Monday, July 31, 2006

New Method

How am I preparing for law school this week?

By not paying any attention to anything outside my own narrow, daily concerns.

Also I'm doing that because the alternative is, at the moment, too depressing to contemplate.

No updates on current events, please.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Sound Editors Rap

For anyone who's still wondering what it is I do - sorry, "did" - for a living:

Picture a beat. (No, that's not a contradiction in terms, but you can call it a wave-form if you like.) A pale-skinned white dude bent over a keyboard, typing with one hand, the other hand darting back and forth between the keyboard and the trackball. The only illumination is provided by the pair of enormous flat-screen computer monitors. Bursts of dialogue and sound effects - never allowed to play all the way to the end of a line, or to silence - punctuate the music.

The Dialogue Editor addresses the camera:

I got the wisdom of the old school, attitude: new school
I cut mag with a razorblade, now I'm using ProTools
You better hope your computer's a fast one
I'm cutting so fast, a G4'll be crashin'
Yeah, I fixed about a million edits
But you don't even know my name unless you stayed for all the credits
I know you never heard of me
But if editing was kung fu, I'd be Bruce Lee
I'm stealth, I'm an audio ninja
So smooth, you don't even know I've been there
I hear a lip-smack, a click, a tick and I'm on it
Isolate the wave form – bang! I've redrawn it.
Quick on the draw like my mouse was a six-gun
My tracks so clean you don't even have to mix 'em
I'm fixing mic bumps like it was nothing.
A grip dropped a C-stand? Man, give me a tough one.
[another voice breaks in - it's the Sound Effects Editor]
I know you shot it on a soundstage, I don't care
I'll make it sound so real you'll swear you were right there
Any scene, any time, any place, I'll never back down
Got foley, hard effects, all kinds of backgrounds
Got birds for the daytime, crickets for night
Got offices, restaurants, theme parks, barfights.
Stereo, Dolby, five point one
I've got so many sounds you can't handle it, son
Got left, right, center track, stereo surrounds
I think I better take pity on you, mix this mother down
[the break...

and then the Dialogue Editor again]
This scene has two actors, sittin' and talkin'?
You shoulda gone in with a boom and a shotgun
You don't record that dialogue with a radio mic, fool
Didn't they teach you nothin' in film school?
Now I hear the ambience changin'
One take's quiet, the other's got a plane in
I find a fill I like so I lift it
Copy it, paste it, maybe pitch-shift it
Reverse it, loop it, put on a fade
Now it sounds like it was recorded that way.
[and the Sound Effects Editor brings it home]
Director thinks he's an artiste with a vision
Fool, to me it's just another car collision
Tire squeals and metal crashin', crashin'
People screaming, think I'll cut some breaking glass in
Don't come asking me for choices
Cause you know ProTools only got two dozen voices
The best sound? I found it, you don't have to choose it
I know what I'm doing, shut up and let me do it
I got explosions, body falls, whooshes, hits
You want guns? Bombs? Airplanes? I got all that shit
But if I cut it, motherfucker better use it
I best not find out you went and covered it with music...

And a long slow fade out...

West Coast, fool.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Magic School Bus vs. Political Reality

I keep waiting for Miss Frizzle to be called in to face a hostile school board, because she's just not preparing her kids for those all-important standardized tests.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Vacation Update

This is a pain in the ass. My brand-new Dell laptop is on the fringe of a wifi signal, which (I can only guess) is apparently causing it to gain and lose its ‘net connection every minute or so… and it won’t stop beeping, even when I mute the speaker. Am I going to become a Mac apologist, after all these years? I can’t stand it. An operating system should be an operating system, nothing more: not a fetish, not a sports team, not a girlfriend whose ways you have to learn, for whom you make allowances because you love her. Look: I’m a pretty sophisticated user. Not a computer geek, but I was a math major; I’ve used computers since before they were even available to the hoi polloi, let alone since they became standard equipment for everyone on the planet; I’ve used computers every day of my working life for the past twelve years in a very technically demanding field – and if I can’t figure out how to make my computer stop beeping at me every ninety seconds… well, that’s not a mature technology, is all I’ll say.

So SW is teaching, her yearly two-week out-of-state gig, and this time we decided that while she was gone I should take the kids with me to visit my parents. They have a place in central Idaho, a couple of miles from a nice little resort town on a lake – you know, scenery, wild animals, pickup trucks, and a chance, on any given day, that it might, for some reason, snow. Or else there might be a forest fire.

Yesterday was day… what… eight? of my stint as a (very temporarily) single parent. A very privileged single parent, too, what with my mother being on hand every day I’ve been solo with the kids. And this I’ve learned… my wife is a genius. They say that a genius can do easily what other people can’t do at all. She’s got the kids all day, most days, all by herself, and she’s a lot better at it than I am. She can manage other people’s kids, too, and she makes it look easy; she can see multiple moves ahead like a chess grandmaster (I know, I know, they say that’s not how grandmasters really play. Shut up) and always choose the winning line. I’m sure if there was such a thing as blindfold simultaneous babysitting, she could pull that off, too.

But back to me, patzer that I am. First of all, just so I shouldn’t sound like I’m a whiner, I will say that the rewards of having the kids all day are great. When they are good, they are very very good; and when I am good, even if they’re being bad, still I have a definite sense of triumph and good-deed-doing in helping them work out their problems, or (what makes me feel just as good, even if it’s not as useful in the long run) distracting them, successfully bribing them, or otherwise foreseeing and circumventing problems.

Boy has been practicing his hitting and throwing skills, and it’s a joy to see him enjoy it so much, especially because I honestly had no idea he was already so good at it. He’s working on writing and reading, he loves learning about animals and what they eat and what eats them; he thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the smokejumpers headquarters – especially after our tour guide had to cut the tour short because she had to suit up, get in an airplane, and fly off to parachute in somewhere or other and fight a fire.

Girl is accumulating language by leaps and bounds, exhibits a truly remarkable and perverse independence (“I can do it” is her constant refrain, in the utterly adorable singsongy way she has of speaking), and is beginning to originate her own ideas for make-believe. This afternoon I had to bring her endless cups of make-believe tea in a plastic cup, which she endlessly slurped down, imperiously and immediately demanding, “More tea!” (I also had to save her from certain doom several times in quick succession, when she insisted on standing up on her bench at dinner.)

So when they are good, they are very very good. But when they are bad… good God. And they have, through no fault of their own, been bad for the last few days. Because Girl has been sick – she threw up a few nights ago, and has since developed a nasty little cough and a persistent tummy-ache that has thrown her sleep schedule (among other things) out of whack. Tired and sick means clingy and irritable. Also we’re in the midst of a heat wave, up here, but until about… oh, this afternoon… the lake’s been too cold for the kids to enjoy swimming, so… long days, limited fun, endless opportunity for further irritation. Irritation, of course, feeds on itself; nor am I immune. Oh, no. When it’s too hot… I like to slow down. Way down. To the point, I am told, of catatonia. When I can’t slow down, I tend to get rather pissy, in the sort of passive-aggressive way that can’t be easily or obviously pinned on one. (“I’m ready, what’s keeping you?” “I don’t care, I’ll do anything you want to do.” “Or we could do this…”)

Now Boy, of course, likes to do some things that Girl doesn’t like to do, or can’t do because she’s two years old; but since Girl is at the moment clingy and irritable, it’s usually impossible for me to put her down, because she goes into hysterics if it even crosses her mind that she might not have my full attention – as, for instance, if I step into the water for a minute to play with Boy. (God forbid I should dive into the lake, swim out to a buoy, turn and swim back - elapsed time: 180 seconds.) So for the last few days I’ve had Girl clinging to me like a barnacle, which makes Boy feel slighted – because he is – which makes him whiny and irritable, causes him to pick endless fights, leaves him without the inner resources to handle the slightest setback, and renders him in general very difficult to take. (The fights he picks are mainly – though by no means exclusively – with Girl; and surely one motive, piled atop a raft of others, is to express his anger at me, through her.)

All of which, as I say, feeds on itself. Sheesh. Yesterday wasn’t a purely awful day, but parts of it surely qualify as awful. A couple of things I’ve learned…

  • when a five year old is tired and hot and cross, don’t ask him what he wants to do. He doesn’t know. Just figure out something that he’ll probably enjoy, then weather the slings and arrows of his outrage till you get there. Extra credit: make it something you’ll enjoy, regardless of whether he ends up enjoying it or not.
  • ice cream is always welcome, but for God’s sake, don’t expect good behavior after you’ve juiced your kids up on sugar. The hotter the day, the more welcome the ice cream – but the less likely they’ve had any appetite, the less likely they’ve eaten any real food within living memory, hence the more the sugar will effect them, the more you’d better brace yourself for craziness.
  • cough syrup with codeine is as good for the one not taking it, as for the one who is. (“What if it wears off, and she wakes up in the middle of the night coughing?” I asked the pharmacist. She glanced around, as if the doctor might be lurking nearby, and in a conspiratorial voice said, “I’d give her another half teaspoon.”)
  • it’s not always a help to have other adults along to help you. Sometimes you have to shed them – your well-meaning parents, for instance – and just do what you have to do, at the pace you feel like doing it. Come back late; no apologies.

And biggest lesson of the day: when I want to go jump in the lake, I’m going to bloody well go jump in the lake. They can join me who wish, they can scream bloody murder on the shoreline who will. I’ll feel better, regardless.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Lessons from the Aquarium

Bought some new fish the other day, and realized what it is our apartment really needs.


An algae eater... for toys.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Language Acquisition 3

Last week SW and the kids were out of town, taking care of her mother, who was recovering from knee replacement surgery. Last weekend, I flew up to join them and then we drove home together. Now, it was our experience, when Boy was younger, that extended trips away from home - say, about a week away, usually with SW visiting her mother - were almost invariably occasions when he would go through a surge of development. He would learn to walk, or his language skills would suddenly take a quantum jump, or he'd start climbing everything in sight, or something.

Sure enough, while she was away, Girl started putting words into sentences. Now we can actually understand her better than half the time... and without having to know the context she's working from. That is to say, she can come in from the other room and tell me something, and I can figure out what she's saying without knowing that she was playing with her dolls, and so guessing she's saying something relating to the dolls. I can even, occasionally, more or less, understand what she's saying on the phone... though that's a lot harder, of course. (Sometimes I can barely understand what SW is saying on the phone. I guess it's me.)

I should explain the "putting words into sentences" part. Girl, it seems, started with sentences and put words into them. Boy took a much more traditional tack, first learning as many words as he could, and gradually building sentences out of them. His acquisition of words was rather rapacious, though: I have a video of Boy at about 20 months, going through a board book dictionary page by page, pointing at pictures, and demanding, "Saman?" (His babysitter spoke Spanish to him, and "saman?" was his version of "como se llama?")

Girl, on the other hand, first began mimicking what I can only call the music of sentences - repeating sentences she'd heard, only without any clear idea of what any of the individual words meant, or even any notion that there were individual words. And now that she does know words... she's rather abruptly begun speaking in more or less full sentences. Her syntax still needs work, of course, but I really don't recall her having much of a one-or-two-word sentence phase.

Example, please: when Boy was very young and we were driving in the car and he wanted the window up, he would demand, "No wind!" Very clear sentiment, very traditional linguistic development. When Girl wants the car window up, she'll say something like, "Ma pamba pop puh window!"

She's a singer, I guess.

Solving Problems We Don't Have

So here in LA we have these freeway alert signs, so we can all be on the lookout for the blue Ford Taurus whose driver just kidnapped someone, or whatever. And of course, it doesn't happen that often that there's anything worth being alerted about, thank goodness. But when there's nothing to alert, the geniuses at ... whichever department runs the things... have decided to alert us all to how long it will take to get to downtown, or the 101 freeway, or some appropriate landmark. The only problem is, that people actually slow down to read the signs... so it takes a little longer, and creates a little more of a traffic hazard, than it would have without the information.

There's just something about having a tool that makes people use it, even when it's useless. Even when it's worse than useless. They say that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail; I think the reality is that everything - problem or not - starts to look like a nail. And if there are nails on the freeway, then obviously drivers should know about it.

And so it goes.