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Job Hunt Blues

Still throwing resumes around the place. In the old, pre-Internet days, job hunting usually consisted of hitting the Want Ads in the paper and mailing off cover letters and resumes. If you were higher up the food chain, you could go through recruiters and headhunters. And there were the temp agencies, which could help you keep the bills paid, or find you a long-term hitch. Either way, you'd usually have a stack of resumes Xeroxed, and depending on your typing and wordprocessing skills, the Cover Letter was either a simple matter or a pain in the ass.

As usual, though, the Internet and market forces have conspired to make the job hunt even more difficult for people.

As you all know, the most common strategy for job hunting it to hit a couple of the big job sites: Monster, Beyond, Indeed, etc. Maybe you'd try an online temp agency, such as OfficeTeam or Robert Half. And nowadays there are lots of sites devoted to smaller gigs, Craigslist ads, e-lance jobs, and such. And-- here's the important thing-- many large companies run their own HR-department job sites, like Comcast or the University of Pennsylvania.

The core problem is having to enter your resume into these sites. Yes, many sites do offer the ability to simply upload a resume, and their system will "parse" the info into their database's data fields. This would be great if the parsing was accurate: more often than not, I've found that the parsing system has changed my job as "Free-Lance Videographer" job into two, "Free-Lance" and "Videographer," and borrowed freely from the details of other jobs. Start and end dates are wrong. Job duties are truncated to fit character limits.

In other words, one frequently has to hand-edit the resume details. In other words, one has to re-type one's resume over and over, with the added work of correcting machine-made errors. (The Penn Medicine website is probably the worst offender, failing to even store my corrections.)

Compounding this problem is a practice used by big sites like Monster and Indeed. Much of the time, when you click on the "Apply" button, the system takes the resume info you've stored with Monster and transfers it to the company you're applying to. But, far too often, the site merely sends you to _another_ job-hunt site. Maybe Monster sends you to Indeed. Or to Comcast's HR site, or to Penn's. And if you don't have an account there, you have to create a new one, which means _re-typing in your resume_.

And every time you create an account on some job site, you start getting a flood of emails. That's because the data you enter is now a commodity, which the job-hunt company sells to other job-hunt companies. They announce that they've found a job for you, but they're never right. I've gotten notifications for jobs as EMT techs, app programmers, User Interface Design... and frequently, the jobs aren't very close-by. Like Orlando. Or Des Moines. Or, in once case, Managua.

So, you wind up doing a lot of unnecessary and frustrating labor. More often than not, the effort doesn't even get you a rejection letter. Your email's flooded with worthless job announcements. And you know that this is earning money for someone else. And the alternative is to give up looking for work.

A ltitle more on Stalker: Lost Alpha

A follow-up to http://briansiano.livejournal.com/1113429.html

If Lost Alpha shows anything, it's that the rush job needed to get the original Stalker game out was probably a good thing. It made for a more focused, compressed game, which offered just enough of a sense of the Zone to make you want more. But it didn't offer you enough to make you sick of the place.

That's the problem with _Lost Alpha_ as it stands. A lot of time is spent travelling back and forth to different regions, to explore labs to retrieve information and bring it back to interested parties. For example, I just got through a sequence where I finally reached the Bar. I got a request to go visit the X-18 labs, which are in a basement in another region called the Dark Valley. That's not terribly different from the original storyline from Stalker, and would involve a trip to another map, a dive into a scary underground lab, and a trip back to collect rewrads and get some clues that move me along the main storyline.

But here... well, first of all, every map of this game now incorporates VERY long walks to get to the transfer points, adding a good two or three minutes. So it takes longer to get through the Garbage map to the transfer point to the Bar... and then a good five to ten minutes to FIND the Bar in the new map... and then back over that path, because you have to return to the Garbage to get to Dark Valley.

And once you're there, you have to find an underground lab, find a uniform to use to sneak into a set of buildings. At some point you have to go to yet _another_ map, the Darkscape, where you have to travel a very long road, clib into a railway bridge, and walk through a LOT of underground tunnels to meet up with the leader of the Sin mutant faction and get him to ask you to pick up computer files from the labs, travel _alllll the waaaayy baaaaack_ to the Dark Valley, explore the labs and get the data, bring it _alllll the waaaayy baaaaack_ to the Sin guy, and bring it back to the Bar as well.

Yes, there are vehicles, which make some of the travel time a little faster. And it is the Zone. But this is far too much slow motion travel to endure. This is a game that could really use a Fast Travel system.

The sad part about this comment is that the Zone was a place where the lack of vehicles and Fast Travel was a _good_ thing. The A-life system made the place alive: you'd see mutant animals fighting it out a few hills away, you'd see a skirmish between Duty and Freedom factions where you might scrounge a weapon or two. Maybe you'd meet a bunch of Stalkers who might offer some amusement. But in Lost Alpha, there are just long, very long, intolerably long stretches of Just Walking past landscapes that offer a few ripples and bubbly radiation pits.

(At one point, I decided to use a vehicle to take a "short cut" through a new map, dubbed "Forest." It's just a long road that winds through a very large forest. Takes about half an hour to drive it, if you don't run out of gas as I did. There is a small cluster of buildings at the halfway point, and a weird sparky anomaly point further along... but there's nothing of interest here at all. Nothing.)

It's so tedious that you lose track of whatever story the Lost Alpha people have settled on. as with the original Stalker, you are the Marked One, searching for this Strelok guy to kill. There'a a different plotline for the Big Reveal, which was a neat changeup from what I was used to... but by the time you reach that point, you've spent so much time strolling around the place by yourself, hearing your boots clunk on the tarmac for long stretches of time, that Strelok's story gets forgotten unless someone else reminds you.

Stalker: Lost Alpha is free, which is great. but play it ONLY if you've played the other games in the series, and really feel the need to visit the Zone. I'll probably play it through to the end, but only because it's too cold to go outside these days. But this is one of those cases where the rest of the game won't make up for the awfulness in the first... Jesus, what if this isn't even _half_ of the game?


ADDENDUM: I've payed along a bit longer, and there was a segment that moved along reasonably well. There was still some moving between maps, with long transitions between them: to Yantar to meet with the scientist Sakharov, to the Army Barracks for a fairly pointless shootout with some soldiers, some exploration, and then on to the Pripya Outskirts for the next phase of the game... for which, I was just told, I would have to journey back to Yantar and get a device from Sakharov. MORE backtracking and pointless wandering.

So I give up. I'm taking this thing off my machine.
Jay Smith wrote a brief recap of the recent 40th anniversay special (https://theunjaydedbook.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/you-bastard-jaaaaawwwwws-an-snl40-recap/) which prompted me to work this up.

It's nice to think that the audience for the very first SNL show was very small, which'd put me in a nice, rarified, ahead-of-the-curve cohort. I was twelve.

Since I was around nine or ten, late-night television was like a weird personal samizadat for me. I don't mean Johnny Carson; I mean things like Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show, the Midnight Special, the Ghoul Show, and a few others. Snyder'd have on guests you'd never see on Merv or Johnny; he'd have people on like Buckminster Fuller, Ayn Rand, Harlan Ellison, or Meat Loaf, or a gang of special-effects experts, or mystery writers. The Midnight Special showcased not only musicians, but comedians like Richard Pryor, David Steinberg, and Steve Martin. The Midnight Speciel exposed me to a troupe of British comedians whose work was punctuated by bizarre cartoons, and seeing those was my first experience at true artistic rapture, an instant Stendahl Syndrome: so when PBS ran some promos for this group, called Monty Python's Flying Circus, I was among their first Philadelphia-area fans. (It was at least a year or two before I met another kid who'd heard of them.)

Let me explain why comedy's so important to me. I wasn't a very popular kid-- at that point, I had no friends and lots of people who beat me up on a regular basis. I grew up with this sense that most of the "normal" people around me-- the classmates regarded as well-adjusted normals-- were really violent, hateful, sadistic thugs, and that whatever government existed (like school adminitstration) was there to protect _them_. And I was the only kid I knew who even _suspected_ such things. Comedy was the one thing I found that said that I was probably right... and there's a way of looking at the rest of them that can give you a kind of strength. And while I enjoyed the standard, safe, establishment comedy of, say, Carol Burnett... well, when something like Python came along, I knew I was picking up the signals from my homeworld.

Anyway, Saturdays at 11:30 had become my little private TV-time because Channel 48, a Philadelphia UHF station (ask your parents) used that time slot for late-night horror movies. The movies were hosted by a guy called The Ghoul, who looked like Frank Zappa and did funny skits around the commercials. He was cancelled in late 1974. Do NOT contradict me with Internet nonsense about him being on the air in late 1970s: my memory is clearer on this than on most of my childhood.

I kept checking the listings for months afterward, hoping they'd bring the show back. And then, in early October of 1975, I see a listing for a new show. "NBC's Satuday Night," with George Carlin listed as the host. Terrific, I thought. I was a Carlin fan even then: I loved his appearances on Flip Wilson, and I had his first two "real" albums, AM/FM and Class Clown. My parents turned in after Carol Burnett, leaving the TV to me from 11 p.m. on.

So I'm sitting in the chair, I have the TV on, I'm all alone, and I'm getting ready to watch my favorite comedia, George Carlin. Instead, I see that utterly strange sketch where Michael O'Donoghue tries to teach John Belushi english, using phrases like "I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines." Carlin comes out. More sketches and commercial parodies, which were funny and unlike the gaudier Carol Burnett-style skits. The performers were younger, unknown, and clearly not part of my parents' generation (unlike Tim Conway and Harvey Korman). Matter of fact, they were _younger than Carlin_, who at the time was a pretty radical figure compared to the rest of television.

I loved the show instantly. Lots of people-- and even Lorne Michaels-- have said that the shows had the feel of kids sneaking into the studio after hours. I don't think I missed a single segment of the show for its first five years. I started to check magazines for articles about the show (an airport newsstand provided a weird Tiger Beat-like fan magazine with a big profile of Chevy Chase, which I read during a Disney World vacation). When people like Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin showed up, you knew, instinctively, that even though these people did "normal" television, here was a place where you'd get a sense of what they were like onstage or in the comedy clubs that started to appear. It was hip when hipness still had the sense of being something rare, exotic, and if not underground, then clearly from below. And it attracted an audience that had been, at the time, content to ignore television and go out on a Saturday night. (And during the first three years, every fourth Saturday showcased "Weekend," a news magazine show with Lloyd Dobyns. Which used "Jumpin' Jack Flash" for its title music. Which did a segment on punk rock that showcased the Sex Pistols.)

So now the show's been on for forty years. It hasn't had that radical, underground charisma for at least thirty-six of those years-- in fact, hipness in general no longer has that "from below" quality anymore. I think about the shows that were considered "establishment" institutions, from Bob Hope specials to Ed Sullivan to Carol Burnett, and none of _those_ have continued for forty years, so the show's become even more of an "establishment" institution than what it set itself up to oppose, if you know what I mean. It was largely responsible for making comedy writing a _career path_-- which makes for happy comedy writers, at least, and occasionally, something as good as _Mr. Show_ gets some sugar.

But I'm going to hang onto that wonderful clandestine thrill I used to get when I'd plant myself in the TV chair, to watch a show I really thought was for _me_.

Stalker: Lost Alpha

I've written before about how much I like the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, which were developed by the Ukraine's Vostok Software over the past ten years or so. But, since I can't find that entry, I'll write a recap. And you may want to read Rock, Paper, Shotgun's appreciation at http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/12/10/on-the-importance-of-s-t-a-l-k-e-r/#more-85510

Aaaanyway, Stalker. The three games under this title (Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky, and Call of Pripyat) all take place in the mysterious realm called the Zone, created with the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl went even more berserk than it did in real life. The Zone is now host to mutant animals, strange anomalies that warp space, artifacts with strange and mysterious properties, and hordes of armed men of various factions wandering about. Some, the Stalkers, gather artifacts for cash. Others are in factions warring for power, such as Duty, Freedom, and the Monolith. The three games offer similar storylines, where you are sent into the Zone to solve a mystery or find some fabled goal.

It sounds like a typical computer game, but it's not. The game is all about mood. The Zone is a desolate place, all right, and if you've ever seen photos of the rotting towns around Chernobyl you'll understand that it's a particularly compelling desolation. The developers added a weather system, and a scheme called A-life to give the wildlife and NPCs some activity; as you play, you might see creatures in the distancen attacking each other, or two rival factions shooting up the landscape. Add in some fascinating sound design, and the Zone feels like a real place.

(The games have an odd relationship to the outside world. Their origin lies in _Roadside Picnic_, the magnificent SF novel by the Strugatski Brothers written in the mid 1970s. That novel was adapted, very freely, by Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky as _Stalker_. Years later, after the Chernobyl disaster, many people noted similarities between the exclusion zone and the movie, thus making both book and movie seem prophetic. So GSC Gameworld, a Ukrainian company, had a lot of material to boil into a game. And thanks to the game, people actually dress up in Stalker gear and play at being "in the game"-- in the actual Exclusion Zone of the Ukraine. It's sort of a national myth in the same way that _Blade Runner_ is Los Angeles's official nightmare.)

The games are far from perfect. The stories are _really muddled_, and the original releases were pretty buggy. Accounts have it that the game was originally far more ambitious, with alrger areas to explore, a more complicated storyline, and better A-life, but the developers stripped it down to something they could get out the door close to deadline. And while GSC Gameworld went belly-up, and many of its people are working on a forthcoming Stalkerish multiplayer game called _Survarium_, fans have been developing mods which fix the games's copious bugs and upgrade the graphics, such as Stalker Complete.

Stalker: Lost Alpha is an odd mod, because it attempts to upgrade Stalker to its original scope. The maps are bigger. There are more characters, more monsters, more places to explore. They've managed to incorporate drivable vehicles. The modders went through old screenshots, legacy code, and the like to recreate all of the stuff that the original gamemakers intended. It's finally in a form that can be played reasonably well, and one can download and play it as a standalone game. If you want to try it, it's at http://www.moddb.com/mods/lost-alpha.

I'm not very far into the game, but here's my review: it's only okay. It has a LOT more to play with, but somehow, it doesn't have that wonderful, fatalistic desolation of the Zone we got in the first game. There's a lot longer travel between the trouble spots. For example, when you reach the Bar in the actual release version, it's a brief trot through a rusty factory before you're there. But in this new/older version, you have to walk all the way around the factory before maybe finding the entrance, adding an unnecessary five minutes to the game. There's less dialogue and character, but that's understandable, because the modders aren't a full studio.

But, if you're not playing anything at the moment, and want to acquire a large and compelling game for free, check it out.

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Wissahickon Ambient Video: Sample



This is a sample from a longer, as-yet-untitled ambient video piece I've been working on for a while.

Let's begin by saying that the music is by Chris Zabriskie, who's made a lot of his excellent ambient music available at the Free Music Archive. It's under a Creative Commons license for free use, as long as the artist is credited, but since I'd like to sell my full-length video in some form or another, I've emailed him about the project to work things out. But it appears that a sampler can be released, for now.

So what's the story here? During the summer, I'd ride my bike up to the Wissahickon, and I started bringing my video cameras with me. I figured that I might make a nice atmospheric video for my own enjoyment: get some nice nature shots, lay in some music, and have it play in the background while I did important things like edit video, write, sketch house renovations, sleep, or whatever. (The music I use for my home, personal version includes some Ravi Shankar, some of Peter Gabriel's soundtrack from The Last Temptation of Christ, and other good stuff.) I figure there's probably a market for this, as well: I've seen some videos that are collections of gorgeous nature shots of places like Costa Rica and Monument Valley and the like, and the Wissahickon has a lot that's at least as gorgeous.

Assuming that I can clear the music, and find some good sounds from the footage (you can hear traffic from nearby thoroughfares a lot of the time), I may have something that people can watch while they're meditating, or something that a yoga studio'd have on their big-screens, or whatnot. But how do I sell this? I'm finding that the major pay-for-video-distribution systems are a little tough to get into. Vimeo seems the easiest, at $200 a year: iTunes has a raft of requirements and costs close to two grand. Manufacturing DVDs or Blu-Ray disks is, for now, prohibitively expensive: I'd have to pre-sell a lot of disks, before I can have them made. So, for now, this sampler should work as a preview, and as a portfolio item.

My Latest Project is Fantastically Boring

Which is as it should be.

First Full Edit_4I've been making occasional bicycle pilgrimages out to the Wissahickon Creek over the past few years. This is to give myself a little workout, but since I do this maybe twice in a year, the "workout" aspect isn't something I'd put up against Jack LaLanne.  It's also to go play with my video cameras. Nature's always nice to shoot. People like it, in small doses. Match it with the right music, and you can inspire some pretty cool moods with that stuff. I think my first taste was when I shot the trailer for The Drowning Girl with Caitlin Kiernan and Kyle Cassidy; in addition to the three actresses in the trailer, we got some wonderful looking footage of the surrounding scenery, and I guess it stuck with me.

Eventually, I tried to think of something that'd help me make some money at this video thing. I could take thirty-second clips and sell'em as stock footage. I tried this with some time-lapses I shot in a cemetery, and managed to sell one clip over four years for six bucks. (Turns out the real stock-footage money's in helicopter shots over major cities or exotic locations.) But eventually, I decided that I might be able to create one of those ambient-video things, a long sequence of calming nature shots cued to appropriate woodland sounds and/or ambient music. The sort of thing you might put on your big-screen when you're meditating, soaking in a mud bath, or trying not to scope out that cute person at the yoga class.

There's a company that puts out Blu-Rays of hi-def footage of Beautiful Places, and I have their Costa Rica disc as a nice background-generator for when I'm working.  I may not be heading down to a spectacular rain forest full of toucans and parrots, but for all I know, this company might've set their cameras up at the edge of the parking lot and shot what was nearby. So, I finally sat down to take what I had, and put it into shape.

First Full Edit_3The stuff I shot totaled about thirteen hours. No, really. Thirteen hours of a local park. I had some wonderful things. The waterfall. The patterns of leaves drifting in calm water like stars in the arms of a spiral galaxy. Stones in the creek, water flooding over them like crystal. Cathedrals of green trees.  Moss on branches. Ferns sprouting from the hillsides. Boulders and rock walls, cracking gently over the centuries. Overhead shots of rapids, filling the screen with slow-motion turbulence. A rotting tree stump, carved by termites into Pueblo hill-cities.

First Full Edit_11Most were shots lasting a minute or so in length. Some were shot at 60 frames per second which, when slowed to 24 fps, ran for more than twice as long and turned the waterflows into magnificently slow cascades. Lots were duplicates of the same scene: I might take a shot, do it again with another color balance, change the angle, or zoom in or out for better framing. Or, I'd try tilting down from the trees to the river, and then I'd tilt from the river up to the trees. I trimmed the pile to shots that I could use with a minimum of duplication, and was down to under three hours.

The next step was to take the shots I still had, and cut them to length. I looked at some similar videos, and found that the shots ran for maybe ten to twenty seconds each. Thirty seconds, and you started to lose the viewer's interest; the only shots that lasted longer than twenty seconds were shots where the camera was moving or panning. So, I took my pile and trimmed each shot to roughly twenty seconds. Now I was hovering under ninety minutes. That's not so bad; lots of ambient videos run about an hour.


First Full Edit_6I had some wonderful things. The waterfall. The patterns of leaves drifting in calm water like stars in the arms of a spiral galaxy. Stones in the creek, water flooding over them like crystal. Cathedrals of green trees.

Now came the hard part-- arranging the damn things. I can't just have a random sequence of pretty nature shots, right? The thing has some have some shape, some flow, something vaguely like progress from point A to some moving, placid finale... right?

That's what took me a few weeks, on and off. I grouped the shots into rough categories, and found other shots that worked as transitions between them. Maybe it worked to go from the shots of trees standing still, to a sequence where the winds began tossing the treetops around a bit... or should I start with those Terence Malick-y shots where I'm aiming up into the sky through the canopy? How do I transition from the waterfalls to the rapids, when the rapids are upstream from the waterfall? Do I use the shots of man-made structures, like the bridges or that water font by the path? Do I try to mix the shots taken in the autumn and the spring, and hope people don't mind how the colors change from greens to yellows?

Here's the sequence I worked up.
Waterfall
Stream to Rapids
Rapids to Trees
Groves of Green Trees
Trees in sloping ground
Stone in the Forest
Tree Roots and Ferns
Stone by Water
Calm Water with leaves drifting
Water and Trees
The Upper Trees- a long tilt-up a nice oak tree, that Malick shot, the wind tossing tree tops
Decay: fallen trees, rotting stumps (which are really pretty)
Autumn Trees
Autumn Rapids
Overhead Rapids

First Full EditLast night, I took some music I had-- Biosphere, Ravi Shankar, some bits of Peter Gabriel's Passion soundtrack-- and threw them onto the soundtrack. I adjusted things a bit for timing and when the music changed, and rendered a draft out to my TiVo. I actually like it. There's a lot of stuff I have to do (lots of color correction: a lot of the river bed is just brown), but I can put this aside for a while.

The next step is the soundtrack. I'd like to have two ready: one of nature sounds and noises, and one of an ambient music track. The nature sounds are difficult, since you can hear the hum of traffic at the Wissahickon. I may be able to take that out, but no guarantees; I may have to find licensable nature sounds and dub them in.

As for music... you have to be careful. Sometimes, a composer will introduce long sections of near-silence. Or maybe they'll go from low, moody strings to a harp sound that Andreas Vollenweider'd find twee and precious. Or, they'll move from something natural-sounding to techno-sounding, like a synclavier suite that sounds like tamagotchi fucking. Or they're dubbing in what sounds like a Soviet administrator making an announcement over the factory's faulty loudspeaker, with moody echo, like that blimp in _Blade Runner_; I like that, but not here.

But you know why it's really difficult to find the right music? You have to listen to a LOT OF AMBIENT MUSIC. Lots of low, slow, minimalist, repeating music. And maybe you do NOT want to lower your metabolism that much.

It'd be nice to have a local composer who's got some meditation-mood stuff he or she's willing to license in exchange for a piece of the profits, assuming there are profits. (I'd rather it be something they already have; I do NOT want to have someone bust their ass composing something special for this. For one thing, I may not like it.) I may have to go hunting through licensable music online.

Las Vegas

Has it been four months since I've posted here? Well, my long-post-writing skills have kind of atrophied, so this is going to go all over the place.

This past weekend, Kyle Cassidy enlisted me as his videographer-in-tow to Las Vegas-- yes, the one in Nevada-- to shoot interviews for his "This is What a Librarian Looks Like" project. It's shaping up to be much bigger than a photo essay: something like a documentary is in the works, and I'm hoping that I can bring enough skills to make it look pretty decent.

But anyway, Las Vegas. We didn't see that much of the place because we were busy _working_. We arrived at nighttime on Thursday, and took a cab directly to the Las Vegas Hotel. At the time, I thought it was pretty convenient that it was located right next to the convention center... but later I realized that nearly every sizable hotel in Vegas has its own convention center. Vegas operates on a mammoth scale in many ways, and the LVH would be outsize in most US cities. Its front sign alone was the size of a small office building by itself.

Now, while the LVH wasn't a bad hotel by any means, it certainly wasn't one of the glamour palaces that George Clooney's crew would be raiding to David Holmes music. As you enter, you're greeted by a lot of sensory material. There are glass cases containing Elvia memorabilia, including the last Cadillac he ever bought. (It reminded me of the Caddies that my Dad used to buy, and I had a memory of coming home from the Shore, sitting in a bathing suit in the rear leather seats.) There's a churning sea of LEDs in the casino proper, where hundreds of poker and slot machines glare twenty-four-seven. And there's something I hadn't smelled in years: _indoor cigarette smoke_. It wasn't overwhelming, but it was a actually shocking to smell cigs in a hotel after years of indoor smoking bans.

IMAG0867
As I said, the LVH is lower-tier Vegas-- not that I'm suddenly an expert on the place. There was a theater someplace showcasing something called "Raiding the Rock Vault," where musicians with some claim to "having rocked it" were playing covers. There was also a restaurant with Vince Neil's name attached, and the walls and video screens were Motley Crue-riffic. There was a massive Race and Sports Book room, with walls covered by massive screens showing races and soccer games, which looked like the War Room in _Dr. Strangelove_.

But the LVH was not a happy place. Maybe it was the jet lag, but it was really easy to be in the casino, and feel as though it was past midnight, even though it was still a bright and sunny 4 p.m. outside. (Which made the pool a GREAT thing to have.) The place's eateries were overpriced and terrible. Kyle's a vegetarian, and the closest place one could find a decent meal for him was in the food court at the Riviera casino across the street and a loooong city block away. (I fetched him some masala dosa. That was part of my job.) The hotel was the best place for the job, as it was right next to the librarians' convention, but if I were to advise on Vegas trips I'd push people to the bigger, gaudier places on the Strip.

And the casino provided one of those classic Vegas images for me. No, not the guy in Elvis drag stalking through the lobby. This was the elderly lady sitting at a slot machine, cig dangling from her mouth, her right hand on the machine's arm, and believe it or not, an oxygen tank near her left. And sitting beside her, her husband, bent my age and weight, just slumped over and staring into eternity as he spent his golden years waiting as his beloved pumped dollar bills into machine.

IMAG0862
On a more cheerful note, I did take a short walk on Friday morning to the nearest CVS. As I said, the LVH was across the street from the Riviera. And on the other side of the Riviera was Circus Circus, one of the first casinos to let parents bring the kids inside while they gambled away their futures. And there was Hunter Thompson's line about the place: "The Circus Circus was what the whole hip world would be doing on a Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war." So it was Selfie Time.

Notice that I'm not saying much about Kyle's project. That's mainly because I don't wanna _jinx_ it by getting it wrong in some way. The main work was helping Kyle carry his photog stuff to the convention floor. We set up an interview station in our room, so we could have controlled lighting and get decent quality video interviews.

At one point, Kyle wanted to go to where the librarians had set up a gaming room, and take portraits there. The gaming room was in Caesar's Palace, which meant taking a cab to the Vegas Strip.

Oh, my God.

Forests have died to showcase the words others have assembled to capture the Vegas Strip. About the best that I can say is this. Imagine if you lived in America in 1893. For the most part, your surroundings are pretty frickin' drab. Farmland. Tenements. The Life of the Mind is limited to religious revival and horrible memories of what Dad endured in the Civil War. Maybe a train whistle floats by on the wind. And then, you take a trip to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago-- the Great White City, full of Belle Epoque buildings that are LIT UP EVERY NIGHT WITH FABULOUS ELECTRICITY. And even though we're Americans of the 21st century, and we've lived in cities and watched spectacles and maybe gone to Disney World and heard of Dubai... well, The Vegas Strip can _still_ feel like the White City would have to some poor Victorian-age yokel.

And yes, it's gaudy, and fake, and one massive capitalist effort to drain your pockets and blast your senses with flashy entertainments. But in many places, it's _well done_. I didn't get to see the Venetian up close, but at a distance, it struck me as a well-made knock-off of Italian Renaissance styles-- amped up for modern vacationers, of course. Caesar's Palace sported statues that, to my untrained eye, didn't look like shitty plaster or injection-molded plastic-- they looked as though someone had taken the time to make good statues, place them carefully, and light them well. Other places along the Strip were just delightful to me: the way Gilley's overlooked the street, the block-long waterfalls the Mirage set up so pedestrians could enjoy some cooling spray in 100-degree heat... Okay, throw in whole buildings covered with LED networks sweeping colors all over the place, dramatically-lit fountains, gigantic street signs playing mini-movies forty-feet tall... and as long as you're not among the crowds of pushing, shoving, vomiting people on the sidewalk, it is an amazing spectacle.

Inside Caesar's was a fascinating mix, too. Yeah, the first thing you meet (other than the bronze Caesar statue) was the floor of slot machines. Move along, and you find that the place is a combination of several things. There's the casino, the hotel, the convention center... and a high-end shopping mall, far closer to Rodeo Drive than to the Gallery. I mean, how many malls have cocktail bars in their midst, two stories high, arranged in tiers of bottles and glass sculptures?

This is what was so much fun for me in Vegas, just as a spectator for an hour or two. Most of my friends have a set of opinions about the place-- gaudy, cheap, gimcrack, inauthentic, trashy America fit only for rubes and unsophisticated Republicans. The same stuff you hear about shopping malls and Disney World. Maybe the smarter ones can throw off some Baudrillardian yabber about horizontality, simulacra and the Spectacle. And it's real easy to feel that way if you're used to everyday malls, hotels, and Disney. But Las Vegas is _overwhelming_. Within minutes-- assuming you didn't have some pedestrian throw up on your shoes on the way in-- you wonder _why_ you're sneering at the carpet patterns and wondering if the marble is authentic to Italy. Me, I'd wanted to wander down to the Paris casino, and spend some time in the fake Parisian street; hey, I ain't getting to Paris anytime soon, and it'd probably be as renovated as Tati's _Playtime_ by the time I got there... so I'd be happy with the fake stores and Art Nouveau knockoff designs.

Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of shit in Vegas, too. There was a big Trump building, shaped and glazed to resemble a gold brick on its end... but it was about three blocks west of the Strip proper, as though the town fathers felt that Trump was too classless for their own palaces. And further still is the low-income landscape we all know: shuttered storefronts, check-cashing places, lots of billboards for lawyers.

But you can get that anywhere.
Just to get the bell rolling-- and to goose the Kickstarter numbers a little-- I edited a few minutes of _Romeo and Juliet_. This is a _very_ rough draft: I used only four of the seven camera feeds, the shots are not reframed, and the soundtrack's temporary until I get it properly mixed. (Which'll be an education in itself.)

This was to establish an editing workflow, and get a sense of how the footage would be shaping up. But, it'll give all of you something to circulate to family and friends, to give them a sense of what the project's going to be like in the end. I'm very excited about this, and I hope you are, too.

)

The Kickstarter page is https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/324288631/romeo-and-juliet-1, and we're at $935 of our $3500 goal.
It's LAUNCH DAY for my Kickstarter for the video version of Curio Theater's _Romeo and Juliet_! Hie thee hence to the link below, circulate it far and wide, and if you can, toss us a few shekels or drachmas or S&H Green Stamps to help us make our goal and get this project done!

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/324288631/romeo-and-juliet-1
The Project Video:


Information's in the project's video. And yes, I WILL be posting reminders EVERY WEEK until April 4th, our deadline!

Has it been four months? Holy Shit.

I'm working on a video that was shot at a recording studio. It was a pretty impromptu, unplanned sort of thing; the artists would be recording, and I'd shoot whatever I could, and see if I could give it some shape in the editing. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn't. And so far, it's working out OK.

I looked up the studio on the web to check a name or two, and found that they have this program where artists can come in, and get recorded, PLUS, they get videos made of them doing their work. I wanna see what other people are doing, so okay, I click on the Vimeo box and have a look.

It looks really good. The photography is pretty lush, and the camera angles are well chosen. There's some nice interviews, the artists against black backgrounds and lit lovingly from the side. The moments when the artists are recording? Nicely done, with excellent sound.

My stuff doesn't look nearly as good. I got lucky with some shots. The sound's basically what my Rode could capture, but there's always the chance of getting the stuff that the studio recorded. Okay, the performers did several takes of one song, and I could edit those into a single version, and there's some very funny banter going on... but it looked like a home movie next to the studio's stuff.

I spent a few minutes being miserable.

So I scroll ahead to the credits, and what do I see? Credits for a Director. An Executive Producer. A Director of Photography. Three cameramen. An audio engineer. TWO editors, a Production Supervisor, and even credits for the gear and FOOD. A whole CREW that had this process down to a science, with multiple cameras and proper sync sound.

So? So FUCK YOU, unnamed videography crew.