Sunday, October 29, 2006

Rats Packed

Took the kids to see a sneak preview of Flushed Away Saturday morning. For those whose lives do not hinge on the latest animated masterpiece that hits the big screen, this is the end product of a collaboration between Dreamworks (the folks who brought us Shrek) and Aardman animation (Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run). Aardman specializes in stop-motion animation, or claymation, while Dreamworks' animation division makes its living with Computer-Generated animation (aka CGI).

This movie looks and feels like a traditional claymation film. In fact, it's not. It's entirely CGI, using a technique first developed by Aardman to do some of the trickier bits of Curse of the Were-Rabbit--specifically, the bunnies in the bunnvac, which float around in mid-air inside the transparent canister. The decision to use the CGI technique in this instance involves the large amount of water needed in the movie. It's very hard to imitate water in claymation.

So there's an awful lot of Aardman in this film. One of its writers is listed as Peter Lord, co-founder of Aardman, and one of its directors was the senior storyboard artist of Curse of the Were-Rabbit. But what it doesn't have is Nick Park, who is the creative genius of Aardman, and it shows.

Our two protagonists are Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman), a kept rat used to a life of luxury in a Kensington townhouse (One of the most affluent parts of London), and Rita (Kate Winslet), a rough-and-ready adventurer with grand schemes. Anyone who has seen the trailer for this film knows the setup: Posh rat gets flushed into the sewers, and finds himself in a subterranean mini-London, where all the rats have made clever contraptions that ape the human-sized London abovegrounds. Rita is the only rat who has ever successfully navigated upriver (upsewer?), and so Roddy tries to enlist her help in getting him back to his home.

The antagonist is Toad (Ian McKellen; sounding indistingishable from Ralph Fiennes' Victor Quartermain from Were-Rabbit), and his cadre of bumbling henchmen, most notably the pinched little Spike (Andy Serkis, aka Gollum), and the hulking, existentialist Whitey (Bill Nighy--Davey Jones from Pirtes of the Caribbean 2). And the plot involves a stolen ruby, a special power cable, an amphibian's hatred of all things rotent, and the fact that everyone in England's going to pee at halftime at during the finals of the World Cup. No, really.

I've tried writing about this movie in several different ways, and the bottom line is it's not bad. Nor is it good. What we have is a bunch of fantastic actors, a cadre of incrediblly talented animators, and a nothing of a script. It's a boy-meets-girl-fish-out-of-water-money-isn't-everything-let's-save-the-day-and-fall-in-love mishmash. There's lot's of clever dialogue, plenty of interesting visuals, extremely cute slugs (never thought I'd ever write those words in that order in my life), and a ton of inside jokes*, but it all just sort of sits there. There's no chemistry between Rita and Roddy, no matter how many times they get thrown together.** It's like what Gertrude Stein said about Cleveland: there's no 'there' there.

So if you're in the mood for some hilarious bits of dialogue, some hilarious sight gags, some fun action, and no real story, go see it. If I were you, though, I'd wait until it hits DVD.

*see the Hugh Jackman rat contemplate wearing a Wolverine X-man costume! Look at the toy bunnnies that are straight from Curse of the Were-Rabbit! See the Alex the Lion toy from Madagascar! And many more! And that's the problem: Most of the fun in this film involves the peripherals. It's a donut movie. The outside stuff is great, but in the center, there's nothing.

**and if you think that's asking a lot from an animated movie, I'd offer this in response: Lightning McQueen and Sally Carerra in Cars, Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo, Shrek and Donkey in Shrek, Woody and Buzz in Toy Story...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

By Popular Request

The Jack-O-Lanterns
My son's.
My daughter's

And now, portraits of the artists:
My Daughter
My Son.

And now, an angry cat.
Why is she angry? We don't know. Perhaps it's because I'm not brushing her. Of course, if I was brushing her, she'd be angry about that. Perhaps it's because there are no mice. That's because she killed them all. When we moved in to our house, there were mice. Five minutes later there were no mice, and my cat wasn't quite as angry. She's been this way for fifteen years. She once killed a mouse in my ex-wife's bra.*

And now, the very rare chrono-cat.
This is an extremely unusual breed, in that it knows what time its human sets his alarm clock, and will wake him up to be fed one half-hour before the alarm goes off--regardless of what time the alarm is set. The waking technique is by rattling the bedroom doorknob, making it sound exaclty like someone is about to enter the room.** I'm sure the chrono-cat is on the other side, silently cursing the fact that it was born without thumbs. It has been suggested that I leave the bedroom door ajar, thus allowing the chrono-cat access to the bedroom. However, if this is done, the chrono-cat uses its alternate waking technique, which entails lying on the bed in such a way that the human wakes up to a face full of furry chrono-cat butt.

The show's over, folks. Move along.


*My wife wasn't wearing it at the time.
**Which is always the sound one wishes to hear when waking from a deep sleep.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I'm Not Here, Man

Ever hear the one about the two statisticians who went duck hunting? No? Well, you're not going to get it here, either.

Partially because it's an awful joke, amusing only to those who understand the Monty Hall Problem.

I only bring it up, because I've just found out that, statistically, I don't exist. At least, not in the United States.

I found this out when I visited this site, which I discovered from my blogging buddy Colleen, who got it from one of her web-based acquaintences, who is, unbeknownst to her, separated by only two degrees by a blogging spectre. Me.

Apparently, there are 1.1 million people with my first name in these United States, putting my name in the top thirty.

However, there's no one in the U.S. with my last name, so the website concludes that there are 0 people in the U.S. who are me.

My only consolation in this whole thing is that I also searched my brother's name, and discovered that here are less than 400 thousand folks in this country with his name, so he's even less real than I am.

And for those of you who are dying to hear the joke, I'll at least give you the punchline, and you can guess the rest of the joke:

"On the average, they each got a duck."

See? It really sucks.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

On Gourd

We went punkin huntin' this weekend.

As far as the whole prey-stalking thing goes, this was pretty much a bust. They just sat in their field, all orange and plump against a background of mud and stalks. We bagged our limit rather quickly. Not much of a challenge, really. I'm hoping for more of a chase when we head out in December for the wily and elusive tannenbaum.

Actually, the pumpkin farm where the various iterations of my family have been picking our pumpkins for the past decade or so has transformed itself over the years from a pleasant little hayride out to the fields and back, to what could best be described as a farm-based theme park.

They even charge admission now.

But that's ok, because it really is fun. The kids and I got there a little after 1pm on Saturday, and stayed til nearly six. There were differend rides, some people-powered, some gravity-powered, and a few animal and machine powered ones as well. There was a giant pumkin slingshot, pedal cars, tractor tires to walk in, a nature trail, a corn maze, a few animatronic puppet shows, pigs, peacoks, reindeer, goats, turkeys, decorator chickens, straw forts, corn pits, swings, slides...and I'm forgetting something...

Oh, yeah. Pumpkins.

We left with about fifty pounds of pumpkin in the trunk, and about six ounces of hay in various parts of my children's anatomy* that took extended hybrid shower/baths to completely extract.

Yesterday, we started the carving process. I'm sure it's too soon, but the kids really wanted their jack-o-lanterns. Especially my daughter.

Along with the pumkins, this year I bought one of those specialty pumkin-carving tool kits,** and it came with a bunch of patterns. My kids are very excited about having some 'cool' jack-o-lanterns this year. Especially my daughter, who dragged her 20-pounder in from the back yard, washed off the dirt, and did most of the scooping of the seeds.

She had chosen one of the more difficult patterns: an owl, against a moon and stars. The process for doing these designs is relatively simple, but tedious. Be that as it may, I really wanted to do a good job on it. I've gotten tired of doing the same snaggle-toothed, triangle-eyed faces that we've always done, and if I'm going elbow-deep in pumpkin guts, dammit, I want something out of it.

My daughter really wanted to do it. I kept on telling her she could help. But there wasn't anything, really she could do. This was a job for an adult. She kept pressing for what she could do. I kept putting her off.

Then I saw her face.

It was my face.

It was my face when I was eight, and I wanted to help my dad do stuff, but I was always too young, and too inexperienced, and too clumsy to do the job well. So Dad and my brother would work on it--whatever 'it' happened to be, cars, gardens, woodworking, whatever--and I would 'help' by moving stuff around for them.


It's a pumpkin. Thirty-five cents a pound. She picked it out.

So I gave her the little saw, and I helped her guide it around, and she did a decent job. Not that it mattered. She was doing it, with Daddy.

After a few minutes, she got bored with it, and went off to play. I finished it, and now I'm trying to figure out how to keep the damn thing fresh for two weeks.

Not that it matters.

When she's grown and has kids of her own, my daughter will most likely not remember this halloween. The voice of experience says that most of them tend to blend together. There will be worse thing in her life than the potential of having a jack-o-lantern expire before the 31st.

But if she does remember it, I hope she remembers doing the work with daddy. She won't remember standing by while I did it all myself.

There's an old expression: "When you're up to your ass in alligators, it's hard to remember your objective was to drain the swamp."

Sometimes, when you're up to your ass in parenting, it's hard to remember that the objective is to love your kid.


*Mostly hair and butt-crack.
**A scraper, a punch, a drill, and two tiny saws

Friday, October 13, 2006

Vehicle Update

My van didn't actually make it into the shop 'til Thursday, but at least it made it there.

I took it in because of the series of car accidents that have been circling my life for the past three weeks, which you can read about here, and here. After I posted, I remembered a third accident that affected me: Last Thursday I was to meet one of my clients at a location on one of the busiest roads in Smugtown. I got there a few minutes early and began setting up my equipment. Suddenly the road was empty. I could have gone out and played solitaire on it. That was because there was an accident about a quarter-mile down the road. My client was on the other side of it, and it took an hour for her to get to me.

I'm pleased to say that the van's fine. They did some minor maintenence on the rear brakes, and the front ones will need replacing soon, but there's nothing wrong with it.

I dropped it off in the morning, and one of my coworkers was going to pick me up to take me to work Thursday. He was about fifteen minutes late getting to me. He got stuck behind an accident.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Game On

More than one person has commented on the games I play with my kids, so I thought I'd give a list of the different games we play. Most are 'word' games, that we can play while sitting in waiting rooms, driving in the car, or snuggling in my bed before bedtime.

The Color Game
This is one of the earliest games I played with them. They still want to play it sometimes. One person names a color, then the next person says that color, and adds a color, then the next person says those two colors, then adds a new color, et c. This is probably the most basic game we play. Variants can be any sort of object, but we like colors best.* We sometimes do a variation where not only the colors must be repeated in order, but with the same inflections and dialects. What can I say? We're a bunch of hams.

The Character Game
One person thinks of an animal, person, or character (from TV, books, or movies), and lists three attributes, and the others guess in turn. If no one guesses correctly after a few turns, other attributes are given until the animal or character is guessed.

Twenty Questions
Someone thinks of a person, place or thing, and the rest of us have to guess what the person's thinking of by asking 'yes or no' questons.** If the person asking the question gets a 'yes' answer, he or she can continue asking questions until she or he gets a 'no,' guesses correctly, or twenty questions are asked.

The Question Game
A classic improv game. Carry on a conversation by only asking questions: "How are you feeling?" "Did you say how am I feeling or who am I feeling?" "Does it matter?" et c.

Alphabet Conversation
More improv. Each person's contribution to the conversation begins with a word that begins with the next letter in the alphabet. This works best when a topic is chosen beforehand. "Anyone feed the elephants today?" "Big job, feeding the elephants!" "Can't forget their food, you know!" et. c. Variants: Start in the middle of the alphabet, do the alphabet backwards.

Couplet Conversation
We create a poem on a subject by feeding each other lines. The first person says a single line; thereafter each person says two lines, the first one finishing the first couplet, and the second line starts the next:

"I really like that big oak tree..."

"It's what I stand behind to pee.
For guys, the world is one big toilet..."

"But don't get caught, cuz that will spoil it.
Trees are also good for climbing..."

And so on. Avanced: choose an ending word.

Your Wish Is Granted
One person makes a wish, someone else grants it, with a caveat that makes the wish not as pleasant as one would hope. An enjoyable, if NC-17 rated version of this game was played in the comments section of Madame X's blog back in August.

Silly Superpowers
Prettty self-explanitory, no? My all-time favorite: The ability to turn clouds into cows.

Sort of a combination of the two above. You can read some of the ones we came up with at the end of the second post below.

We also play some physical games, like Props, Standing/Sitting/Leaning, and Freeze Tag, and some drawing games as well. Plus, we do board and card games, and jigsaw puzzles.

Regardless, I try to keep things low-tech. My philosopy is that if you have at least two minds, you can play a game.


*It starts to get difficult to come up with colors when the list gets into the upper twenties. We may be the only household in North America that uses crayons for reference material.

**There is also a third answer: 'Not applicable,' in which case the question is thrown out and doesn't count towards the total.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Message Delivered

My son spilled his chocolate milk.

Cleaning up delayed us between three and five minutes.

So we ran to the movie theater.

One of the cool things about my neighborhood, as I've mentioned before, is the plethora of things to do within walking distance.*

Tonight we were going to the movies. The theater was just around the corner from the house. We could make it if we ran.

My kids changed their clothes, jammed their feet into their sneakers, and we sprinted out the door. We heard the sound of sirens as we ran up the street. The cop car pulled up in front of the Cinema and stayed there, blocking our view of the front.

We stopped across the street. "What happened?" I asked a woman standing on the street.

"A car lost control and slammed into that pole in front of the Cinema."

We got as close as we could. The pole was sitting about a foot deep into the car's grille. The cops were just getting there. This meant the accident happened about three to five minutes ago.

Had my son not spilled his chocolate milk, we probably would have been right on that corner when the car hit.

This is the second automobile accident that I've been close to in the past three weeks. I've been debating whether or not to take my van into the shop to check on a strange vibration.

The van's going into the shop on Monday.


*Even though we've moved since this post, we're still in the same neighborhood.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Personal Spin

I have a friend who loves to hang around addicts. He says they're the most creative, intelligent, and resourceful people in the world.

"Who else can not have a job for years and still support a $300-a-day habit?" he'll say. "That takes some ingenuity."

Me, I'm far less sanguine about interacting with addicts.

They tend to kick my ass.

One in particular.


My 10-year-old is losing things. Lots of things. Since school started (on the Thursday after Labor Day) here's the tally of lost things:

  1. Backpack
  2. Lunchbox
  3. Denim jacket
  4. A pair of jeans
  5. A loose-leaf binder
  6. His band permission paperwork
  7. A field-trip permission slip and six dollars to pay for it
  8. A composition notebook
  9. Several homework assignments
And it's barely October. If this keeps up, he'll be naked and stupid (and I'll be broke) by March.

And besides the loss, this is a symptom. There's something wrong. I've got a good idea of what it is, but that doesn't matter. He's got to find it out for himself.

And his parents need to help him find it. Which meant a call to STBEW.

Her solution was to have his little sister move in with her.


According to STBEW, my son's problem is that I take his sister's side in everything.

Which is partially true. If they're fighting, and I didn't see how it started, I assume he started it. I told him this, and I explained why: He's the older brother. She follows his lead. If she's hitting, it's because she's learned this from him. If he stops, she'll stop. Maybe not right away, but soon.

But that was not the point of the call. I wanted to talk about making sure he's held accountable for his actions.

Did I stay on topic? Of course not.

She's a pack-a-day smoker* who lives in a studio apartment with a murphy bed. Even when I did smoke, I never did it in the house with the kids around. When I pointed this fact out to her, she said she'd only smoke in the kitchen (a tiny alcove) and put up a curtain. She had similar half-baked bullshit responses to my other queries about sleeping arrangements, et c.

The bottom line reason for this decision, however was this: She'd get more money if she had at least one kid living with her.


I knew that was the reason waaay back at the beginning of the conversation. I knew it, and I also know that this is not going to happen.

What made me mad is that I was sucked in.

She may not be drinking and drugging, but she's still an addict. Right now, her addictions are "feen and teen" (coffee and cigarettes), and men. She's still manipulating.

And sometimes, I still get spinned.

Tonight's dinnertime game was 'Superpowers/Superproblems.' My son came up with the concept. It's a variation of the 'Your wish has been granted' game: You choose a superpower, and someone else spoils it with a superproblem.

Some of the problems were power-related:
Me: My power is I can fly
Son: Your problem is you can only fly six inches off the ground.

Daughter: My power is that I can shoot spikes out of my wrists
Me: Your problem is your aim sucks.

Then my daughter got all tangental:
Son: My power is that I can shoot lasers out of my eyes
Daughter: Your problem is you can only do it while peeing.

Which got us into role-playing
Me: Hey Laserboy! We need your help!
Son (as Laserboy): Hang on! You know I can't go when people are watching!

And then:
Son: My power is that I can control people's minds.
Me: Your problem is that you're a cow.
Son: Milk me, human slave! And bring me a hamburger! I know that's cannibalistic, but man, we're tasty!

Did I mention she's 8, and he's 10?

I know that eventually, they won't be living with me. But no way will it be because she'll get more money for cigarettes.


*Only because she can't afford to be a two-pack-a-day smoker**
**She had quit smoking in 1991, and was smoke-free for 12 years. Before that, she was maybe a half-a-pack-a-day smoker. She seems to be trying to make up for lost time.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Purpose of Spin to make you dizzy. So dizzy that you can't think.

Take, for example, this email sent to me by my STBESIL.* She's a lawyer for Smug County, competent enough to survive as a Democrat in a GOP-controlled government for the past fifteen years:

I received this interesting bit of information from a friend from work: The new law "now allows detainees to examine evidence that is used against them. They haven't been allowed to do this of late, but in the early nineties we allowed it in a tribunal against one of Osama's men. The intelligence was from Osama's satellite communications that we bugged. During the trial the evidence was leaked and as a result Osama's phones went dead; we didn't hear from him again till 9/11."

Is this last part of the information true?

Hokey Smokes! Who wants to drive the first truck through the logic loopholes? Here's what I wrote to her:


Didn't hear from him again until 9/11? Do you mean him, personally? Like he never sent us Christmas cards again?

The Clinton administration had a plan in place for attacking him that was finalized in late November 2000. It was decided to hand off that plan, since there was going to be a new president from a new party in office. This was in response to the attack on the USS Cole, which was attacked on October, 2000, by agents of Osama bin Laden.

Didn't hear from him again? What about the report, entitled "bin Laden determined to strike US" that was given to-and ignored by--Rice, Rummy, and dubya's handlers in July of 2001? What about the briefing by Clarke and Tenant on bin Laden that was so urgently requested of Condoleeza Rice in June of 2001, but so yawningly attended that she didn't even remember being there, even though the State Department records show that it indeed happened?

Your friend's got the wrong copy of the GOP liebook. Right now, the argument is we knew plenty about bin Laden in the mid-nineties, but Clinton was too busy being a heterosexual horndog who liked women who were in their twenties* to pay attention to him.

Perhaps they meant that a specific cel phone line went dead? Wow. You mean we had a bin Laden operative--apparently, one high enough up in the ranks that he had direct contat with bin Laden--in custody, and had him on trial, and the trial was going on, and the communications system that bin Laden used to communicate with him was still active? How the hell did that happen? If I was a clandestine leader, and one of my operatives was captured or disappeared, the first thing I would do would be to shut down the communications pipeline to him as far back as possible.

In short, this is a crock of shit.

And since you are a lawyer, please advise me: is it standard practice to remove judicial instruments simply because security's been breached? There have been cases where juries have been tampered with. Does this mean we'll no longer have trials by jury?

Wait--don't answer that. I don't want to give Alberto any Ideas.

*as opposed to, say, a closeted homosexual who liked underage boys--in which case it's the boys' fault--just ask Matt Drudge or Rush Limbaugh.

There's got to be a pushback here. If nothing else, be sure to keep your heads while the GOP and its minions start throwing the crap around.



Monday, October 02, 2006

What's Cookin'?

Imagine you're a chef. You've got your kitchen set up the way you want it. You know where everything is and you easily and effortlessly whip up whatever is requested.

Now, imagine you walk into an unfamiliar kitchen. You don't know where things are. You can guess about some stuff, but there's a big difference. Perhaps this kitchen measures in metrics while you're used to the US standards.

Now, imagine you're working with a high-strung Maitre'D, who wants you to prepare dishes you've never heard of.

Welcome to my Saturday.

The Smugtown Soccer Club was in the championship game for their league this weekend; and one of the national sports networks was in town to cover it. I was hired as a freelancer. The director had a reputation as a 'screamer.' He wasn't necessarily a bad director; he knew what he needed, and kept all the information he needed to track together, and runs a pretty tight ship. But he had a bit of a problem with communication. He had his way of doing things, and he'd been doing them in a certain way for well over a decade. So much so, that he had developed a nomenclature for things that was fairly unique; words and phrases that were a 'shorthand' of sorts, and if I worked with him on a regular basis, I probably would learn it.

But I didn't have a regular basis. I had this one game.

Furthermore, I was working with equipment I had only a slight familiarity with, and with controllers I had never used before. The picture on the right shows you what I was working with. I was in charge of all of that. Again, it wasn't anything I couldn't familiarize myself with, but I didn't have the innate knowledge of their operation, any more than I knew what a 'front end loaded with a trailer' meant.*

I had to deal with this guy for nine hours.

I wasn't the only one. We had a mostly local crew; rock-solid people who knew what they were doing, who could think on their feet and also follow directions. But again, they didn't know this guy.

One of his idiosyncracies was to continue to tell a camera operator to do something they were already doing. When I direct (and when most people I've worked with direct), once you give a camera operator a direction, and you see the guy's got the shot you want, you shut up until you want the shot changed. Not this guy.

Here's a pretty-close-to-verbatim episode from Saturday night.
"Camera four, I need a two shot." (The operator of the camera marked as number four dutifully sets up the two shot, which is two people standing side-by-side, usually in an interview or some sort of discussion situation).

"Ready four, take four." (these are commands to the camera operator, to let him know that he's about to make his camera 'live' or on-air, as well as to the Technical Director, who presets the camera two button on his switcher, and then 'takes,' or puts that particular video source on air.)

So far, so good. If he had stopped there, no problems. But he didn't.

"Camera four, you're on a two shot. Two shot, camera four." (I can see the camera operator, thinking. I thought I was already on a two shot. Is this what he really wants? The camera starts to waver a little; he starts to zoom out a little)

"Camera four, what the hell are you doing? Two shot camera four!!" (Now the camera person starts to panic, and jerks back to the original framing)

"JESUS CHRIST!! WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?? YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION CAMERA FOUR!! I GOTTA BE ABLE TO COUNT ON YOU!! (Yeah, well if you'd just shut up when you get what you want, we'd all get through the evening without perforated eardrums.)

And so it went.

By the end of the broadcast, I had a throbbing headache and a paycheck that was more than double my normal fee. It wasn't worth it.

"I'm busy that day," I told the guy who hired me for this gig.

"What day?" he asked.

"Whenever he comes back into town."


*If you must know, what it meant was edit a pre-produced graphics opening in front of the video package I needed to create, and put a similar package on the end, with a freeze frame and a music track that continued for about a minute longer than we would actually need. You may not understand what I just wrote, but anyone working in televison certainly would. A far smaller subset would know both.