Animation

Animating and reading and music and stuff…

Animation studies continue

It’s now week 7 (of 72) of Animation Mentor! The first semester (of 12 weeks) is half way over!

Last week’s assignment involved animating a pendulum. Unfortunately, towards the end of the week (mostly Saturday and Sunday) I caught some sort of virus, so I lost a nice chunk of animation time, and my assignment turned out pretty “blagh.” I mean, it wasn’t completely terrible, but it needs lots of polishing, so I’ll post that up on YouTube after I do a revision. Feeling better now, so I hope this week will be better.

Reading…

I finished reading The Talent Code the other day. Overall, ’twas a pretty good read, though I still think that in some of the chapters the author kind of goes off on these less interesting tangents. There was this whole chapter about how good some “KIPP program” schools were, though to me they seemed kind of brain-washy. One of the main points of the program, besides instilling militaristic discipline, was to not only get the students to go to college, but get them to want to go to college. Apparently the founders of the KIPP program believe that going to college is pretty much the most important thing in the world. It’s kind of … disturbing. Maybe there’s a grain of truth to it, in terms of there being a correlation between income levels and college attendance, but I don’t think brain-washing children to believe that college is the most important goal in life is necessarily helpful, even if the students in this KIPP program preform very well on tests.

Which kind of leads me to another problem… so often it seems that how “good” a school is is determined by comparing it to other schools. People say things like “this school scored in the 90th percentile!” That sounds pretty good, but it actually really doesn’t say that much. What exactly is the “score” of the 90th percentile? Shouldn’t the actual score matter? With this sort of comparison-rating system, a school (or a student) doesn’t even have to improve for their score to improve… everyone else just has to do worse.

Along the same lines (though this is a complete tangent from the subject of the book), I hate when teachers, both high school and college, grade to a curve. As if a bell curve should naturally arise in the grades, and if it’s not there, you just shape the test scores to it. It makes no sense; you can get a better grade simply because everyone else did lousy on the test? But really this is part of the bigger “grading problem” in general that schools have; they simply use grades in a completely wrong way, as a form to easily compare students and to act as an easy gatekeeper for decision making. Unfortunately how well someone knows facts or a skill is not so easily numbered. (And this is really related to the “school problem” in general; how so many people think it’s a good use of time and money to teach and learn things students are not interested in or are not going to use. I’ll spare myself from going off on that tangent today…)

One last thing I’m starting to understand, from this book and others with similar themes, is that our personalities, as defined by our decisions and interests, are, or at least can be, as malleable as our intellect. They are a product of our environment. Maybe not completely, of course, but the true (often subconscious) sources of interests and personalities are quite complex; they do not simply emerge from DNA. In other words, if you observe that someone is bossy when they are a baby, that’s not necessarily just because they have “bossy” genes. Although, maybe they do… my point is that it’s complex. And people can change, at least to a greater degree than they may realize. Not easily, perhaps. It might take a complete overturning of your environment, and the change might be from “stable” to “completely depressed and crazy”, but it’s possible. I do wish it were easy to understand how interests come about and how they could be changed, but they seem to get so set-in-stone that we think of them as being as unchangeable as stone…

The other book I finished reading was Federations, a collection of sci-fi short stories. It was kind of a mixed bag… I thought some stories were very good, especially Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason and Symbiont by Robert Silverberg. Some were OK. Some were uhhhh-what-the-heck? (I have more traditional tastes. When authors try to get all experimental and stylized, I don’t always get it. One of my big pet peeves is unisex/nonsex pronouns, like “hirs” and “shim”… blagh! You’re not clever! Stop it!)

Will books die soon?

In other news, I read this article in which some guy says that physical books will be dead in 5 years. *gasp* Firstly, the article states that we must consider what has happened to music and films, which makes no sense to me. Those are digital art mediums in the first place. You watch a movie with a digital TV, and you listen to music on speakers (or headphones). Those have required electricity to perceive the art for a long time. Not so with books. So I don’t think the comparison is entirely valid. Also, movies are still quite non-digital, in that they still are sold on physical discs. This not only helps prevent copying (to a degree), but it also allows customers to trade, rent, borrow, return, and resell their movies. In a purely digital world, we can’t do that. Money would only ever flow one way. Great for movie distributors (if they can prevent illegal copying enough), somewhat lame for everyone else (unless you can get free movies by watching ads at certain intervals… but still no returning or trading).

He also says that the sales of Kindle books has outnumbered the sales of hardbacks. OK… that in and of itself is not really evidence of anything, as far as I can tell. We’d also have to see a decline in hardback sales, and look at paperback sales. And publishers would have to at some point conclude that publishing a hardback would not be worth it. And then conclude that paperbacks aren’t worth it either. These business decisions would, I think, be way too drastic for publishers to figure out in just 5 years. Unless, of course, Kindle and other ebooks take off so well and make publishers so rich that they have nothing to worry about by going all digital. So I guess I’d really have to look at the publishers’ records to know…

Eventually, books may very well die, or at least become mostly dead… but in just 5 years? I highly doubt it.

Some beautiful music!

Lastly, as a reward for reading all that blather (or for scrolling down), here’s some beautiful music for you!

Want more? Of course you do!

These pieces were brought to you by the Portsmouth Sinfonia which I came across last week (or yesterday or something)… what beautiful sounds!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Animation

Plans on planning to plan to write

Yo, word up! Whatever that means…

June already… soon the year will be half way over… and what have you got to show for it?

I finished reading a short science fiction novel called Mass Effect: Revelation … yeah, it’s based on a video game, so I guess I’m a dork. But it was a very easy read, and helps kinda flesh out some of the back story to the game (which I thought was great), so I enjoyed it, whether you like it or not, and maybe I’ll read more, haha!

I’m continuing to plan out another fantasy novel. I’m going to try to resist starting to write until my plans are as detailed as possible. So far, all my attempts at novel writing have failed. With The Game of Gynwig, I diverged too far from my outlines and ended up not knowing where to go next. With The Book of Harbringer, my outlines were too loose and vague, and I didn’t put enough thought into how scenes connected with each other. I could (and would like to someday) revisit the stories and try to get them right, but in the meantime, some new ideas are floating around in my mind. But I’m going to try to spend most of my time planning and planning and planning this time around, so that I won’t be having to figure out any plot whatsoever when it comes time to actually write. It might take years, decades, I might even give up, as I often do… anyway, right now I’m trying to get a sense of the overall idea: how it begins, how it ends, and what all the characters’ main motivations are… in fact, here’s my plan:

1) Clear beginning and clear ending, with character motivations and plans figured out (working on now)
2) List of important scenes (this is the step I usually stop at and just start writing, but not this time, I hope)
3) Details of how each scene begins and ends, adding connecting scenes when necessary
4) Purpose of each scene – make sure each scene is important and accomplishes something plot-wise and theme wise (not just one or the other (but plot-wise is more important))
5) Details of all scenes – details on what exactly happens between each scene’s beginning and end, including dialog (like writing each scene into a little screenplay)

Then flesh it all out with description and whatever, and I’ll be done!

Really, I hate to blog about my own future plans, because I hardly ever follow them, but I still think it’s good to have a goal in mind when working on something on the scope of a novel (a novel I’m personally satisfied with, that is; I could write a crappy novel any old day of the week).

My new glasses are waiting for me at Walmart, so I get to go pick them up tomorrow, woohoo! The world will be less blurry!

26 more days until Animation Mentor classes begin! Getting nervous!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

Wrote a new short story

I just finished reading Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show (v. 1) — a collection of short stories from his online magazine.  I haven’t read that many short story anthologies, but of the ones I have read, this is definitely one of the best.  Plenty of really awesome sci-fi and fantasy short stories in here.  I really enjoyed all the stories, but the ones I especially thought were awesome were Audience by Ty Franck, The Box of Beautiful Things by Brian Dolton, and Taint of Treason by Eric James Stone.  And, being an Ender fan, all of the Ender universe stories by Orson Scott Card were great.

While reading Taint of Treason, I got a sudden idea for a short story myself, and quickly wrote it while it was fresh in my mind.  It’s only about 1,900 words; I think that’s that shortest short story I’ve ever written (not that I’ve written very many).  It’s called Maker of the Twenty-first Moon and is about a man who sets out to kill a wizard before he takes over the world.  Doesn’t that sound great?

I guess that’s really all I wanted to say today.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

Short Anathem review

I finished reading Neal Stephenson’s lengthy novel Anathem a short while ago.  I’ve never read anything by Stephenson before, but I’ve seen his books at the library and bookstores, and they’ve always looked interesting.  This is the first one I actually decided to go ahead and read.

For someone who’s never read a Stephenson novel before and didn’t know what to expect, it’s pretty brilliant.  My mind is still a bit tired from trying to understand it all.  I doubt I’ll ever be able to, since I sort of disagree with the directions in which he takes quantum physics (another one of those “it implies the existence of parallel universes!” things, which I guess works in this science fiction setting, but from a real science point of view, I’m not convinced; not that I’m a quantum physics expert of course).  But the book is filled with very engaging topics on physics and philosophy, and Stephenson’s prose on the topics is very readable.  So even if you’re new to the topics he discusses, it’s not like reading a scholarly journal on the topic with weirdo lingo.  It might be hard to grasp some of the concepts, but that will be because of the concepts themselves (like parallel universes) and not because of the writing.  I honestly think Stephenson could write some pretty awesome nonfiction books if he so desired, and easily replace this little Godel, Escher, Bach part of my bookshelf.

I do have one minor complaint, which includes a bit of a spoiler.  So if you’re planning on reading the book, read no further so that I do not taint your opinions.

I thought the ending was weak.  Actually, I Googled around, and it seems this is not an uncommon thought for Stephenson’s work in general.  What was the climax?  It builds up to it and then we’re in the epilogue.  I could write a much more lengthy post about why I think it was weak and what I’d do to improve it, but my mind is too tired for that.  And, being a wannabe writer myself, I’ll admit that endings are probably the hardest part to please others with.  And, from a reader’s perspective, I’m generally displeased with endings anyway.  I think the best ending I know of is the ending to Ender’s Game, which I read back in 2007 (and was written back in 1985 I think?).  The only other books I thought had acceptable endings were The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick and Anvil of the World by Kage Baker (who, sadly, just passed away last month).  All the other fiction books I’ve read had either weak endings, or “to be continued” endings, which I guess don’t really count, do they?

Overall, though, Anathem is still a brilliant piece, and I will definitely be reading some more Neal Stephenson some time.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

Maillardet’s Automaton

I was hoping to finish reading the book Lamentation today (I’ve got about 60 pages to go) when certain family members insisted that I read a book called The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  It’s a pretty simple read since much of the book is pictures, and I finished it in a few hours.  It was pretty captivating, full of mysteriousness that makes you want to keep reading.  By the end of it, though, I didn’t think there were any grand-revealing truths or surprising twists as I was hoping for in the back of my mind, but it was still a fun read.

What I found just as interesting (or even more interesting) than the book was a real mechanical automaton the book was somewhat inspired by: Maillardet’s Automaton.  It’s basically just a mechanical wind-up robot thing that draws pictures.  Can you imagine how complex that thing must be?  Pretty cool stuff.  Here’s a video of it drawing:

Ooooo . . . aaaahhh . . .

Anyway, my podcast The Compose Pile should now be appearing in the iTunes store. We’ll see if that helps it get anymore listeners, or if the amount of competition already on iTunes, and the general lack of public interest in composing orchestral music, and my own lack of musical skills and fame, all help it get no more listeners…

12 days left until Christmas!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

Eh blither blather

Still haven’t edited that The Compose Pile podcast episode yet, mostly because of having to go to work all day. But I have off on Fridays, so hopefully it will be up by tomorrow night at the latest.

Oh, someone I know won this celebrity-autographed PSP from an online Disney giveaway. Can you read the autograph there? No, you can’t, because it’s sloppy sloppy sloppy. But that’s a Miley Cyrus autograph. *gasp* I know, like OMG! I wouldn’t mind getting a free PSP, even if it was pink and had someone’s sloppy handwriting all over it. But now the PSP is doomed to play poorly designed girly games… too bad… (and, actually, I would mind)

I’m on page 308 of Lamentation … it’s really getting exciting; I can’t wait to find out how it ends (even though it’s only the first book in a series). Only about 100 pages to go.

That’s all for now.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

New music and not much else…

I created a new YouTube video for one of my latest pieces, The Secret Lullaby, another piece I’m hoping will be on my album:

Didn’t do much else today besides catch up on a couple shows on Hulu. Oh, and I’ve got about 150 pages left to read of Ken Scholes’ fantasy book Lamentation… it’s the best fiction book I’ve read this year (though I only read 2 others; it was more of a non-fiction year for me).

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

My website is so popular

It was another long work day, so I didn’t really get anything productive done in my free time.  Although I did seem to be having problems with my site displaying on certain mobile browsers and Google Chrome, so I edited some PHP code and fooled around with some of my site’s security settings, so hopefully my site will now load on any browser.  And with the insane amounts of traffic my site gets, that should really be helpful.  In fact, let’s check Google Analytics now and see how many visits my site has had in the past month:

772 Visits

1,493 Pageviews

1.93 Pages/Visit

Huh, that’s actually more than I thought it would be.  Still, that’s quite low compared sites that get more traffic, wouldn’t you say?  And 772 isn’t quite the number of unique visitors; sometimes the same viewer may be recounted.  Don’t ask me to explain, it’s all very complicated rocket science.  And I believe I have Analytics also counting visitors to some of my other domains, like thecomposepile.com.

Anyway, maybe I’ll get a few more visitors now that all browsers should be able to reach my sites without problems… I think.

Oh, I recently started reading the fantasy / sci-fi book called Lamentation (The Psalms of Isaak) by Ken Scholes.  So far I’m really enjoying it.  Very good writing and very engaging story.  I really need to stop checking out library books and read some of the dozens of paperbacks I have on my bookshelf, but I can’t seem to help myself…

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

Game programming and so on and whatnot

GAME PROGRAMMING

It feels nice to be diving into game programming again.  I’d forgotten how engaging it can be.  Right now, however, I’m doing more graphics programming than game programming.  I’m experimenting with OpenGL on Google’s Android operating system, trying to get a feel for how it all works.  I hope to create a little adventure game with it.  Or an action game.  Or a mix.  I’m not really sure yet.  Recently, I’ve just finished programming a tile-based scrolling map, which was quite a challenge itself.

Anyway, there are not yet many resources out there for programming games for Android.  But there are a few.  I bought a book called Pro Android last week from Amazon and it just recently arrived and has already been of some help.  I’ve also been reading through Chris Pruett’s Replica Island game development blog, which not only has some info on programming for Android, but has some fantastic wisdom on game development in general.

THE ACCORD REVIEW

The Accord In other news, I finished reading the sci-fi book The Accord by Keith Brooke a few days ago.  (I just picked it randomly off the library shelf one day.)  It was a strange book, and overall pretty bad.  It’s filled with awful language, and it’s used so often that it loses all affect and becomes somewhat comic.  The tenses shift from scene to scene, and the POV shifts from first to second to plural first depending on the character or mix of characters in the scene.  The last third of the book is told over the span of thousands of years, so characters forget who they originally were and what they used to want, which makes it quite hard to keep relating to them.  And some characters mix with other characters to become new characters.  With such ideas, it had the potential to be a really awesome story, but unfortunately it was just a lame love-triangle tale, with this character bent on getting this character to love him, and this character bent on killing this guy, and this character forgetting who she is… it drags on too long.  And the ending… maybe I should have read the ending (or endings) more carefully, because I found it (or them) to be somewhat cryptic; I’m not quite sure what happened.  It certainly wasn’t climactic though.

That was the 9th book I’ve finished reading this year, and only the 2nd fiction book.  I seem to read an average of 10 books a year.  Which I suppose isn’t too bad, but also very bad, depending on who I am compared to.  Obviously I’ll never make it as a writer.  Although, that’s only counting books, not book fragments, short stories, articles, magazines, etc.  So I’m probably OK.  Although my want-to read-list is at around 50.

READING AUDIO BOOKS?

There seems to be some debate on these here interwebs as to whether or not one can validly say that they “read” audio books.  The answer is:

No, you do not “read” audio books.  Don’t flatter yourself.

The problem is that, when asked “How many books did you read?” or “Have you read such-and-such?” you can either answer “No, I listened to them” or simply “Yes.”  If you say yes, you are lying, but it’s an OK lie because nobody cares.  It does not make “reading” and “listening” equivalent.

DOLLHOUSE AND OTHER SUCH TV BLATHER

Dr. House doll! Fox cancelled Dollhouse last week, which is very sad.  It wasn’t as good as Firefly, and it’s not as good as House, but it was a very fun sci-fi show.  I am wondering if they will wrap up the storylines in the final episodes or if it’s too late and now and the storylines are doomed to never be resolved.  Earlier this year, there was another fun show called My Own Worst Enemy.  I thought that had a really fun premise, but that was cancelled and the storylines were left unresolved.  The problem with series in which each episode builds on the last is that when they are cancelled you’ve got these big over-arching stories that never complete, making the remaining of the series a bit sour.  It’s like making two movies in a trilogy.  Who would want to watch or buy them?  I don’t feel like watching any Dollhouse or buying the seasons on blu-ray if the storylines are just going to remain unresolved.  At least with Firefly they were able to make the film Serenity, which did provide at least a little closure, but it’s highly doubtful they’ll do that with Dollhouse.  Now when is some more Dr. Horrible stuff supposed to come out?

The other shows I’m watching (on Hulu, mostly) are Monk (3 more episodes of the series left, hopefully Monk will soon solve his wife’s murder), House (best show on right now, or at least tied with Monk), Lie to Me, and Fringe.  And sometimes a bit of The Simpsons and Family Guy.  Oh, and Shark Tank… awesome reality show.  I can’t wait for the next season.  I was enjoying How’d You Get So Rich, a show in which Joan Rivers went around touring rich people’s mansions and lavish lifestyles, but that show got cancelled, perhaps because Joan’s face fell off.  I also have the show Legend of the Seeker on my wish-list… it airs on some bizarre channel at a bizarre hour, and I couldn’t keep up with it on Hulu, so I’d like to buy it on blu-ray or DVD (I watched the first few episodes on Hulu to know I’d like to see the rest of the season, even though it’s a bit cheesy at times… but so was the book).  Oh, I’ve also been watching Flash Forward on Hulu.  That show started out slow, but it’s getting interesting (or at least they’re putting in some comic relief in now).  Also been watching V (The Visitors), which has still been a bit stale so far, but it’s one of the only shows that comes on when I’m not at work.  Hmmm… I guess I watch too much.

OK, I think that’s enough blather, eh?

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

Deadline failure and other such things

I was hoping to compose 5 minutes of music a week, starting last Tuesday, but unfortunately I was only able to compose 2 minutes and 46 seconds by this past Sunday.  So I fail!  Shocking, no?

I blame a few things:

deadlineclock1)  My job. It’s a part-time job, so I can’t blame it for taking up too much time, but it does take up time.  So I must blame it.

2)  Fatigue. This is also job related.  When I have to work at 9 AM, that means I am pretty much tired throughout the day.  Which isn’t a problem for doing most things.  But I think a lot while I’m composing; it’s a very mind-intensive activity; it takes a lot of focus for me.  And when I’m fatigued, music has a way of lulling me off to the land of pleasant dreams, especially the incredibly fantastic music I compose.  So it is extremely difficult to compose while fatigued.  I did try taking some caffeine tablets, but alas, no effect.  I must have high caffeine tolerance.  I could feel it make my heart beat faster, but nothing else.  Of course, caffeine really isn’t supposed to be used to counter sleep-deprivation, so maybe it has nothing to with tolerance.  But that’s what some people seem to use it for and they swear by it.  It doesn’t help me though.

3)  Not being able to stay up all night. Again, job related.  Since I have to be at work at certain hours, I am not free to simply stay up as late as I want composing and then just sleep until I am not tired anymore.  (Not that this problem doesn’t plague most people.)  I sometimes seem to think more actively at night, perhaps because there are fewer distractions; the TVs and radios are off, no one’s on the phone and no one calls, etc.  But I can’t use the time to my advantage if I need to get some sleep in before going to work.

4)  Perfectionism. Or pickiness.  I spent 2.5 hours a few nights ago composing and orchestrating 4 bars.  I think that’s the longest 4 bars ever took me.  But I’m very pleased with the result.  Though I suppose I could fiddle around and tweak orchestration for many many hours, it always eventually has to come to a point in which I am pleased enough and must move on.

5)  Other stuff. For example, on Tuesday, I had to spend time tidying the house for guests.  Chores are evil and must be blamed.

That said, I must say I’m extremely pleased with the progress I’ve been making with my latest piece so far.  I went to bed yesterday with the melodies I composed annoyingly humming through my mind uncontrollably.

A big disadvantage of giving myself a deadline has emerged: I get angry. And stressed.  And a bit depressed.  And what fun is that?  I blame all the other stuff I must do, like go to work, which just makes going to work that much more painful and annoying.  So I’m very much considering throwing away the deadline and just composing as often as I can.  I don’t want to be angry by having goals and then not reaching them due to things like having to go to work that I can do little about.  Or I could just blame my undisciplined self for not being more disciplined and getting more done when I do have chances, but that won’t make me any happier either.

FEDERATIONS

federationsSince I don’t have much time for composing, I have even less time to read, but in what short moments I can spare, I’ve been reading a collection of science fiction short stories in a book called Federations.  Here are my very short reviews of the few stories from the book I’ve read so far.  They are only my subjective opinions, and I am perhaps more picky than most (ratings are on a scale of 0-5 stars):

Mazer in Prison by Orson Scott Card:  4 stars.  I actually read this in another book before, so I skipped reading it again, but I almost always enjoy Orson Scott Card.  Very good story from the Ender’s Game universe.

Carthago Delenda Est by Genevieve Valentine:  2 stars.  Though the premise was very interesting, the author didn’t seem to do much with it.  It was more of an idea story, as nothing much really happened.  A world was presented, some unimportant things took place, and that was it.

Life-Suspension by L. E. Modesitt:  0 stars.  Interesting characters with interesting dynamics.  But nothing very interesting happened.  And there were these battle scenes that were too cryptic for me with all their pilot-in-battle speak.

Terra-Exulta by S. L. Gilbow:  3.5 stars.  Not really a story, but a very fun fictional letter.  I enjoyed it.

Aftermaths by Lois McMaster Bujold:  1.5 stars.  Again, an interesting premise, but an uninteresting story.

Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy by Harry Turtledove:  2 stars.  Had it’s funny moments, but most of it’s humor was just stale and annoying, as if the author just wrote the story off the top of his head, writing down every stupid joke he thought of.  Didn’t really work for me.

Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason:  3.5 stars.  Started off a bit confusing, but once the story started rolling, it was actually quite good.

Different Day by K. Tempest Bradford:  0 stars.  Yikes.  While I like the idea of not portraying an alien race as a clichéd “monoculture” (as we humans certainly aren’t), this not-really-a-story didn’t really do much with it.  It’s just a three page ramble.

And that’s all for today, methinks.

By S P Hannifin, ago