Saturday, December 31, 2011

Unfinished Business

For the past few years, I've been trying to get more things done in my life by writing out a yearly "To-Do" list in my journal (if you don't have a bound journal, get one - - it worked for Pepys and it works for me, too). The downside of the To-Do list is that, at the end of each year, I have a thorough and accurate record of the things I didn't accomplish.

Top of the Unfinished pile is my Sekrit Space History book. I'm barely 40 pages into an expected 290-page book, and its completion keeps getting moved down the priority list. If I don't finish this epic by the end of 2012, I'm going to miss a lot of 50th anniversary events that tie into the narrative. So that's a key item to focus on for the coming year.

Second missed goal was my emptying of the End of Raiders of the Lost Ark basement. I've dumped a half-dozen crates into trash bags and shredders, but the stack o' stuff still clogging my cellar needs to go. It's at the point now where I don't like going downstairs because I'm reminded about how much stuff needs to be sorted, sold, donated, or trashed. However, 2012 is now my fire sale date for ditching the detritus. was supposed to be on the Drupal content management system by now, but I've been working so much on paying gigs that my web equivalent of the cobbler's children is still without shoes. Perhaps I can tackle this after my current client gig is up, but before the 2012 Fall Season announcements arrive.

Of low priority but long overdue, my never-ending critique website of Ross Hunter's Airport movie remains stalled at 0:15:00. As with the TVDads upgrade, too many events took priority above its completion. I think I can solve this by devoting a solid weekend to typing and frame-grabbing. The big decision, of course, is to figure the right weekend.

Other than those goals and a few minor missed opportunities, 2011 has been a smashing success. I received my Master's degree, my daughter graduated with honors at the University of Rhode Island, my son ejected from his frustrating job to go to work at a place where they respect, love, and (most importantly) PAY him for his talents and labor. My girlfriend has also left her frustrating job and moved closer to completing her own degree.  Our family ends the year generally happy and definitely healthy.

I'm thankful most of all for having so many friends in my life. When days are filled with work and study, it's easy to become isolated from the rest of the world. Fortunately, the people I know and love and who know and love me keep me connected and share their lives with me every day. If the question is "what are you most grateful for in 2011?" the answer, of course, is you.

Have a great 2012. See you there!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Backyard Lucas

A million billion years ago when I was young, I used to make animated movies - - not the kind with the acetate sheets on a drawing board, but actual 3-D, stop-motion films. With a bucket of Matchbox cars, a Super 8 camera and a cable release (something that the camera guy at Woolworth's couldn't understand: "Why would you need a cable release for a movie camera?"), I'd film stop-motion traffic jams in my backyard as long as the summer afternoon light lasted. Pixelated GI Joes in Mercury spacesuits would be tethered to the "orbiting space platform" that looked an awful lot like the family mailbox out by the curb. Hundreds of feet of processed film epics sit in shoeboxes somewhere in my house, each reel  a short lesson that taught me how to make the next film a little better.

I went to college to learn how to make professional, compelling films. Then I got married, had kids, and found other priorities that crowded out my early desire to tell stories with moving images. I couldn't go back to making films, because I didn't have time or budget to take care of what was more important in my life. Understand that I enjoyed the life that happened instead - - - I didn't think I'd ever be able to go back to making films like I used to.

In the past month, I've found out that there may be a way to make cool movies again. Since I'm now the CEO of a New England high-tech company, I can now experiment with the latest software technologies and equipment. One of these software technologies is the latest release of Adobe's AfterEffects program, a piece of software that comes pretty close to parking Industrial Light & Magic on your desktop. For troglodytes like me, the output from this software is nothing short of breathtaking.

Let me give you a brief idea of the level of coolitude brimming from this software. I ordered a copy of Adobe AfterEffects from Amazon early last week. It arrived Saturday and took about 10 minutes to install on my computer. After looking at a few brief tutorials online, I thought of a test subject to try as a first-go at learning the ins and outs of the program.

Here are the details: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been receiving closeup photo data of the Moon from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbit for more than a year now. Last spring, JPL published a high-resolution Mercator projection photo of the Moon. It looks like this:

One of the cool things Adobe AfterEffects can do is  take a flat picture and wrap it around a 3-D sphere, so that the result can be displayed as a virtual globe. So, I took the hi-res LRO picture, told AfterEffects to wrap it around a sphere, and then I spun the virtual sphere and told AfterEffects to move the virtual camera away from the virtual Moon globe. Here's the result:

That's just from an hour or so of playing with the controls and slapping one NASA pic into the photo asset directory. 

Now, I really *want* to make a short film with this amazing bit of software. First, though, I think I have to make it through Christmas first.