge for a separate VST version of Gearbox. The headroom on the preamps, the output, the headphone..etc are on the low side–you’d have to crank everything up to get decent volume. There’s also no auto-wah in the Gearbox that comes with the Toneport. You’d have to pay for extra tone packs to get auto-wah. How lame is that? Stability wise, it’s been pretty good thus far.

I have a number of books and DVD’s on drumming, but for some reason, most dwell on hand techniques and don’t go into depth about foot techniques. I’ve been trying to get my foot to be able to play fast bass pedal rolls of up to as many notes as my foot can handle, and I wish there were really good instructions on that subject out there. I scoured youtube and found some, but none were in depth. Jojo Mayer obviously can do amazing things on a single pedal, but he has not gotten around to teaching it. I took a look at the Dualist bass pedal and it’s pretty clever, but I want to learn it the “right” way before I start using special gear to cheat.

Factor One was an industrial band I was in back in the early 90’s. Dean, the founder, recently tracked me down online. He’s still making music–you can check out his stuff here.

I played a couple of shows while in Factor One–one was opening up for Sheep On Drugs, and the other one was opening up for Voice Farm (they had an amazing show on Halloween). Factor One had also opened up for heavy weights like Frontline Assembly, Red Flag, but that was before I joined the band. We almost got to open up for Nine Inch Nails and Consolidated at some point, but those gigs fell through. I played mostly keyboards in that band, and a little bit of guitar and drums. I was never into playing live, since I’ve never been much of an instrumentalist–more of a composer/songwriter. Now that my playing has gotten much better on all the instruments I play, I wonder if I’ll enjoy playing live more.

I finally sold off most of my action figures/dolls on ebay. They’ve been just sitting in boxes all these years, and even after getting them out of the storage, there’s still no room for them anywhere in the apartment. I was tempted to keep all the special forces ones because they are just amazing in detail and quality, but I think my days of being a military nut is over. I’ve been back in the States for well over a year now, and I still haven’t had a chance to play a single game of airsoft. I mean, if you can’t even find time to play in California, the best weather in the whole world for playing airsoft, then your airsoft days are probably over. I’m keeping all my airsoft gear though–even if just for home defense. At 400 FPS, my upgraded rifles will draw blood and break a few teeth if some idiot decides to break into our apartment.

I’m currently using the Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150 to digitize my old VHS tapes, and it’s working fairly well. The bundled softwares are a joke–usable, but extremely limited in features and clunky to use. The Hauppauge is actually the second product I tried–the first was the ADS Tech DVExpress DX2, and it was DOA. I exchanged it and got another DOA unit. I made sure to try both units on four different computers, all the USB ports available, and finally gave up and returned for a refund ( rocks, BTW. I do all my computer-related shopping there).

Elena and I have tried quite a few Thai restaurants in the Bay Area, and so far Thai Pepper in Sunnyvale is still one of our favorites. If you live in the Bay Area and love Thai food, then you owe it to yourself to give it a try. The Curry Duck is our favorite dish there, and their various salads are also quite good–not to mention their menu is priced quite low. The only other Thai restaurant that we think is very good in the Bay Area is Marnee Thai in San Francisco–they even have a charming clairvoyant owner who often walks around giving out free advice. Too bad both restaurants are 30 minutes from us now that we live in San Mateo.

Resident Evil 4 is the game I’ve been playing for a long time now (since I have so little free time, I try to sneak in a short session here and there while I’m eating in front of the computer) and to be honest, I don’t see what all the fuss is about (it’s gotten rave reviews across the board). Sure, it improves upon the crappy camera and control of the previous RE games, but it’s got it’s own list of problems that all the reviewers seemed to have overlooked (or didn’t care about). Now, I’m not saying I’m not having fun with the game–just that I expected it to be better from all the hype.

Here’s a list of issues I have with the game:

-Ridiculous vendor character that waits by the save checkpoint. What the hell is that all about? It feels like lazy game design, and it’s such a dated concept that I wonder why they bothered to use it for this “innovative” twist on the RE franchise.

-“Notes” taken by various characters left all over the place for you to read. When System Shock 2, F.E.A.R., and Bioshock did it, they made sense, but the notes in RE4 were just stupid, in both why anyone would write down some of these things, and how they’re just casually laying around in various places. Many of these notes are like journal entries giving away important secrets about the mission the characters are on. Who the fuck goes around jotting down journal entries about their secrets and then leave the pages everywhere while on clandestine missions?

-Lack of bonding and interaction with important NPC’s that you spend so much time with. The only time Ashley talks to you is during the pre-rendered cinematics, or when she’s calling for help. They should have given her lots of in-game dialog so she can make comments according to each situation, or even just chit chat, instead of being this mute AI you lead around each level.

-Arbitrarily made up puzzles that are just silly, and campy characters like the midget villain. I guess it’s just a Japanese thing–they love throwing campy stuff into gritty stories (Metal Gear Solid for example).

-Horrible camera/controls that are more often frustrating than fun.

-Antiquated game design elements like blocking paths with obviously breakable items, or things you should easily be able to climb/jump over. I know this is a hard one to address, but it felt like they didn’t even try to make it feel more logical–they just put random stuff up as barrier.

I guess the only real saving grace for this game are the “not zombies.” They way they gang up on you in open space is intense, and that’s where most of fun is–shooting the “not zombies.”

BTW, the Logitech Rumble Pad 2 works very well (I imagine identical to the console experience)–that’s what I’m using to play RE4 on the PC. Beats the hell out of trying to play it on the keyboard/mouse.

I try to get reading time in whenever I could–on the train and on the can, otherwise I’d never have time to read anything. Here are some of the stuff I’ve read recently:

The Road (novel) – My brother Dennis got me this for my birthday. It’s a very good book (won the Pulitzer Prize), with an unconventional prose style that took a while to settle into. It’s by Cormac McCarthy, the author that also wrote “No Country For Old Men,” which is now a critically acclaimed film adapted by the Coen Brothers. The book is essentially about a father and a son’s journey on foot in a post apocalyptic world where almost every living thing was wiped out. It depicts the father’s selfless love for his son, and how he tried to protect him through all the hardship and despair. Definitely recommended.

Sanctuary (graphic novel) – I read the first few volumes many years ago, and never got around to finishing it. I finally did and it’s quite engrossing. Maybe too idealistic, but I enjoyed the passion and the conviction of the characters. It’s not everyday you see a hard-boiled political/crime thriller comic book about idealistic young men trying to change the future of Japan by reforming the government and the organized crime.

Love and Rockets (graphic novel) – I left off the series at the Wig Wam Bam collection, and I just picked it back up (I bought all the collected volumes after Wig Wam Bam, but only the Jaime stories–I’m not really a Gilbert fan). The tone is exactly the same, and if you like the earlier stuff, it’s just more slices of the various characters’ lives. If you’ve never read L&R, it’s essentially a slice of life drama about lesbian punk rockers, Mexican Americans, love and hate, heartache, and lovable losers.

Already Dead – A vampire novel by Charlie Huston that was entertaining, but didn’t have any emotional substance so I didn’t like it too much. If you like mysteries and warring vampire clans, then you might like this, but if you want to care about the characters and their relationships, then this is not that kind of book.

Quickie Movie reviews:

No Country For Old Men – Excellent filmmaking, and certainly has Coen Brothers’ trademark approach for building tension and depiction of characters that are just “a bit off.”

Juno – One of the best indie dramedy I’ve seen in a long time, with witty dialog and great acting. Ellen Page was just adorable in this film, and Jennifer Garner was surprisingly funny as well. I didn’t realize Ellen Page played Kitty Pryde in X-Men 3–I should have, since I remember watching X3 and thinking Kitty Pryde was super cute. For some reason I keep mixing up Jason Bateman and Nathan Fillion, because to me they look very similar. I should be embarrassed since I’m a big Firefly fan.

American Gangster – Good film. Didn’t feel too much like a Ridley Scott film, but then again, I’ve discovered that often as a director matures, he’s able to go beyond his normal voice and do something very different.

Invasion – Quite enjoyable, but fell just a little short of expectation–maybe not as epic as I had hoped it would be. Nicole Kidman is always a pleasure to watch. I used to think she was some stone cold fridget pretty face, but having recently seen her on a few talk shows being quite warm and genuine, I’ve warmed up to her a lot. Now I can enjoy her beauty without feeling a chill down my back.

Cabin Fever – Silly fun, and not as scary or gory as I had expected based on its reputation.

The Kingdom – Overall enjoyable, and the final gun fight was great. I think that realistic and gritty action style is pretty much the norm for movies these days, whereas in the 80’s and 90’s it used be the stylistic approach that was less about reality and more like a caricature of real life.

Ratatoulle – This film had the least amount of character development and character relationship dynamics than any other Pixar film. I would’ve been disappointed, but that final scene with the food critic was just so utterly brilliant that it made up for the rest of the film.

The Reaping – I find Hilary Swank a bit hard to watch at times because she’s like the classic example of a “butterface.” The story was pretty silly, and the reveal at the end felt more like manipulation than a revelation. The little girl in the film (played by AnnaSophia Robb) has these amazingly piercing eyes–creepy but beautiful.

Premonition – Convoluted and frustrating. I don’t think I’ve ever liked a Sandra Bullock film.

I Am Legend – Quite different from the book, and I think they should have kept the dog and the woman part of the book, as they really made up the emotional core of the story.

And of course, I’m going to sneak in a bit of TV stuff too:

Breaking Bad – One of the best shows on TV right now. Absolutely brilliant writing, acting, and perfectly cast as well.

Two and A Half Men – This one has overtaken How I Met Your Mother as my current favorite sitcom. Biting humor, hot chicks, funny kid, and Charlie Sheen playing a parody of himself–what’s not to love? Melanie Lynskey, who plays Rose on the show (a very cute but psycho chick) is just adorable. Those big brown eyes can melt steel.

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