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June 2013
> JUNE 28: The Sorcerer Supreme
> JUNE 24: Literary Diminution
> JUNE 21: What Summer Really Means
> JUNE 20: Gambling With Your Future
> JUNE 18: The True Hero of Adobe
> JUNE 17: Melodrama & Victory
> JUNE 14: The Fictional IP Assembly Line
> JUNE 12: Some Fave Musicians
> JUNE 11: The Old Computer Work Ethic
> JUNE 07: Late Night TV
> JUNE 06: Hi Tech Generation
> JUNE 05: My Brush With Rush
> JUNE 04: Advertising & the Economy
> JUNE 03: King Kirby

JUNE 28, 2013: The Sorcerer Supreme

In the canon of imagination and creativity one comic book really stands out. Originating in Strange Tales (#110), Dr. Strange shared the book with The Human Torch back in 1963. There are a few copies available on ebay at this very moment (one of them is priced at $2,000 with 6 days left). Drawn by the great Steve Ditko, the Sorcerer Supreme has a very complicated history through the Marvel Universe. I spent years trying to track him through appearances in his own book as well as many others. Along with The Silver Surfer, he is my all-time favourite character.

A former neurosurgeon, the Doctor secretly protects us from evil magic as the world's greatest practicing sorcerer. This guy is no magician. He is on a whole other level of the wildest imagination. His adventures into mystical dimensions are unparalleled. Touching on world philosophies and religions from the ancient past to divine pantheons, Dr. Strange is truly incredible.

Dormammu, also known as "The Dread One," ruler of the Dark Dimension, is one of the toughest adversaries for Doc. His head is an eternal ball of fire. Then there are alternate dimensions and they're the most amazing creations of all. I think the floating mountains in Avatar might have evolved from them. Trying to describe the world of Dr. Strange in words is impossible. If you don't know him, go to your favourite comic shop and check him out. I just hope if anyone thinks about making a Dr. Strange movie it should be either Sam Raimi or Joss Whedon. I wouldn't want anyone else to touch him.

JUNE 24, 2013: Literary Diminution

It was disturbing to see Verlyn Klinkenborg's editorial in last weekend's NY Times Sunday Review. As an English Major myself, I've noticed literary namedropping in casual conversation often meets with a blank reaction. It's true. No one I know anymore has read Under The Volcano or The Recognitions, let alone Tristram Shandy. Back at University, we could reference Fielding and Richardson and Conrad and Hemingway and be on the same page in a snobby sort of shorthand. Today, it's frustrating to the point where it feels like I'm some doddering old geezer talking about the good old days when rockets were steam powered.

Even more distressing, Professor Klinkenborg also comments on the "narrowing vocational emphasis" and how it affects abilities contributing to comprehension and expression. As an editor in my day job, I spend most of my time correcting punctuation, split infinitives, conjunctions and trying to assemble sequential sentences.

Back in 1995 when Jewels of the Oracle came out, the title character spoke with a poetic vocabulary and rhythm. Why not? He was an oracle. His words were supposed to be interpreted. People told me they had trouble understanding him as if he spoke an unfamiliar language or else the volume was too low. I guess those were early signs I was falling behind the wave of modern "clots of ventriloquistic syntax." 

JUNE 21, 2013: What Summer Really Means

Now that summer is here, it's time to celebrate the high point of the year - when the summer blockbuster movies come out. We have George Lucas to thank for that. He's the one who didn't want to wait for Christmas to release Star Wars. At the time (1977), everyone thought he was crazy. Yeah, but crazy like a fox. We all know what happened.

There are lots of movies coming out this July and I just wanted to mention a few. Of course, everyone's excited about Despicable Me 2 opening on July 3. Everyone loved the first one. It did great business - $250 million domestic and $543 million worldwide and sold 8.6 million DVDs for another $143 million. Steve Carell is at his most despicable and everyone expects a repeat performance.

On the same weekend, Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp opens too. Directed by Gore Verbinski, who also helmed 3 of the Caribbean Pirate movies as well as Rango, Gore and Johnny are teaming up again. I have to confess, I'm less certain about this one than DM2.

On the other hand, I'm reallhy excited about the new Guillermo de Toro picture coming out on July 12. Pacific Rim looks like a totally crazy robotic/mech story (of course, I'm kinda partial to those). We know it's going to be beautiful, because Guillermo is an amazing artist when you look at Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies. He's a true film enthusiast and buddy of James Cameron.

Bruce Willis reunites his RED team on July 19. The original film did surprisingly well and celebrated mature actors who are older, but can still deliver along with a great sense of fun. RED 2 adds Catherine Zeta-Jones and Anthony Hopkins. Also included is one of my favourite supporting actors David Thewlis. Missing are Karl Urban and Brian Cox. Freeman, Malkovich, Mirren and Parker are all back for the party.

On the same weekend, R.I.P.D. debuts and I am really looking forward to this one. By coincidence, the director of the first RED (Robert Schwentke) is directing this. Isn't that a weird coincidence? Mary-Louise Parker (also from RED) is in this with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds. I am such a fan of The Dude Jeff (as well as all of his other wonderful films). This whacky story is about "otherworldly" cops from the Rest In Peace Department who are tracking down difficult spirits who won't depart quietly. I have no reservations whatsoever about this one. Yay! Summer!

JUNE 20, 2013: Gambling With Your Future

With the combination of an extremely competitive market place and a retailers' nightmare economy, we've all been trying to think what would be a recession-proof business. Electricians, plumbers, dentists and vascular surgeons seem to have the right idea. They are highly skilled, trained people we all need one time or another, but those are difficult career changes if you already have a career in publishing, marketing or advertising. You really should have decided what you want to be when you were 7 or 8 years old.

Now that it is later in life for most of us you have to switch to a more practical area such as collision or auto repair. With the increased traffic everywhere, minor car accidents are a goldmine that will never go away. Then there is also food preparation or distribution. Everyone needs nourishment. It's a necessity. Speaking of necessities, one of the most profitable is alcohol. Starting up a brewery or a distillery would be a brilliant idea too. Combine that with a collision auto repair business and you'd have a winning business plan.

I don't fancy, however, the idea of exploiting other people's misfortune. So I think I prefer the risk of gambling either at the casino or taking a shot at publishing an eBook. At least you have a chance there - unlike lottery tickets. Those are just crazy.

JUNE 18, 2013: The True Hero of Adobe

My first encounter with Adobe Systems was in 1987 when I purchased my first Apple computer and acquired an application program called Illustrator. This was version 1.0 and it was black and white only. The big green box it came in included a manual and a VHS video of John Warnock himself (founder of Adobe Systems). Behind him, on the desk, you can see one of the original Macintosh computers (with the 5 inch display). Illustrator was Mac only back then.

Because this was such an innovative new application, Dr. Warnock wanted to demonstrate to the purchaser what the program could do. He suggested using a scanner to capture a drawing and then convert it to vectors by tracing over it. The beauty of vector data, of course, is that it is "resolution independent." This means the coordinates described in its "page description" are relative to the device displaying the file. So if you draw a circle and print it on an ordinary piece of letter-sized paper, the proportions and attributes of the circle are still exactly the same even if it's also scaled up and printed on the side of a building or down to fit on the head of a pin. Size and scale do not affect the relative locations of coordinates.

The name "Illustrator" comes directly from the evolution of the Postscript page description language. As the developer of the original language concepts, Dr. Warnock's idea goes back to 1976 when he was working at Evans & Sutherland (I'll have to leave Ivan Sutherland for a future entry). Later, at Adobe Systems, in order to visualize the features of Postscript, Warnock's team created a user interface depicting "operators" such as gray value (percentage of black) and fill, line weight, endpoints, and lots more. When they saw how well it worked at illustrating the language, they realized the name of the program was obvious.

I am really condensing an enormous amount of history and technology here, but I don't want to get caught up in immense detail (I studied Postscript Display Programming in Boston at Adobe Systems - does anyone remember the red, blue and green books published by Addison-Wesley?) Instead, my main goal here is to include a note about the parametric curve named after Pierre Bézier who used a polynomial form to control, descibe and design curves and surfaces. This field of mathematics was made famous by Mr. Bézier and the French automakers Citroen and Renault (I'll have to save that for another future entry too). Dr. Warnock included a 2-dimensional version of Bézier's curve "control" in his vector language environment.

Around 1990 I was working full-time with Illustrator doing graphics for books and magazines and writing articles about how to print computer files commercially. Back then there were a few people who worked and shared information in the computer illustration & design field including Simon Tuckett and Louis Fishauff. These were early days. Back then we had problematic issues with gradients, colour and print resolution.

There were also no web browsers back then and very little background documentation about the curve geometry or Mr. Bezier. So I wrote a letter to Dr. Warnock to ask him about it. To my incredible surprise and delight, he sent me a personal fax about 8 pages long about how and why he incorporated parametric spline technology into Postscript.

He began his letter by saying he "did not normally do this," but I guess I must have touched a sensitive spot. I was beyond thrilled! I got the exact information I needed from the man himself! Of course, today Adobe Systems is pretty well the biggest and best software developer on Earth with programs such as Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Premiere and more. Dr. Warnock was Chairman and CEO until he retired in 2001. I believe he still co-chairs the corporation along with his old partner Charles Geschke. He is one of my personal heroes. Thank you Dr. Warnock!

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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