Sunday, February 27, 2011

A quiet week

So, this was supposed to be a quiet week of relaxation. The two weeks after my Mum went home were completely manic, catching up on work, and organising a video shoot for a Moviestorm demo. This week, I only had one day's work booked, so I figured I'd just chill, read a couple of books, and listen to some music. The most strenuous thing on my to-do list was organising the playlists on my iTunes and figure out exactly what's in that 200+Gb of mp3s we possess between us.

Didn't quite turn out like that.

I spent Monday designing characters for a Spanish video game, then in the evening went out to Kissimmee to see my old friend and colleague from the UK Online days, Simon Bisson, who was in town for a conference. By the time I'd got lost on the way to find the Five Guys at Dr Phillips, it ended up as a 100-mile round trip.

Tuesday I got stuck into editing and doing an e-book conversion for a book by friend and former Moviestorm colleague Julian Gold, as well as proofreading the final version of the e-book of Ong's Hat, by friend and Hukilau colleague Joseph Matheny.

On Wednesday, I was completely destroyed by a migraine. Even so, I managed to check through the first cut of the Moviestorm video and get feedback to the editor, and do another sizeable chunk of Julian's book.

Thursday didn't go to plan at all, and I got practically no work done at all. I went out to Titusville first thing in the morning with Jim Carchidi, and spent the day wandering round with him as he took photos of the shuttle launch for the local press. After an amazingly quick drive back (a mere 60 minutes), I made curry and we had a relaxing evening drinking beer in the hot tub. I passed on going to the late night Flirtini Foxxes burlesque show (largely because I can't handle the smoke in the Peacock), and settled down with Anna to watch a movie. Ten minutes in, we got a call from a friend who wanted us to check out his new venue as a potential place to host some Ferox events, so we ended up wandering round an almost deserted club at midnight.

Picture by Jim Carchidi

On Friday, I finally finished converting Julian's book, and Simon came over for lunch before flying back to England. In the evening we went out to Frankie's Apartment E show at Taste, and then on to see the Hindu Cowboys at Drake's Bar. Fantastic music, and an excellent venue - I had a really enjoyable time.

Yesterday, we went kayaking on Lake Maitland. We had plans for the evening, but kayaking took longer than expected, so we ended up going out to a steakhouse and then, finally, watching a movie! (Observation: 9½ Weeks is horribly dated and epitomizes everything I hated about the 80s.)

Photo by Anna

And today, I've just proof-read and done the ebook conversion on a book by Jim Carchidi. And that's not all - this evening, we've got places to be, people to see...

In the middle of all that, I still managed to sort out my iTunes playlists (55 playlists, 32786 songs, 100.2 days), go to the gym three times, read five books (loved People of the Longhouse and Arrowsmith, the others were meh), listen to more music than I've done in ages, finish a piece of art I've been messing with for weeks (still not happy with it, though), write two FML scripts, and work on the business plan for Fas Ferox, which may, entirely possibly, get going in earnest very soon.

And that was my "quiet week".

Still, maybe next week will be a quiet week. Apart from work, I've got nothing much planned, except going to Bike Week in Daytona with Jim, two art shows, going to a movie with the Stephensons, re-writing the outline of a 72-issue story, reading some other books in the North Americans series, researching more bits of mythology, doing the maintenance on the air conditioning, and taking Darien out driving... did I forget anything?

No? Good. Then maybe I'll have time to play Assassin's Creed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I'm going to eat everything

Yes, I am. I'm going to eat everything in the house - or as near to it as I can manage. Once I'm left with a packet of tapioca, half a jar of black olives, a can of green beans, a jar of raspberry jam, and six shelves of herbs and spices, I think that might tax my ingenuity, and my digestive system, just that little bit more than I can manage.

There's a reason for it. Both of us are planning on changing our diets quite significantly over the next few months. We're aiming to eat much lighter food, more fruits and vegetables, more fish, and much less red meat, fat, dairy, sugar, salt and so on. I've been going through recipe books, old and new, and looking for the sort of recipes I normally skim over, planning out a whole new menu for us both that is healthy, tasty, nutritious, affordable, and fun to cook. I know I need to do something about my food intake, but I'm not going to stop liking the stuff.

It's actually really enjoyable: I'm finding new things to cook, new flavor combinations, new ingredients, and new styles of cuisine. What I'd like to do is actually use this as a way to change our entire lifestyle. I'm thinking about focusing my main meal of the day at lunchtime, rather than evening, and going for something like a mezze or a Mediterranean-style spread, with a variety of dips and small dishes. Then I can take a break in the afternoon and go back to work in the evening. Anna usually works in the evenings anyway, since that's when artists are available, so it makes sense for us to work at the same time if we can, rather than me finishing just as she's getting started.

Anyway, as part of this process, I'm planning to use up everything in our cupboards, and then restock from scratch with new food when I've figured out the new menu. I reckon we've got enough to feed ourselves for maybe a month, perhaps a little more. We've got loads of things that we bought ages ago, and haven't used. Some of it's probably in danger of going out of date, so I might as well use it now instead of throwing it away in a few months.

It'll be interesting to see what I come up with. And I've got a lot of ramen noodles to look forward to.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Holy Land Experience

A few weeks ago, we went to the Holy Land Experience, just to see what's actually behind those fake Roman walls.

Well, it was an experience, there’s no denying that. It’s one of Orlando’s lesser known theme parks. (Well, legally, HLE is a church, which means it doesn’t have to pay taxes, even though it rakes in an absolute fortune. Nice deal if you can get it.)

It was pretty much what you’d expect from a theme park. Plastic religious stuff, presentations about as sophisticated as an elementary school play, overpriced refreshments, and people dressed up in silly costumes. That, however, isn’t what interested me.

What I was mainly there for was the people-watching and to understand the way Christianity is presented in America. There was one huge church group there, and it was refreshing to see that many of the teenagers were giggling as much as we were when faced with giant plastic whales, cardboard cut-out Jesus, and a gift shop full of cheesy souvenirs.

On the other hand, there were people simply in awe at the re-enactment of the Tabernacle in the wilderness when the Ark of the Covenant was revealed (was I really the only person in the room having an Indiana Jones moment?) and they actually broke into applause when paintings of various prophets were unveiled at the end of a tour chronicling the development of the Bible. And when it came to the Passion, many of them turned away in genuine tears at the crucifixion, and there were shouts of Hallelujah when Jesus came back like a disco star at the end complete with shiny robes and finger pointed to heaven like John Travolta.

I’ve never witnessed that level of religious fervor before, and it was truly bizarre to see it in a place that was obviously so commercialized and fake. I can understand it at somewhere like the Wailing Wall, Lourdes, Mecca or somewhere with actual religious significance, but at a cheesy 15-minute performance at a theme park in Florida?


Now, I’m pretty well read when it comes to religion, even though I’m not a Christian. My mum, who was there with me, did divinity and theology at university, and is even more familiar with the source materials. The Christianity presented at HLE is a complete distortion of and is riddled with lies, myths, and completely fallacious logic.

For example, at the exhibition of the history of the Bible, they showed us some Mesopotamian cuneiform writings, and explained how these proved the literal truth of the Bible. There was one tablet which chronicled Sennacherib’s destruction of a Hebrew army. This corresponds exactly with the Biblical account of the same battle, which proves that the Bible is historically accurate, and therefore accurate in all other respects. There’s just one small difference between the Assyrian and Jewish accounts; the Assyrians say they won the battle, the Jews say the Angel of the Lord slaughtered the Assyrians. This, apparently, not only attests to the truth of the Bible, but proves the superiority of God. To which the audience all nodded and praised the Lord.

Let’s just review that for a second. What they actually said was, “We can prove the Bible is true because it completely disagrees with all other historical sources?” Yet nobody questioned the logic. Not to mention the fact that even if the Bible did agree with the historical sources in this one respect, that does not mean that the rest of the book is automatically true.

Or how about the statement that the Bible was copied by hand many times, but there was never a single error or change? That’s just provably false, as any Biblical scholar will tell you. But this “fact” was put forward as proof that the Bible is truly miraculous, and again, the audience applauded and praised the Lord some more. And they didn’t even notice when two minutes later they were told about the different versions of the Gospels...

And their version of Christianity doesn’t even follow the damn Bible anyway. Where were the two thieves at the crucifixion? What happened to the bit of the story where Pilate offered to let Jesus go, but the people chose to release someone else? Conveniently snipped in the interests of drama. And those plastic animals going into the Ark two by two? That’s not actually what it says in the book.

The LORD then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female. (Genesis 7, 1-3)

And of course, all those paintings of Jewish prophets and apostles? Not a trace of a Semitic gene among them. They were all blond, with blow-dried hair, pale-skinned, and looking like Charlton Heston. It’s completely pandering to Western stereotypes.

Basically this is Christianity taken from a Victorian children’s Bible and turned into easily digestible family entertainment, based on misreadings of the texts and fallacious extrapolations dressed up to sound like learned teachings. It was exactly what I expected, but it still bemuses me that over half the people in this country believe that it’s the literal truth, it’s the word of God, and it’s the cornerstone of their faith.

That’s the true horror of the Holy Land Experience.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A cautionary tale: continued

Yesterday, I wrote about how Anna lost a painting following a local art show. Since then, we've heard from several people telling us of similar experiences at the same venue. One person who had worked at Tatame for a while told us that it was common practice amongst staff there to take a piece they liked and tell the artists it had been stolen by patrons. On other occasions, if art wasn't collected immediately it was removed from the walls, the staff assumed it was abandoned and helped themselves to it. Of course, the artists never got compensated for their stolen work.

I'm not saying that's what happened in this case, but certainly we'd have taken a different attitude towards both the venue and the owners had we known of its reputation.

So this leads me to add a third piece of common sense advice to artists to what I suggested yesterday (get insurance & take a proper inventory):

Always check out the venue beforehand, and find out if other artists have had problems there. And if you don't completely trust them, don't give them your artwork.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A cautionary tale for artists

In January, Anna had a show in Tatame in Winter Park, including about 40 pieces of her work from the last 15 years. It was due to stay up until early February. However, a few days before the end of January, she got a call one evening informing us that Tatame had been sold, and she needed to come and collect her artwork immediately, because remodeling was starting in the morning. At the time, we were out having dinner with my mother, who was visiting from England, and we said we couldn’t do it. They told us instead to be there first thing in the morning to collect everything, so we rearranged our plans for the next day and said we’d be there at 10am after dropping Anna’s daughter at school.

When we arrived at Tatame the next morning, work was already underway. Several pieces were already off the walls and put on one side, and the DJ booth was partially dismantled. The old and new owners were deep in paperwork, and basically told us to hurry up because everyone was waiting on us to clear the art out of the way. We loaded up everything we could see as quickly as we could, double-checked the walls, and left within 15 minutes. We knew we didn’t have everything that we’d brought, as some pieces had been sold.

Earlier this week, Anna realized one of her paintings was missing and wasn’t one that had been sold. It had been hanging on the side of the DJ booth, not on the walls, and must have been removed by the workmen before we got there. In the chaos, nobody told us where they’d put the pieces they had taken down, and we didn’t have time to do a proper inventory before leaving. Anna contacted them, but all that either the old or new owners could tell us was that there was no art on the walls after we left, and there’s no sign of it anywhere now.

And that’s it. The painting’s gone. No apology from anyone at Tatame. Nothing. (We were originally scheduled to be in St Augustine for a few days at that time, so I hate to think what would have happened if we’d actually been out of town and hadn’t been able to get there until the following day.)

I'm still kicking myself for not being my usual stubborn self and insisting on a full inventory check before we left. But I'm also annoyed at Tatame for putting us in that position in the first place.

That’s not the only problem we’ve had this year either. In January, Anna had some sculptures in a show at Red Light Red Light. When she came to collect them, in a dark parking lot one night, Anna noticed that one had a missing hand. The guy running the show looked in his car and found the broken-off hand on the seat, so clearly it had happened after he’d taken the pieces off the wall. When we got back home and looked at it again in the light, Anna noticed that the fingers on the other hand were missing too, but it was too late.

And once again, there was no apology or admission of responsibility, just a mumbled, “there you are, hope you can fix it.” Well, it’s been partially repaired, but the piece is now damaged and we’re not sure if we’re going to be able to sell it without a lot of additional work.

Sadly, there seems to be nothing we can do about it in either case. The venues disclaim any responsibility for loss or damage, so it’s entirely our problem. To be fair, this is quite standard shows of this nature, and we do exactly the same at our Friday Ferox shows. Unless we’re charging a much higher commission, we can’t afford the insurance, and neither can the venue. We’ve had work disappear from a show, and while we were prepared to make good some of the loss personally, we couldn’t do it for a high value piece. We can't really expect Tatame or RL RL to be any different.

So, artists, there’s two lessons here.

First, consider insurance for pieces you’re putting in a show. Accidents, vandalism and thefts do happen, and nobody’s going to compensate you for anything that happens to your work while it’s on display, no matter whose fault it is. If you're showing your work in a pub or restaurant, remember that they're not really looking after your precious artwork. They're far too busy selling food and drink to people - which means alcohol, spillages, and all sorts of risks.

And secondly, when you collect your work, make sure everything is accounted for, and don’t leave the building until you’re sure you’ve got everything.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Netflix PS3 upgrade is a big step backwards

Netflix is getting worse and worse. Apart from the fact that the service quality is degrading (frequent stops and poor image quality, and the new imposition of the limited number of devices that nobody had ever heard of before), they've just released a pointless user interface "upgrade" for the PS3 version that makes it considerably harder to use.

This screenshot shows four different Netflix layouts. We used to have the top right one. Now we have the bottom right one.

In detail:
  • Instead of showing 25 films per page, they now show 8. You can only scroll through them 3 at a time instead of 5, so scrolling through lists is 50% slower. Since we have about 200 movies bookmarked, and each scroll takes about 3 seconds to perform, it takes several minutes to get through our list.
  • They also removed the side menu allowing you to access different genres, and now you have to scroll through 15 pages of recommendations before you even get to the categories.
  • Even worse, the categories are unordered and they removed the sub-genres, so you now have to scroll through *all* foreign movies (3 at a time) rather than being able to go for, say, French comedies. That means scrolling through 1500 movies instead of 50, which is simply unbearable.
In other words, it's now incredibly slow and inefficient to use, and I cannot see any benefit to the user in doing it this way. It's a typical case of an upgrade for the sake of it.

Looks like I'm not the only person who's fed up either. Here are some extracts from the PS3 forums.

I also hate the change. What I do now is use my PC to search Netflix, and then add anything that I'm interested in to my instant queue.

The new menu stinks! I've only had netflix for a week.The old menu that allowed you to browse thousands of titles in an endless amount of sub categories was awesome. It allowed me to see programming that I could never find with the stupid, useless,regressed, going backwards setup that is in place now.It is completely rediculous to have to browse titles on your pc then search them on your ps3.

OMG this new menu is on purpose! I signed up with Netflix a few days ago and i had a menu that i could drill down through genres and find exactly what i wanted, then at some point this afternoon it changed to this crap. I just got off the phone with customer service from netflix and the guy told me this was a change they made based on customers who preferred it. I told him it's terrible and that having to search on the laptop and then back to the PS3 is redundant and a waste of time.

I also find the menu change to be annoying, they took an awesome service and made it intolerable. I also must use my PC and set it in my instant queue, they need to fix it back.
I used to love Netflix. Now I'm finding myself questioning every day whether it's worth the hassle. I'm off to post a couple of formal complaints on their FB page: