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JUNE 17, 2013: Melodrama & Victory

The melodramatic physical response to events in the public forum can often be very predictable. Without commenting on the cognitive or psychological aspects of a reaction, the empirical side is usually consistent, depending on the activity.

For example, golfers tend to do a fist pump when they drop a putt. The intensity of the pump depends on how important the stroke is to the golfer's score. If it is just a regular old par somewhere on the back nine with buddies from work, then a subtle and modest flex of the fist is more than enough, however, if it is the final birdie on the 18th hole that wins a tournament, then an extraordinary and unique power pump rivalling an olympic weightlifter is entirely appropriate. The golfer can even go down on one knee and roar like a wild animal. Of course, it also depends on how macho the golfer is.

Tennis players, on the other hand, are expected to collapse like a marionette with its strings cut whenever they win a match. Covering their face with their hands is optional. Of course, the traditional raising of both arms in victory is OK in any activity. I'd like to see more of that at the Oscars.

Perhaps less dramatic, but equally predictable are the hoop-hangers in basketball, the silly touchdown dances in football, the bizarre homerun handshakes in baseball and the leaping hugs in soccer. Formula 1 drivers are only capable of raising one hand and pointing a finger to indicate a win, but if less encumbered, perhaps they could do more. A race car tends to fit them like a straightjacket.

All the same, being predictable is fine by me. Such ranges of motion and response is all part of the heroic grammar of competition. 

JUNE 14, 2013: The Fictional IP Assembly Line

A recurring theme in any production is the incontrovertible fact that creation takes time - and time is valuable. People who generate product or contribute to the generation of intellectual property need to be paid for their time, but it's more like a weigh scale than an equation. The amount of time has a lot do with the quality of the creative and the amount of money has a lot to do with who is doing the work. There is no IP assembly line.

Those who control the money are sometimes unaware of how the restrictions of the clock impact quality of product. Someone once told me nine pregnant women can't make a baby in one month. As silly as that sounds, it is a marvelous metaphor illustrating the absurdity of unrealistic efficiency imposed by contemptible managers.

For example, one of the most intensive production environments is the big budget film. There are very specific reasons why huge, box office successes cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Producers have to weigh every element  and balance cost against labour. Large crews translate to big money. In addition, big projects all have specific distribution appointments too. Missing a distribution date simply does not happen.There is too much at stake.

On the other hand, one person working solo on a work of art, an illustration, a music recording or writing a book is under a different kind of pressure. There is no other person bullying the creative into being. The artist decides when the job is done and if it is ready to be presented to an audience. When costs go beyond the capacity of the artist, that's when it all changes and the potential for compromise arrives. While money opens the door to those who don't actually produce the work, good managers and great producers understand the relationship of time and quality. That is an earnest affiliation for which to dream.

JUNE 12, 2013: Some Fave Musicians

With my background in concert music (I was a child violinist), my taste tends toward "non-traditional" more than popular. Sure, I still love The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, but my favourite composer is Igor Stravinsky and my favourite musician was always Ruggiero Ricci until he passed away last summer (August 2012). Mr. Ricci was especially known for his performances and recordings of the works of Paganini. I got to see him perform once when I was 14.

All that said, I have to say my favourite concert was a modest little show at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts In August 2006. The opening night of the town's annual jazz festival featured Brian Auger's Oblivion Express and Larry Coryell. As a matter of fact Auger has played with Led Zeppelin and many others including Jimi Hendrix and Sony Boy Williamson, but he is best known for his solo work. I should mention the bass player that night was Mark Meadows and he totally surprised me with a superb performance.

Larry Coryell is a personal fave guitarist. I got to interview him when he came to Toronto to play a concert at Convocation Hall (University of Toronto). I got to sit with him for an hour downstairs while he was warming up. It was absolute magic! I just stopped talking and just sat there listening and watching. It was the ultimate personal performance for me. He's played with John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia and Gary Burton as well as many other virtuosos. Here is an amazing video of the three guitarists at Royal Albert Hall in 1979.

So to get to see Coryell with Brian Auger was a true musical highpoint for me. Then when they played two Billy Cobham tunes (Red Baron and Stratus - from his 1973 first solo album Spectrum) - that's when the concert entered the stratosphere for me. Cobham's album is one of the high water marks of jazz fusion with musicians such as Jan Hammer, Joe Farrell and Ron Carter onboard as well as many other excellent people. Cobham, himself, has an unparalleled history - playing and recording with Miles Davis, Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra. To see and hear his music played by some favourite musicians live and upclose at a perfect little concert hall (and I was right at the front) - well, it just doesn't get any better. The radiation from the smile on my face would have overloaded a geiger counter.

JUNE 11, 2013: The Old Computer Work Ethic

Before becoming a game developer, I used to do a lot of print design and illustration. My all-time favourite client was Side Effects Software. Of course, back in the early '90s the company was just a couple of guys (Kim Davidson and Greg Hermanovic) and their SGI computers in a small office near Bathurst & King in Toronto. Their first application program was PRISMS. Basically, that's where Houdini comes from. They have been recognized twice by the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Siences and awarded Oscars for their amazing innovations.

The original furniture in their office was the cardboard boxes the computers came in. That's when I first knew them. I assembled and designed their original software manuals and promotional materials they took to trade shows like Siggraph. Back then, Toy Story and T2 had not come out yet, but it was truly the beginning of the digital age of CGI. Through Greg I even got to meet Spaz Williams who was a visual effects supervisor and animation supervisor on films like Jurassic Park, T2, The Abyss and The Mask.

Working with Greg and Kim and all the folks at Side Effects was probably the best professional relationship I ever had. Everyone was really good and all they wanted to do was the best they could possibly do. There were never any arguments over time or money or complaining about workload. You never had to wait to get paid or wonder if the future was secure. They were exciting times and everyone tried their very best (even if you didn't get any sleep). People used to nurse their CPUs through the night to make sure the renders got done. For a trip down the computer graphics memory lane, see my little tech history page here

JUNE 7, 2013: Late Night TV

With the announcement that Jimmy Fallon is going to take over The Tonight Show in February 2014, I suddenly realized I have not been watching any of the late night TV shows in a really long time. I used to. Sure,  I grew up watching Johnny Carson and later I was totally plugged into the NBC/CBS conflagration over Leno and Letterman back in 1982.

As a result, I became a Letterman fan and while I was living in New York, I even attended one of his shows as a member of the audience. If you want to attend, just head over to Broadway (between 53rd and 54th) to the Ed Sullivan Theater. You can't miss it. It has a big marquee that says Late Show over the door. Just walk around for a while and look for a person with a clipboard. If you catch their eye, they may ask you if want to go to the show. It's free. It tapes around 4:00 pm in the afternoon (weekdays).

They shoot it real time, which means it takes one hour to shoot a one hour show. The most amazing part of the experience for me was when they cut to commercial and rolled out the guest band equipment from behind the curtain. It was all ready to go. They just fired it up and within 2 minutes the show was back live and Dave introduced the band and the band started playing. Why can't all bands and concerts start on time like that? It was really incredible.

By the way, for an amazing bit of history, that theater has been around since 1936 and it's where The Beatles played live on Sunday February 9, 1964. Seventy-three million people watched that show. Here it is on YouTube

JUNE 6 2013: Hi Tech Generation

One of my fave topics this decade is "hi tech kids" (that's why I wrote The Perfect Round). Youngsters and their fascination with interactive media is currently an undefined and unresolved topic. That's because most of the new generation haven't spent a day at school yet, but they already know their way around smart phones, tablets, pads and touchscreens.

Blogs and web sites are full of opinions and comments about whether such technology is good for kids especially when they are really young. On the one hand, it's true these devices are incredible and irresistable attention grabbers. Kids stop whatever they are doing and fall into the abyss of the digital portal. They get sucked in and don't appear to want to get out, but Isn't that better than turning into a passive zombie in front of a television? At least being actively involved with a device might lead to cognitive benefits such as reading and writing and creative pursuits.

An important related topic is keeping content appropriate for the young and innocent. We have to protect them from all the crazy stuff adults know how to avoid, but that's a different issue from apprehension over harming their development. In that case, the concern over social conduct or potentially affected emotional involvement is still hypothetical. What needs to be controlled, however, is obsessive use at the dinner table or public performances or movie theatres. Oh wait - we already have that problem - only the perpetrators aren't little kids.

JUNE 5 2013: My Brush With Rush

After years of playing classical violin, I switched to playing guitar when I got to high school. Although I also played clarinet and saxophone, the guitar was the cool instrument of choice. I also worked at Sam The Record Man part-time while at college, so I was really into music. For those of you who don't know, Sam's was THE music store of choice in Toronto and the surrounding area. Oh yeah - vinyl, that is. This was a long time ago.

One summer day I got in my Spitfire and drove to Niagara Falls for the drive. They had a Sam's there and I decided to go in and check it out. Two brothers I knew in high school were running it (Steve & Keith House). We tried to start a band at school, but it never really got serious. Still, we had a happy reunion and spent the afternoon talking about music and playing. As it approached the end of the business day (that would 6:00 p.m.), they asked me to come back to their place for dinner so we could jam after. They told me they were living in a big farm house near Port Dalhousie up on the escarpment with two other guys - one of whom was a drummer. They told me he was really good.

The farm house was a grand old place with a huge dining room. We had an amazing meal and the guys were great. Afterwards, we adjourned to the drummer's room. The farm was actually his family's place. His kit was the biggest, most diverse and spread out set of drums I had ever seen. We powered up amps and started to loosen up. Someone started a simple 12-bar thang. The drummer guy began pretty simple, but slowly he started turning it up and moving into complicated patterns and sophisticated sequences. He was pushing it and hitting hard. I remember thinking it was a good thing we were in an isolated farm house, because he was getting loud. As it turns out, he completely blew me away. This guy was the most amazing drummer I had ever seen. It got to the point where I didn't want to play anymore. I just wanted to watch and listen to this guy. He was phenomenal.

Well, of course he was. As it turns out, he was be going out on tour with his new band in a few days. His name was Neil Peart and the band was none other than Rush. Back then, I didn't know who Rush was, but I thought with Neil they would do well. To date, they have sold well over 40 million albums.

JUNE 4 2013: Advertising & the Economy

After being the art director of the playbill at our local dinner theatre for 26 productions, I stepped up and put my faith on the line by buying an advertisement in it for my eBook. The theatre does four productions a year and seats approximately 600, 7 shows a week. They've had great shows in the past including Beauty and the Beast, Guys and Dolls, Forever Plaid, Fiddler on the Roof, Grease, Cabaret and over a hundred more since they opened in 1986. Unfortunately, they are in trouble. That means money, of course. At a time when some of our North American elected leaders are saying the economy is turning around, retail is actually flat and stagnant. Apparently even Walmart had one of its worst months of all time this year.

It's a self-reinforcing spiral. People are putting off major and minor purchases out of economic uncertainty. They don't feel secure about their jobs and there is a general sense of anxiety over rising costs. Last night, I saw a soft drink dispensing machine in which bottles cost $4.25 each! How can all our daily expenses keep rising while our income remains static? This unbalanced state results in retailers recoiling from vertical brand advertising and concentrating on call-to-action ads to get customers in the door. Of course! They are trying to cut their costs too! 

So I thought I would take a shot and see what would happen if I announced the availability of my latest project (see ad here). Was it the right vehicle? Would I see any results? Would anyone notice? Was I wasting my time and money? Do people, who go to the theatre, read eBooks? Who does?

The jury has not come back into the courtroom yet. We shall see. The only problem is, the theatre will be closing this year so I won't get another chance to run my ad again. Running an ad once is certainly not any kind of campaign. I guess I'll just have to keep reading advice columns from online marketing people who make their money from telling you how to sell your wares. It's like the author who sells a million books with the title "How To Make A Million Dollars."

JUNE 3 2013: King Kirby

Without question, the most important comic artist for me is Jack Kirby. Not only did he create the Silver Surfer (my personal #1 favourite) and Captain America, but he was also a signature artist who established the look of major characters for multiple publishers. The Avengers, Thor, Hulk, X-Men, The Inhumans as well as Doctor Doom and Galactus all had the one and only Kirby style. His unique way of conveying power and scale as well as his incredible machines, stylized explosions and textures are truly phenomenal.

No one comes close to imitating his artwork, although many have been influenced by him. Although the epithet "King" may have begun as a humorous one, it turned out to be appropriate after all. I wish he'd receive more recognition as the incredible, innovative legend he really is.

There is a kickstarter project online right now that is being run by his grandson. It's called The Life and Times of Jack Kirby and features photos and writing no one has seen before. There is also the Jack Kirby museum with a website online as well as on Twitter at @JackKirbyMuseum.

Be sure so take a look!


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