Thursday, December 29, 2011

grace

i watched "tree of life" again tonight. i haven't seen it since i first saw it in the theater this summer.
it's still the best movie of the year.
cinematic near-perfection.


the only way to be happy is to love.

unless you love, your life will flash by

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas and commerce

we took a family trip down to minneapolis and spent the evening at the mall of america, colloquially known as the mega mall. even since it opened some 15+ years ago, i've always liked going there, even if i'm never really sure what i want to do once i get inside. the magic store there started my short-lived interest in being a magician (i can still do a few tricks) and my best friend got banned from there for running up the down escalator in high school. the "camp snoopy" amusement park in the middle of the mall has been redone with nickelodeon characters; i could justify having fun on charlie brown's log flume, but dora the explorer is definitely out of my age range. still, there was a pirate "walk the plank" four-story ropes course that looked pretty dang fun.

from a step back, the mall is, in essence, the epitome of middle-class american commercialism, and it's interesting to look at the stores--ranging from megalith's like macy's and nordstroms to niche stores, such as "bead-niks" or the store that sold only butterfly knickknacks and lasted only a year--to the people who populate these stores. and i'm not saying this in some cynical, "glad i'm not them" way; i love it. i dig the energy of the mall. i like seeing all the people, the exciting high school kids flirting, the dad and kids waiting outside the shoe store for the unseen mom shopping inside.

in a hotel room, typing on my lappy, listening to mumford and sons {*} while my dad's reading a book on his phone and my mom's on her ipad, asking me when i'll update my blog. my vacation continues.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 rocks

a few months ago i'm sitting in church when this girl comes up to me and hands me a couple of cds.
"i think you'd really like these guys," she says.

now, there are a couple reasons why i was a little hesitant about this.  first, i couldn't recall ever discussing music with her, so how did she know what i liked? sure, we'd talked here and there at church, but music had never come up that i could remember. second, as anyone who's tried to get me to listen to their favorite band knows, i'm not the most open to being given music that people think i'd like. i view it in the same category as being setup on a date: someone else's opinion of what will click with me based on a few general facts. in matters of music and of the heart, i prefer to find what i like naturally and organically, rather than forcing any attraction. still, out of politeness, i took the cds.

the band is called quiet company, they're out of austin, and, to my genuine surprise, they were great. i loved them. couldn't get enough of them, shared them with other friends, and am i'm listening to them as i type. they're somewhere between tally hall (though not as eclectic or whimsical) and arcade fire (though not as full or theatrical), packing impassioned and heartfelt lyrics with skilled musicianship. their facebook statusi suggests that they're cool and down to earth guys and their brief Christmas ep is most excellent.
if you're looking for something new, they get my highest recommendation. start with "everyone you love will be happy soon." it's sublime.

in fact, 2011 has been an excellent musical year for me. in march, i started to notice something: r.e.m. had just released a new cd in and tally hall's long-overdue sophomore effort was finally coming out in june. radiohead had put something out and the beastie boys had a new album on the way, too. this had me curious if some astrological musical alignment would be bringing forth releases from any other my other favorite bands this year. as of spring break, it seemed that coldplay just had a single coming out and i couldn't see anything on the horizon from tmbg.

by the end of the year, however, pretty much everyone had released something. what was remarkable was that, it had been several years for many of these bands and some of their most recent releases weren't that good, but nearly everything this years was solid (sadly, tmbg's "join us" hasn't inspired me to give it a second listen lately.)
check it out:

band this year previous release
the decembrists
the king is dead hazards of love (2009)
radiohead
king of limbs in rainbows (2007)
r.e.m. collapse into now accelerate (2008)
the beastie boys hot sauce committee pt.2 the mix-up (2007)
tally hall good & evil marvin's marvelous mechanical museum (2005)
they might be giants join us here comes science (2009)
quiet company we are all where we belong everyone you love will be happy soon (2009)
coldplay mylo xyloto viva la vida (2006)

Monday, December 26, 2011

marienbad

visiting friends.
eating sushi.
watching movies.
enjoying family.
playing games.
staying up late.
traveling.
laughing.
writing.
texting.
unwinding.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

the magic of Christmas

santa's carbon footprint
did santa come to your house last night? yeah, he came to mine, too. pretty cool, since some of us live very far apart (hi, seattle.)

back during the mid-90s, when only members of gen-x had email accounts and it was still ok to send forwards, i received a mathematical analysis of santa claus's work. it's pretty incredible. i found a similar breakdown on a page that looks to be about ten years old and wanted to share it. some of the numbers aren't wholly current, but the point still gets across.

let's assume that santa only visits those who are children in the eyes of the law, that is, those under the age of 18. there are roughly 2 billion such individuals in the world. however, santa started his annual activities long before diversity and equal opportunity became issues, and as a result he doesn't handle muslim, hindu, jewish and buddhist children. that reduces his workload significantly to a mere 15% of the total, namely 378 million. however, the crucial figure is not the number of children but the number of homes santa has to visit. according to the most recent census data, the average size of a family in the world is 3.5 children per household. thus, santa has to visit 108,000,000 individual homes. (of course, as everyone knows, santa only visits good children, but we can surely assume that, on an average, at least one child of the 3.5 in each home meets that criterion.)

that's quite a challenge. however, by traveling east to west, santa can take advantage of the different time zones, and that gives him 24 hours. santa can complete the job if he averages 1250 household visits per second. in other words, for each Christian household with at least one good child, santa has 1/1250th of a second to park his sleigh, dismount, slide down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, consume the cookies and milk that have been left out for him, climb back up the chimney, get back onto the sleigh, and move on to the next house. to keep the math simple, let's assume that these 108 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth. that means santa is faced with a mean distance between households of around 0.75 miles, and the total distance santa must travel is just over 75 million miles. hence santa's sleigh must be moving at 650 miles per second -- 3,000 times the speed of sound. a typical reindeer can run at most 15 miles per hour. that's quite a feat santa performs each year.

what happens when we take into account the payload on the sleigh? assuming that the average weight of presents santa delivers to each child is 2 pounds, the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons -- and that's not counting santa himself, who, judging by all those familiar pictures, is no lightweight. on land, a reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. of course, Santa's reindeer can fly. (true, no known species of reindeer can fly. however, biologists estimate that there are some 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, we cannot rule out flying reindeer.) now, there is a dearth of reliable data on flying reindeer, but let's assume that a good specimen can pull ten times as much as a normal reindeer. this means that santa needs 214,200 reindeer. thus, the total weight of this airborne transportation system is in excess of 350,000 tons, which is roughly four times the weight of the queen elizabeth (the ship, not the monarch.)

now, 350,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance, and this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as a spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. the two reindeer in the lead pair will each absorb some 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second. in the absence of a nasa-designed heat shield, this will cause them to burst into flames spontaneously, exposing the pair behind them. the result will be a rapid series of deafening sonic booms, as the entire reindeer team is vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. meanwhile, santa himself will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500 times greater than gravity. that should do wonders for his waistline.

Christmas is indeed a magical time.

i found that here, which also notes that it is not the original source.

i guess all of that work does explain why st. nick travels with six to eight black men as backup.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas tape

in december 1999, i was rounding out my first year as a missionary in japan, trying to stay warm and focused in my second area (it's amazing how cold weather can make a minnesota boy homesick.) one day, i received a cassette tape (remember those?) in the mail from the soga family. i had made some friends in my first area (thinking about it, all of my japanese facebook friends are from there, actually), but i don't think i would have counted the sogas as people who i knew particularly well.

they were a married couple with a young daughter (if i remember correctly), very friendly to us and they spoke some english, which was a joy for a confused missionary. but i really only remember visiting them once in the six months that i was there. nevertheless, they had sent me a tape of Christmas music and a short letter, saying that they knew it was my first Christmas away from home and hoped that this would make it a little easier for me.

it was an excellent mix, with some of my personal favorites (like nat king cole) along with songs that i loved but didn't know at the time (like the carpenters' "carol of the bells.") i listened to the tape all that season and gladly put it in again a year later, when i was a much stronger missionary during my final weeks in the orient. as i was packing to leave, i left it with my companion, a greenie who was spending his first Christmas in the field. more than a decade later, i still don't know why they thought of me but that tape is something i've never forgotten.

merry Christmas eve,
(you knew this was coming)

Friday, December 23, 2011

red

first off, happy tabernash.

second, red.


red has been on my mind lately. not anger or rage, nor the camera nor the charity nor the kieslowski movie.


but red.


red.


it was in the book on color and film psychology that i was reading on the plane.
it's come up in conversations.
i've been thinking about it.


and i've decided i want more red in my life.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

of muppets and nog

yesterday i was beginning to wonder if it was even worth having a muppets and nog party this year. jack and natalie had moved to north carolina and becky and brady now lived in seattle. not only did that remove two of the key and founding members of the great tradition, that also took out four people over all. and there were at least four other people who were unable to come because i had scheduled my party on the same night as everyone else's family's Christmas party (and two others were home sick). in short, it was looking like there would be six people at my once-grand muppets and nog party. and most of those people didn't even know each other.

the party this year was held at em's house, because she has been reading about the them on here for years and, knowing that i don't have a permanent place in utah, as well as wanting to be a part of the legendary gala, offered her house back before i even knew if i would be in town or not.

true to form, em was a fantastic host. her house looked beautiful: decorations were tastefully trimmed around the rooms, there was Christmas music in the background, and the table was set out with snacks, chocolates, and gingerbread men (they were delicious....) i set to work making the egg nog in a kitchen that would have made alton brown proud, with em readily measuring out anything i needed. when i asked for nutmeg, she gave me the option of "ground" or "whole" and, wanting this to be the best, asked for "whole", to which she promptly set about grating a whole nutmeg... nut(?) i joked about the bourbon listed in the recipe and she pulled out a basket containing numerous little glass jars, handing me a small bottle imitation rum extract. i don't think it's any coincidence that mark declared this year's nog to be the best we've ever had (and everyone agreed.)

while em and i were trying to talk movies amidst the clamor of an electric mixer, her husband renn was busy getting to know everyone else there. one thing i've always really liked about renn is that he can easily talk to anyone and make you feel comfortable. when i was realizing that most of my guests didn't know each other very well, i was grateful that renn would be there to welcome everyone. and it was fun to look up from time time and see him laughing and talking with my friends.

tim and lyndsie came just as we were finishing the nog. i had made enough for one serving for each guest i knew was coming, since mixing and pouring nearly a gallon (or more) of nog can get rather unwieldy and i didn't want to create any more of a mess than i already would be. so tim made me promise that i'd make some for them in minnesota. people were talking and laughing, lyndsie and mary joy were playing with the kids, and em and i were tidying up the kitchen. things were working out.

as is customary, i introduced everyone briefly, since they are all my friends but not everyone else knows each other (depending on the crowd, mark sometimes does.) from there we moved down to watch the movie. in an odd combination of my friends all wanting to be gracious and not take the couch, plus most of my friends are used to sitting on the floor while watching "the muppet's Christmas carol" at my parties, i was the only one on the couch, despite our hosts' repeated offerings.

now, one of the established rules of the muppet and nog party is that you sing along to the songs as best you can. when em was starting the movie, she asked if there was a sing-along option, something that i presume her family of boys enjoys. i had never given a thought to it and there wasn't such an option, but the closed captioning was something we soon wished we thought of years ago. suddenly, all of the words were on the screen and everyone was able to sing along. it was pretty dang awesome as we joined in the chorus of scrooge's opening song. and, as a further bonus, the captioning helped us catch a lot of off-handed jokes that even tim and i had never noticed before.

i did learn something interesting about the story (you knew this was coming, kristin): as the ghost of Christmas present is fading, it's apparent that scrooge has already had his change of heart. he pleads with the spirit to stay and to teach him more, declaring that he wants to be better. but his humility and willingness to repent do not excuse him from the third and most difficult lesson he still had to learn, perhaps to make this change permanent. i also like that the sad events he sees are what will be if things remain as they are, but that they do not have to be what he saw.
not only is it a fun muppet movie, it's a darn good movie period.


a few times during the movie i stepped out for another gingerbread man (reportedly, there's a hint of black pepper in them) and as i passed either renn or em, i thanked them again for being such excellent hosts and that this party was going great. after the movie, everyone mingled and we gathered for a group picture.
then, at kristin's request, an "american gothic" version.
and then, at someone else's odd request, one where we were all pointing at mark.

as kristin and i got in the car, she turned to me and said, "i think this has been one of my favorite muppet parties."
mine, too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

who needs guitars anyway

editor's note:  we hold to a firm policy here to never reuse a post title or picture. somewhere in the air between texas and arizona, it occurred to our staff that we may have used the title "such great heights" before. sometime in 2007, actually. and while there is the temptation to change the old post title, since we like it so well, we are holding to principles of historical accuracy and integrity and adjusting the title of this post, instead. not quite the same but it still works.

the newsstands at the austin airport haven't yet stocked time's "person of the year" issue. that's become a tradition of mine every year for the past four or five years, except for two years ago, when ben bernake was chosen, because that was just boring. i was almost faced with a massive holiday conundrum when the lady at the u.s. airways counter told me that my snowboard would cost $200 to check through. when i asked her to confirm that, she got on the phone and soon informed me that snowboards are not classified as "sports equipment" but are checked as standard luggage. i'm pretty sure the exact same scenario happened last year.

as best as i can tell, the only thing i forgot is my wacom bamboo tablet, and if having to use a mouse for my photoshop projects is the biggest challenge i'll face this trip, i'm marking it as a success. having my vision focused passing (or at least, surviving) this semester, coupled with the 70+ degree weather and total absence of snow around here, it hardly feels like Christmas is in ten days. i listened to david sedaris's "santaland diaries" while i packed this afternoon, hoping that would help. but i'll be in utah tonight, with my friends tomorrow, on the mountains on saturday, and drinking homemade nog that evening. as i'm able to sit and relax and unwind from that force that is school, it's nice to look around and realize that it is Christmas time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

+1

one of the things i like most about my life in texas is my job. unlike most viz students, i don't work in the department but managed to procure a job with the division of research, doing video work for them. which means that i get to get out of langford for a bit and work with real cameras and lights, instead of all that virtual stuff. there are only five other people in my office and they're all significantly older than me, but they're also all really cool.

tonight was the work Christmas party and i was told that "significant others are welcome." i considered bringing one of my insignificant others but opted instead to go as the cool single guy. at parties, i have a tendency to clam up but with some effect at the start, i can push forward and be a part of the cool crowd and did so nicely tonight. the party was great. my boss hosted at her home, and i'm normally not one to give much thought to others' houses, but susan's place is beautiful. not "lame rich person" nice but genuinely cultured and stylish. proving that this wasn't just for looks, she made amazing "heavy hors d'oeurves", which constituted a dinner of fine meats and cheeses, olives and garlic and homemade pot pies. the chocolate desserts maintained the class.

i don't think i will ever live down the "sweet child o' mine" incident (we're actually still trying to tell the vp that it's a bad idea), as that was a story that we related to everyone's wives and husbands with much laughter. a few days before the party, i was asked to be in charge of the music, and i did my best, plugging in my ipod and going straight for the good stuff. when the white elephant gift exchange came around, susan (60s, grandmother) looked at me and asked for something more lively. and everyone was happy with daft punk's tron: legacy soundtrack, followed by the dropkick murphys.

my office is awesome.
wish you could have been there.

the 700 club

i bribed jess to come over and help me with some catch up programming assignments by including "the two towers" as part of the deal tonight. in between dealing with archaic compiler errors, i overheard this:

frodo: i can't do this, sam.

sam: i know. it's all wrong. by rights we shouldn't even be here. but we are. it's like in the great stories, mr. frodo. the ones that really mattered. full of darkness and danger, they were. and sometimes you didn't want to know the end. because how could the end be happy? how could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? but in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. even darkness must pass. a new day will come. and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. those were the stories that stayed with you. that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. but i think, mr. frodo, i do understand. i know now. folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. they kept going. because they were holding on to something.

frodo: what are we holding onto, sam?

sam: that there's some good in this world, mr. frodo... and it's worth fighting for.


for me and also for any of you who needed to be reminded of what we already know.

Monday, December 12, 2011

joy in our journey

a month or so ago, brandon approached me with an idea: he'd made a short film a few years ago and he wanted me to help him remake it. ten times. each time with a different obstruction or rule that had to be followed. i thought the idea was thrillingly brilliant. (it also wasn't his original idea; despite having no interest in lars von trier's work, i think this is fascinating. their starting film is so wonderful it reminds just how good a short film can be....)
one night after watching five obstructions, we stayed up until 3 a.m. pitching our obstacles. the ten that we selected are:
  1. each shot must be exactly seven seconds long
  2. the film must be shot and edited on a cell phone
  3. the actors' face's cannot be shown
  4. brandon can have nothing to do with the movie but he will be credited as the director
  5. the total time of shooting cannot exceed 30 minutes. the film must have at least five setups
  6. it shot in a style brandon hates. in this case, it was mimicking "the hills"
  7. the film must be done in one shot
  8. the film must be animated
  9. the film must consist of production audio only; the visual elements must be stock footage
  10. he can do whatever he wants
and so, in between the pressures of wrapping up the semester, we've been trying to make ten short films, all remakes of the same source film (because this has been the most fun i've had on any project here yet). in the original 2-minute short, he and his girlfriend are making dinner. nothing is said as they finish cooking and sit down to eat. after a few moments of dull silence, he asks, "how was your day?" with a subtitle reading, "i couldn't think of anything else to say." she replies, "it was fine", which is translated as "terrible." when she answers his question about dinner, she says it's good, the subtitle clarifies, "we should have gotten a pizza."

our first one, each shot being exactly seven seconds, was more or less a remake of this (i recorded some footage of brandon at around 2 a.m. stating exactly why seven seconds is the worst possible length for a shot), and the second one (shot on a cell phone) was also pretty straightforward. in an effort to not end up with ten nearly-identical movies, we started playing variations on the theme of dry communication.

the "no faces" was brandon and savannah circularly arguing about how they can never decide where to go to eat, not that it really matters anyway (at some points they got so intense that i wanted to stop them before their relationship deteriorated, but the shots i was getting were just so good.... to my relief, they told me they were amplifying their emotions for the sake of the camera), the "30 minutes total" was of an older couple making dinner who didn't talk much because they contentedly didn't need to. "the hills" was just the opposite, two girls talking non-stop without saying anything of substance or value.

which brought me to mine.
being a graduate of film school, i knew that student films nearly always had two glaring characteristics: they nearly always starred college aged kids and they were nearly always filmed around town, meaning they all felt the same. so i took a camera with me to minnesota over thanksgiving, hoping to enlist my 16-year old friend to star. unfortunately, our schedules didn't work out (and i'm still really fond of my concept for that story), but i'd shot a second idea as a backup.

in high school, my best friend and i would drive around town all night, hoping to find something to do yet always coming up empty. and so i wanted to tell the story of a relationship gone dry, not between two people, but between us and moorhead. jon and i shot for two nights and near the end i was getting so frustrated about not getting what i'd wanted that, during a break a perkins, he turned the camera on me as i vented. i thought maybe i could make a movie about not being able to make a movie, but that felt too self-aware and film student-ish.

after twelve hours of editing (the last three were fights with the export process), i cut a movie that is close to what i envisioned and that i'm actually very happy with.


brandon hasn't yet seen this. he'll first see it when he shows the project to his class tomorrow for their final.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

a few of my favorite things

i was the narrator for the ward Christmas program today. when i came to the end of reading "and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men," it was all i could do to not conclude with, "and that's what Christmas is all about, charlie brown."

with the blessing of the sunday school president, i skipped ahead a few lessons today and taught from revelation, since seven-headed dragons are cool. when we were talking about the opening of the seven seals, i really wanted to make some bergman reference but, without an established movie night here, no one would have appreciated the joke.
as i was thinking about how the opening of the seals can mean something to us in our own lives, i thought of how, just as we can find comfort in the craziness of the world around us by knowing that, after the seventh seal has been opened, that everything will work out, perhaps there are seals in our own lives. and that if it seems that horsemen of disappointment or broken dream have been given power to run rampant in our own lives, we can remember that their bounds, too, are set, and that there are still more seals to be opened. only after the seventh seal of our own lives has been opened will all be made right and the promised blessings secured. alma 37:16-17

in elder's quorum we were talking about the importance of learning and gaining an education and at one point read from d&c 88:78-80, where the Lord commands the saints to study many different things, essentially encompassing all of academia.
i've always noticed that the arts are not really mentioned in that list and, as i was thinking about that again today, i thought of alma 30:44, where alma cites the marvel of creation all around us as a sign that there is a God. not only is God the ultimate scientist, but, as artists spend so much of their effort to capture the beauty of a sunset, a mountain, to mimic the way a cat moves, is it apparent that God is also the ultimate artist.
or, as we used to say on set, God is the best gaffer.

Friday, December 09, 2011

art show: information arts

i went to bed at 7:30 on--what day was that?--thursday morning and slept without interruption until  4:15 that afternoon. it came fast and i was sad i'd missed my full day of work but it was already gone. the night/morning before, i had made sure our group's animation was submitted but the deadline to be in the fall show. now it was time to work on setting up our mfa class's art show portion of friday's event.

by 1 a.m. we had three of the six works hung and those three students went home. the remaining three of us spent the night wrestling with how to display our work, making multiple trips to the store for adhesive velcro, double-sided tape, wire, and chocolate. the two of us mormons had a discussion on religion with the former-hindu guy while he was eating a bag of beef jerky and found a lot of interesting parallels. on my second trip for permanent double-sided tape (my smart idea of using the "reusable" variety was a useless disaster), i stopped by mcdonald's to buy breakfast since i knew i wouldn't be eating for the rest of the day. and it allowed me to get my whole day's recommended fat intake at once.

around 9 a.m. the other members of our class started returning to the studio, seeming a little annoyed that we weren't all finished. to be honest, i'd thought we would be, too, but we'd been working all night to get to even where we were. i expect some people were feeling stressed but tensions never reared. with less than an hour to the show opening, i found myself with no emotional choice but to be slightly amused as my 20"x30" photographs were still falling off the wall, regardless of what i tried to use to mount them. everyone worked together, my ipod continued to bring forth good music, and we performed the miracle of turning that disastrous mess in the studio into a very nice looking art show.

i worked for a few hours, all the while fighting to keep my eyes open. i had a good phone conversation on my way to the institute and had a fun time at the second annual "orney" awards (where multiple people told me they didn't recognize the guy coming in late with a leather jacket and pony tail....) looking at the clock, i think i recently passed the 30-hour mark and i'm calling that good for the day.

goodnight.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

fall show

i just got home from school. i was there for 41 hours. excepting a few hours for work over those couple of days, pretty much the whole time was spent on the top level of langford building c. i think i've been up for 24 hours. that was after i slept for two and a half hours on the floor next to a computer, using my leather jacket as a pillow. i listened to the charlie brown Christmas soundtrack on repeat the whole night through. it makes for good animating music as well as good Christmas music. i have eaten nothing but pizza for the last 36 hours. my roommates kindly brought me my requested toothbrush around midnight a few nights ago; being able to brush your teeth in the morning really makes an all-nighter more bearable.

i wish i could say that this hard work has produced a phenomenal project that i'm proud of and am hoping will win us a student emmy. instead, the best i can say is that i handed in my animation project by the deadline, and sometimes, that's ok.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

harry had a strong desire to kick something

i just found out--at 3:28 a.m. while animating--that a&m is having a yule ball this friday (hosted by the school's quidditch team, no less.)

that sounds absolutely awesome and i've decided that i want more formal events like that in my life.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

mosh bit



that (if you watched it) is my final project from my "digital image" class, where we essentially learn the coding behind photoshop.
in case you're wondering about how that happened:

that's what we call a "datamosh." in a compressed video file, each frame is designated as either an i-frame or a p-frame. an i-frame redraws the entire image, while a p-frame records only the movement changes in the pixel (i've never ever heard of these before). i-frames are placed anytime there is a drastic change in the content of the image. this is usually at a cut to a new shot but it can also be when there is a great amount of motion in the shot, such as a rapid pan across a room or if a rabbit full of confetti exploded.

the magic of datamosh occurs when the i-frames are removed, so that different images are blended together, causing the motion of one frame to be pulled from the pixels of the previous frame. i did this by taking my demo reel, cutting out some shots, adding one or two new shots and some video of tally hall (shot by kristin) for good measure, then using two different programs. the first was ffmpegx, which i have no idea what it did other than put a lot of extensions on the end of my video file, somehow making it ready to be used in the second program, avidemux. in avidemux, i went through and removed the i-frames, thus moshing two shots in a very unnatural way.

the biggest challenge of this process is that these two programs, ffmpegx and avidemux, suck. ffmpegx, with enough coddling, spit out my file in the desired format, but avidemux was a nightmare. its most reliable feature was crashing, and it would do this unfailingly. i have made this movie about a dozen times, and just as i would go to save or export my i-frame-less movie, it would crash. once i finally did get it rendered out, the file was so unstable that only the most robust video players could recognize it, and that was another adventure until i could wrap that mess in a nice and secure quicktime format.

another effect that can be done with datamoshing is to repeatedly copy and paste a single p- frame, which gives a rad color bloom effect that you can see briefly at the start and end of the video. i would have liked to add more of these, or at least sustain them longer, but even copying one frame only twelve times (half a second) was risking a crash, and what ended up in the video was the balance between the program's temperament and my sanity.

overall, though, i'm happy with how this turned out. the music came from freemusicarchive.org. there's a lot of weird junk there, and i spent more time searching through there than i did on the rest of the project.
but, for the first time ever, my project was the first one submitted on the website.
know why? because this didn't involve writing any code....  : D
and i'm going to savor that feeling.

Friday, December 02, 2011

the center of the universe

jaime said something interesting a few days ago that i've been thinking about. she mentioned how great it was that, to God, everything does revolve around us. that so many things in our life (everything?) happen, fall into place, and line up to bring us the greatest happiness, provided we've got our act together and are doing what we can to follow His plans.

i'd never really thought of it like that and said i'd need some time to think about that, even though it felt right. it's interesting, because, in a way, it seems contrary to the plan of God: we're supposed to learn humility, to recognize our insignificance. but that's so that we can learn to trust Heavenly Father.
it comes back to the paradoxical lesson that moses learned on the mountain: man is nothing, yet man has the potential to be like God. all that He's doing is for our benefit, to bring us the greatest joy if we can learn to do it His way instead of our way. because, like jaime noted, it all revolves around us as far as He's concerned (and that's pretty far.)

then, to add as a second witness, president uchtdorf said essentially that very thing in the talk i was listening to on my way to school this afternoon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

backfired

so as i may have mentioned, i finished up the official holiday video for the vice president of research a week ago or so. since we'd had some issues getting the kind-of-Christmas-y sounding song we liked, i'd been using guns 'n' roses's "sweet child o' mine" because a) it's awesome, b) it gave a big and dramatic feel to our one-minute video, and c) it's just really awesome. and so when it came time to send our draft to the important people upstairs, i decided not to tell anyone that i had the official song and sent it up with g'n'r.

the video was a hit.  the vp wrote back with lots of !s about how much he and his wife loved it and i was the office hero for the afternoon (i like to think that i'm always the office hero, but it was more visible that afternoon, at least in my mind.) what i was a little worried about was his comment about how much he even liked the temp music, as i didn't want to break it to him that we probably didn't have the budget to license the song.

yesterday, we finished the final video (and i'm especially proud of the vp's signature that writes in at the end; that took a little creativity) and i was ready to get back to the work that had been on hold since this "simple" project ended up taking up about a month and a half (kind of.) then i got called into my boss's office today, where she told me that they liked the video so much that, in addition to it being the division's holiday card, the vice president wanted to trim off the holiday greeting part and use it as an intro to for his presentation (next week). and yeah, he really liked the guns 'n' roses.

so i spent the last few hours of work rummaging through online music libraries, trying to find something that sounds like "sweet child o' mine", or at least has the same gravitas.

the thing is, that song is iconic for a reason....

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

everything louder than everything else

kristin shared this with me on sunday.
it's seriously dang.
so now i'm sharing it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

216 hours

there are nine days left before everything needs to be turned in for the fall show. that's a lot of coding, printing, designing, animating, editing, and whateverelsing to be done.

bring it.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

moorhead


things i love about being home:
  • driving my dad's prius
  • the fridge is always stocked to capacity
  • cats sleeping on your bed
  • my dad inevitably finding some excuse to go to best buy within an hour of me getting home
  • the smiths, where it's ok to be as smart and unique as you want
  • four actual seasons
  • trivial pursuit
  • memories from my life and who i am on every street corner
  • perkin's
  • fermopolis, peeps jousting, and my "uncle"
  • spud's hockey games
  • my mom's fudge is the best i will ever have
  • looking out the kitchen window at night
  • my parents are always happy i'm there

Saturday, November 26, 2011

life's a happy song

the marketing campaign for the new muppet movie was pretty clever.  the first trailer i saw made it look like a lame romantic comedy with amy adams and jason segel then the muppets suddenly showed up.  brilliant.  then they did a trailer called "the pig with the froggy tattoo" that was awesome just because.
but my interest and hope that it would actually be good slowly faded until i didn't even know it came out last weekend.

it's currently at 98% on rottentomatoes and i want to list a few reasons why i thoroughly loved it.

  • while the script at times stumbles to one side or the other, the story itself is brilliantly self-aware and is fully aware that the muppet show went off the air thirty years ago.
  • i really can't pick my favorite celebrity cameo, although i think it might be jim parsons.  that was awesome. although zach galifianakis as hobo joe...
  • my other dilemma of which i liked more: the barbershop quartet singing "smells like teen spirit" or the camilla and the chickens performing "cluck you."
  • the three greatest gifts in the world: 1. children.  2. ice cream.  3. laughter.
  • "rainbow connection."
  • all of the jokes about the generational disconnect: "whoopi goldberg! selina gomez! and, i'm sorry, i don't recognize you."
  • the power to travel by map.
  • my realization that i'm a muppety man.
  • the mahna mahna credits.
  • lastly, i'm pretty sure i had a huge grin on my face when they perfectly re-staged the opening song of the muppet show.
i'm not sure how well it will hold up over time it was the best time i've had in a theater in quite a while.
my dad, who is a muppet purist, and my mom also enjoyed the show.

Friday, November 25, 2011

big things

the joy of life is found in celebrating the little things.
but sometimes it's found in the big things.
like getting your favorite movie on blu-ray.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

he did it again

a handful of years ago, itunes updated and changed their music layout options.  you could display your music as a song list, an album list, a grid list, or a cover flow.  at that time, i mostly just listened to playlists of hundreds of my favorite songs and singles and thought the cover flow was a pretty cool-looking way to do that.  but the new grid list option laid out all of your music by album and, you moused over an album, displayed the option, "play album."

i hadn't really listened to "an album" since i migrated to itunes and mp3s.  i just listened to a large pile of my favorite songs like it was kjef, all jeff, all the time.  but now that i was presented with this novel idea of listening to a whole album, i started doing just that.  and that got me looking into the great albums of music history.  i bought the who, david bowie, the clash, bob dylan, kraftwerk, the talking heads, oingo boingo, and whatever else sounded cultured.
the way i listened to music changed because steve jobs changed how itunes organizes its music.

a few weeks ago, i was whittling a few minutes before my dance class and meandered through the school bookstore.  on display near the entrance was the steve jobs biography.  i flipped through it, but it was $35 that i couldn't spare (fanny and alexander just came out on blu-ray, after all...) and while i consider myself a literate person, i'm not a big reader.

leaving the store, i pulled out my phone and opened up my kindle app.  a cell phone seems too small to be a practical reading option, but i downloaded the app last year because, well, because i could.  browsing the online store, amazon had the biography for $15, which still feels like a lot for something i'm downloading onto my phone.  but they had a preview i could get for free.

rather than the scrolling function like browsing the web, the pages flipped to the side, a feature that i hadn't thought about but which made reading much more convenient.  the book was wonderfully written, the small screen size broke up the text into convenient bite-size chunks and i loved that i wasn't carrying a three-inch thick tome but could just pull out my phone whenever i had a moment.  and i seemed to be looking for so many moments that, when i reached the middle of the second chapter where my preview stopped, i took less than a minute to decide that taking a lunch to school each day would justify that $15.  i downloaded the book and continued reading in the dark, the pages themselves being the only source of light.

being that my phone is essentially an iphone clone, steve jobs has now gotten me back into reading again.

note: if you're interested in biographies or in apple (i'm of the latter camp) and the book sounds in any way interesting to you, i highly recommend it.  i'm pulling out at every chance i get, in the moments between plays at a football game, when i'm waiting the drive-through at layne's, before tithing settlement... it's such a crazy story, i'd say it was too much if it was fiction.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

x & y

looking at my life right now, i am certain that someone loaded it into the projector the wrong way.  actually, it feels like a split screen, where one side has been mis-threaded, so that the two images don't line up, but in fact go in the completely opposite direction.

it's astoundingly baffling, actually.

i guess that when things don't work out and you're tired and frustrated and don't want to go on any more, you can either sit down and take what you've got where you're at, or you can just keep going on.

Monday, November 21, 2011

trajan warriors

as some of you know, i'm kind fascinated by fonts.  it's an extremely subtle art that i know only a little about, but i notice it more and more and love learning about it.

i was at the a&m football game against the kansas jayhawks on saturday and really enjoyed it (it also made me a little nostalgic for the days of going to byu games, but that's ok.)  a&m killed kansas.  the aggies had scored before we'd even gotten to our seats and the jayhawks only got on the board in the last minute of the game.  it wasn't just that we played better; they were a mess. there were so many slip-ups and errors that their highlight reel needed to have circus music playing behind it.

amidst this debacle, i couldn't help but notice the font on their uniforms.  football is a tough sport.  it's all about hitting people and throwing things so other people can hit them instead of you (although you still end up getting hit, too.)  at least, that's what i can figure out.  i know tailgating fits in there somewhere, too. big guys wear pads so they can look bigger.  everything has to look strong and mean, including the numbers on your inform.  see exhibit a.

big and blocky, just like their font

and so, in a world of concrete stadiums, end zones, and grid iron, the kansas jayhawks' uniforms stood out to me.  behold exhibit b.

the fightin' serifs!

with those serifs and graceful changes in line thickness (don't know the font terminology for that) it's hard to look tough. they look elegant, like the ad campaign for a new lotion, and if they hit you as hard as they could, it would probably leave you feeling cultured, not clobbered.
as the aggies were scoring yet another touchdown, i did some research on my phone while everyone around me was getting to first base.  the font is called "trajan" and i actually kind of like it, just not here. even if they hit ctrl+b and tried to bold it, i doubt that would change much.
so, in a world where psychology has a huge influence performance, it seems of little wonder that the final score was 61-6.

and apparently i'm not the only one:

exhibit c.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

past, present, and future

found  myself pondering this early this week as i took the morning to sit by a fountain and read.

rafiki: look down there.

simba: that's not my father. that's just my reflection.

rafiki: no, look harder... you see? he lives in you.

mufasa: simba.

simba: father?

mufasa: simba, you have forgotten me. 

simba: no. how could i?

mufasa: you have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. look inside yourself, simba. you are more than what you have become. you must take your place in the circle of life.

simba: how can i go back? i'm not who i used to be.

mufasa: remember who you are. you are my son, and the one true king. remember...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

yelling

i had a post that i was going to write tonight but (the other) kristin was in town and she took me to my first midnight yell.

maybe i'll post that post some other time. or maybe i'll post something else instead.


Friday, November 18, 2011

hurts like heaven

dear girl,

here are some reasons i wish you were here:

+ i work in a really elegant building. tall stone columns on the outside, an open hall and grand stairway inside, it's the perfect place to to host a masquerade ball. i could meet you at the stairs when i get off work and we could descend them like we were royalty.

+ my friend and i are making a really interesting set of movies right now.  like, i'm really excited about this project. when we're working in the studio late at night, when i'm adjusting the lights, i wish you could be there with us.  the creative energy is invigorating and i want to share it.

+ i stopped and got layne's chicken tonight. i would have bought one for you, too, if you were in the passenger seat.

+ i'm going to the football game tomorrow. we get to kiss every time a&m scores a touchdown.

+ rock climbing is a blast. i think you should come with me.

+ i think i'd be more effective with my time at school if i knew i got to see you at the end of the day.

+ besides, it's almost Christmas time, so we'd have all of that magic to share together...  ; )

paul writes that he has fought the good fight and there is a crown laid up for him. but not just for him but for all who are valiant, because heaven by yourself would be pretty dull. i've said it before and i'll say it again: the times when i most wish you were in my life is when things are good.

at the end of the day, i'd like to look in the mirror and see you flossing next to me.

wherever you are,
i wish you were here,
i love you,

-->jeff *

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

wednesday, nov. 16, 2011

i think everything in
life is art
i got four hours of sleep last night.
and the night before.
my artwork generated some lively discussion between the two critiquing professors.
i hadn't done nearly as much animating as i should have finished by now.  i'm very disappointed in myself.
work was a sanctuary from school and they're happy with the "holiday" video and it's just about finished.
i hadn't eaten anything but a cinnamon roll today.
i decided to go to institute for the first time this semester rather than go home and eat.
words of mormon 1:7 is one of my new favorite scriptures.
i put in two very effective hours in the back room of the lab.  working like feels like eating vegetables; it's refreshing.
i made a warm dinner. did two loads of laundry, got to sit down for a moment, and i've got a few minutes to read before i'm going to bed.

today is a reminder for me not to give up.

and there are some rather perplexing parallels in my life right now.

post script: the new "brave" trailer is introduced as being "from the studio that brought you finding nemo, wall-e, and up."  those associations are very encouraging.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

above the trees

o fates! who hold the threads of life,

i can look up and see the great cogs turning, the gears moving into motion.  i can see the tumblers of time shifting.  and all i can think is to quote mrs. fox:

if what i think is happening, is happening, it better not be.

i know you know me.  and my quirks and all that.  so, i'm trying to figure out what's going on.  i mean, i trust you.  at least, i do as long as you know me.  i'm really hoping there's some surprise or a twist or something more that i'm not seeing.  because, in a way, it almost feels like you're trying to teach me a lesson.  but i already know that lesson.  trust me.

i guess i'll do what i can and trust you.

mortally yours,

-->jeff *

Saturday, November 12, 2011

november rain

i spent the majority of my day working on some hdr photography, the one assignment for my programming class that doesn't actually require programming.
when i unexpectedly had a few hours free at the end, i decided to head out and try the technique with the carnival that had once again taken up residence across from my old apartment.
i rather love carnivals and got invited to go on tuesday but couldn't afford the time away from school and you can't go with just anyone, anyway.

the shots didn't turn out as cool as i was hoping, but i still like them.



hdr stands for "high dynamic range" and the basic concept is that you take several photograph of varied exposure, so that you've captured detail in everything from the deepest shadows to the brightest highlights.  in the two shots above, i took five shots of each.  then you process them all together into one image that has a tone of information in it.  from there, you can tweak and play with it as you like.

jess and i did a handful in downtown bryan a few nights ago.  i think this image consisted of ten different exposures.  it was my last set i processed, so i decided to throw caution out the window and really crank the levels (i would have gone to 11 if it had been an option.)
as usually happens when i do anything with reckless abandon, it's my favorite.


Friday, November 11, 2011

1023

yeah, i posted this on facebook, but it always makes me smile and you don't get many days on the calendar like this.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

name that tune

i picked up an album by the black keys from this month's round of $5 albums off amazon's mp3 store (they've also got she+him's Christmas album....)  i'd heard of them and knew they were supposedly cool but that was about it.  from my brief listen, they remind me a lot of the white stripes.  certainly worth $5, anyway.  so, there you go.

anyway, i was listening at work a few days ago and a one of their songs really reminded me of another song, but i couldn't think of what it was.  i knew it was a song i had heard recently, but i couldn't place where.  i could vaguely recall just enough of the song to know i wasn't imaging it and i knew it was a live recording with audience in the background.  it was a sort of jam session, where the band would play a groove and there was a really great guitar that would finish to the applause of the crowd.  it sounded like an older song, and since i'd been buying mostly new music recently, i was afraid i'd heard it on the oldies station here, which meant i probably wasn't going to stumble across it anytime soon (at least, i was pretty sure it wasn't coldplay....)  it stuck with me through the week, barely expanding to anything more than a few muddled bars, but enough for me to know that i had heard it.  the best i could think of was that it kind of sounded like this, but i hadn't heard that song in years.  it was like having a piece of food stuck in my teeth that i just couldn't get out. thankfully, no one could see into my ear canal, this stray music wedged in there.

so tonight jess and i were heading to downtown bryan to shoot some hdr photography for our programming class (mutually agreed as the best assignment in the class since it doesn't actually involve programming--more on that later)  i was listening to the oldies station, since i figured she didn't want to listen to my general conference cds and, despite what the classic rock stations seem to think, i like things other than pink floyd.
we were somewhere between here or these when "seasons of love" came on by the zombies.

and that's when i realized.

no, the song stuck in my head wasn't "seasons of love", but it was a track off of that same album, which i had been listening to for a few days a week or two earlier.  i didn't know the name of the song, but i knew that was where it came from.  it was like finally scratching the itch.

for the record, the song is "she loves the way they love her."  it's the best song on a solid album that you should be listening to anyway.  i've listened to it five or six times this evening.

Monday, November 07, 2011

sense and sensibility

my sister...
i feel like i'm standing on the edge.

for most of the big decisions of my life, i've chose safety, reason, and wisdom.  and that's great, but i want to shift a little.
i'm not trying to change who i am.
not at all.
i think i'm bloody awesome (pardon, leithal).
but i feel like a photograph that just needs some color correction.  i want to shift the mid tones, tweak the highlights, touch up the shadows, adjust the color temp, and see what i can do in the curves editor.  to bring out the information that's really in the image.

sometimes i really wish i could turn my brain down to medium low and just live without thinking so much.
or else utilize my whole brain, like that guy in that movie "powder."

Sunday, November 06, 2011

we are all in this together

sitting in the chapel tonight and listening to president packer speak at the fireside, i looked around the room.  he was talking about how there is nothing we have done of which we can't be fully forgiven, and that we can change who we are and become a better person.  i wondered about all of the people sitting around me, wondering what trials, challenges, burdens, and hurt they are dealing with.  i haven't a clue what they might be, but i bet that 90% of them are heavier than what i carry.

Friday, November 04, 2011

knowing that you know

i don't know much about a lot.
but there are a few things.

and i'm just going to say that i know i wasn't wrong.
i knew it then and i know it now.

it's been a good day.
goodnight.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

script writer

thanks, former 786
INT - Night - TEXAS A&M VIZ LAB

FADE IN

The lab is full of partial to fully crazy graduate students, brilliant minds who will soon be at the best animation studios on the world.  Some are working on programming assignments or animation projects, some are sharing the latest internet meme videos, and some are even laughing.  Occasionally, a wacko is riding around a on razor scooter.  In the far corner with his group of friends sits our hero, JEFF (32).  Ruggedly handsome in a pair of stylish jeans and casual brown shirt, a pair of headphones emerge from his tousled locks of flowing hair.  His striking eyes are focused as he animates.  Empty Coke cans populate his work station.

JEFF
(to himself)
I wonder what it'd take to get a
script written to select and key
all of the controls all at once?

He begins to write an email to his group, suggesting the idea.
He stops.

JEFF
That doesn't seem too tricky. 
I wonder if we could just do it?

Acknowledging that he still can't write a line of code to save his life, our hero discusses the idea with a team mate.  He soon realizes that, using the program script from the summer, he could probably adapt it himself.

Jeff returns back to his work area, thinks for a moment, then taps BRANDON (23) on the shoulder.  A well of knowledge on just about everything cool, Brandon explains how to write and save a script and where everything fits in the pipeline of it all.

Determined, Jeff goes back to his animation software and opens the script editor.  After studying how the commands are processed, he begins to write his own script.  He checks the correct names against the rig's controls.
He runs the script.
It works.

JEFF
It works.  This is awesome. 
I did it.  I am awesome. 

He grins to himself and feels a sense of accomplishment not felt since this morning on the climbing wall.  He considers running up and down the rows, handing out high fives and hugs, but opts not to brag, to instead humbly keep this to himself.

JEFF
I still need to blog about
how awesome "quiet company" is. 
That's pretty much all I've
been listening to lately. 
Bah, I'll get to that later. 
Tonight is animation time.

Our dashing hero continues to work for a few more hours.  On his way home he hops in his convertible, grabs a box of chicken from layne's and enjoys his dinner with an endorphin boost from arrested development.

FADE OUT.

Monday, October 31, 2011

my friend the auror

i hadn't given much thought to what to be for halloween (y'know, grad school and all....) but a friend at church suggested i go as harry potter, which sounded easy enough for me.  i've already got the glasses and the scarf, although i decided i'd try to follow the look from the fourth movie, since his hair was longer then.
by the stream behind the institute building i found a branch that i fashioned into an excellent wand and, after raiding my roommate's closet for a maroon and gold tie, i was more or less set.


drawing that scar was trickier than it should have been, and when cassidy pointed out it was on the wrong side i confidently denied such while thinking in my head, "dang it, she's right...."


meanwhile, a half dozen states away, kristin was making herself into a really incredible tonks.


this just amazed me.
seriously dang awesome.
but she wanted the picture to feel a little less... "kitcheny", as she put it.  i had to agree, it had a definite muggle feel about it...
so i sent her a few suggestions on how to improve it, along with a few examples.
after some back and forth critiquing, she produced this:


yeah.  that's my friend.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

another brick in the wall

we were going in to visit the ginkaku-ji in kyoto one morning when renee and i were in the middle of a conversation.  we had been in the mtc together, where i knew only her last name and that she had beautiful eyes, and now we were recently off our missions and together again, this time on a study abroad.  i quite fancied her and was doing what i could to get to know her better.  i asked her about her testimony, when she came to know that the Gospel is true.  i don't remember her answer (i think she had one or two moments that she cited), but she then asked me.

for me, there never was a time growing up where i "came to know."  in a way, i've kind of always known, but that's not a wholly accurate way to put it.  rather, as i described it to her, there isn't one central event for me, but a whole collection of moments and feelings that, together, build the wall that is my testimony.  and it continues to grow.  each quiet, affirming moment where something whispers that this is true, moments during my weekend when i slow down and something softly chimes inside of me that God is with me, events that come together and things that work out; they are all bricks in my testimony.  also, while it may seem contrary to the personal nature of a testimony and knowing for yourself, the logic, facts, and strengths of my friends become additional bricks.

while i don't have one defining moment like many people have, i have some stones my wall that are larger and heavier than others, ones that i can lean on when others aren't as stable.  and that has proven to be an interesting part of this structure: if something get shaken and seems to fall off for whatever reason, i've got plenty more to hold onto.  like in rock climbing, if the hold you have isn't one you can easily grab onto (a credit card crimp or a big sloper, for example), there's enough alternatives to find something to grab and hold onto.

in related rock climbing news, i conquered that one route on saturday.  : )

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

twofer tuesday

  • climbed two new routes in class today.
  • danced with the cute girl in class twice. 
  • accidentally bought two copies of coldplay's new album.  digital downloads are a little hard to return....
  • got two tickets for the department's sneak preview of "puss 'n' boots" tomorrow night.
  • and i'm tempted to get two boxes of layne's chicken, just to keep things up, but that's probably too much...

Monday, October 24, 2011

so you want to be an r.e.m. fan

seventh row...
a few weeks ago, r.e.m. announced that they were breaking up, news that came as a surprise to me with some sadness but acknowledgement that it was time (i also took it as an omen that my and kristin's friendship was secure--ask me later.)  they had quite a career, often being credited with pioneering the "alternative" music genre and one of my fellow r.e.m. fans once suggested that they were the greatest american rock band (which, after i realized that all of my immediate objective suggestions were all not from the u.s., i realized was a possible claim).

they rode mainstream success and were praised by their peers for maintaining their identity and individuality.  with minor exceptions, they avoided the tumultuous tabloid lifestyles of being rock and roll stars.  they inspired a new generation of artists, including the arguably two most influential bands of the nineties, nirvana and radiohead.  today, their legacy can still be heard, most clearly in the decembrist's excellent the king is dead (literally: r.e.m. guitarist peter buck plays on two tracks)

i've been a fan of their since the early nineties, when they were the biggest band in the world and i needed something cooler than they might be giants to listen to (i was in junior high.)  since then, i have collected every album of theirs. according to itunes, that amounts to 47 albums and 296 songs, many of which are rarities, b-sides, and infamous Christmas singles.

so, they've finished their career and you're* wondering where to start in discovering the wealth of music they created.  a few years ago in a darkroom, i realized that r.e.m.'s career could be rather cleanly divided into pre-popular, popular, and post-popular eras.  at one time or another, i think every album of theirs has been my favorite.  follow me:

::pre-popular::

murmur -1983
their full-length debut album (the five-song chronic town was their first release), this is often cited as one of the defining albums of the independent rock movement.  to me, its most noteworthy feature is simply that it's the start of it all.  "radio free europe", which opens the album, is the most well-known song on here and was a staple of college radio way back when.
  • song to buy off itunes: "shaking through"

reckoning -1984
this continues where murmur left off.  jangling guitars and incomprehensible lyrics carried on, and "south central rain" can still be heard on quality alternative radio stations today.
  • song to buy off itunes: "(don't go back to) rockville," one of their best that was still played in concerts two decades later.

fables of the reconstruction -1985
this is where the golden age of r.e.m. starts, according to some purists.  the album carries some classic gems, such as "driver 8" and "life and how to live it."  their indefinable sound continued to evolve, with cryptic lyrics and a sound that was more organic than the 80s new wave happening around it.
  • song to buy off itunes: "wendell gee"

life's rich pageant -1986
this is the album that hipsters wanting to discover classic r.e.m. own.  101.9 would often play "superman", the closing highlight here, but it's solid from the start.  "cuyahoga" begins to show their political initiative, while "i believe" contains the typical southern energy of early r.e.m.
  • song to buy off itunes: "fall on me." it's just the best.

::popular::

document -1987
new label, new sound.  things are clearer, you can understand more of michael stipes lyrics, and they're rocking out a little more.  "strange" is just loud and fun, while "exhuming mccarthy" continues their activism against a republican government.  and good eats host alton brown worked as the cinematographer on "the one i love" possible the most mistaken love song of the era.
  • song to buy off itunes: "exhuming mccarthy," because, if you're reading this, you already own "it's the end of the world as we know it."
green -1988
after this, they toured the world for nearly a year.  they were big and getting bigger.  "orange crush" continued to rock against political agenda, the eponymous orange a reference to agent orange, the chemical used in the vietnam war.  there was space for more fun, too, with "pop song 89" and nostalgic relaxation in "you are the everything."
  • song to buy off itunes: "stand."  yes, it's the most famous song off of here, but that doesn't mean it can't be the best, too.

out of time -1991
worn out from a year of play around the world, they slowed things down, went acoustic and even brought in a mandolin.  this produced "losing my religion", one of their biggest and most enduring hits, an iconic song, artistic music video, and atypical radio hit.  "half a world away" ranks among their best bittersweet love songs, one that should be in every romantic's playlist.  and, of course, there's "shiny happy people", which is has been described by the band as either irony or (apparently embarrassed) straight-ahead fun bubble-gum pop.  but it did give us this.  if that doesn't make you smile, you have no soul.
  • song to buy off itunes: "texarkana"(provided you don't have the above listed songs already)

automatic for the people -1992
if you own just one r.e.m. album, it's this one.  if you can only name one r.e.m. song besides "losing my religion", it's likely from this album.  they now ruled the music world.  critics, fans, the general public, and even the band usually concur that this is their best album.  "everybody hurts" won video of the year (offending the beastie boys by beating "sabotage"), "the sidewinder sleeps tonight" makes no lyrical sense whatsoever but is so much fun, and "man on the moon" is the quintessential r.e.m. song.  the album carried a big emotional range, moving around between political, upbeat, somber, melancholy, rock, and peaceful.  it's all here.
  • song to buy off itunes: anything. something you don't have already: "nightswimming" or "find the river."

monster -1994
they had done two largely acoustic records.  it's great stuff but they needed something to tour with, now that they were selling out stadiums.  so they wrote monster.  i've seen interviews on vh1 where people talk about the first time they heard a particular song.  i still remember the first time i heard "what's the frequency, kenneth?" on the radio; in my room one night as freshman in high school, i just stood there in amazement, loving that guitar and the fuzzed energy of it all.  it's r.e.m. trying the grunge sound, but there are still plenty of solid songs on here.
  • song to buy off itunes: "strange currencies."  one of their best love songs.

::post-popular::

new adventures in hi-fi -1996
this is the album where the crowd began to leave.  after monster, they signed an $80 million contract with warner brothers, the biggest in the company's history.  with all due respect to r.e.m., that was a bad move for warner brothers.  from here on out, any album single was played on the radio for only a few weeks after it's release and the only people buying these albums are the ones who own all the r.e.m. albums.
which is a shame, because it's great music.  it was best described to me as music to get on I-80 and head west (from utah.)  "leave" rocks with the loud emptiness of wanting to escape from everything, while "electrolyte" is their most melodic closing since "find the river."
  • song to buy off itunes: "electrolyte" or "leave"

up -1998
drummer bill berry suffered a brain aneurism on the monster tour and, after the band assured him they would carry on, left the rock and roll lifestyle to be a farmer back home in georgia.  their sound became a little more electronic, apparently taking inspiration from radiohead's work at the time.  the album is introspective, carrying beautiful songs like "why not smile" next to the usual indecipherable "hope" (one of my all-time favorite r.e.m. songs.)
  • song to buy off itunes: "at my most beautiful"

reveal -2001
they're really slowing the tempo down here.  the album has been compared to brian wilson's "pet sounds", which is apt.  at any rate, it's best listened to on a rainy day.  it's probably the album i listen to least, although it's not without its merits.  "all the way to reno" is unfortunately forgettable, but "imitation of life" is classic r.e.m. (and one of the most creative videos not produced by michel gondry.)  it's interesting how not having a drummer changes things up so much.
  • song to buy off itunes: "imitation of life"

around the sun -2004
pretty much universally agreed as the weakest r.e.m. album, and that includes the band's vote.  they've said it's a political album, and certainly songs like "the final straw" are.  but if r.e.m. ever made a breakup album, this is it.  and it's a great one.  it's not a raging one, but a brooding, contemplative one.  "leaving new york" is a solid song, but i knew i'd never again hear on the radio a month after its release.
  • song to buy off itunes: "aftermath" if you need to get over a breakup.  otherwise, buy a second song from another album.

accelerate -2008
they're trying too hard, but at least they're rocking again.  trying to show that they aren't old and boring like "around the sun" was, every song is fast and electric.  that's pretty much it.  it's all good and fine, but all the songs sound like "supernatural superserious", their one strong single on here.

  • song to buy off itunes: "supernatural superserious"  

collapse into now -2011
ok, i'll be honest; this is the first r.e.m. album since the mid-90s that i didn't pick up on day one.  i just was expecting much and was hoping to get a digital download on sale off amazon a few weeks later.  but after hearing good things from trusted r.e.m. fan, i bought it.  and yeah, it was great.  the best thing they've done since... the mid-90s.  after trying way too hard on accelerate, this is what r.e.m. sounds like.  introspective, melodic, soaring backup vocals, some good rockers; it's all here.  and it was the best note they were going to end on and they knew it.
  • song to buy off itunes: "alligator_aviator_autopilot_antimatter"

some other gems of theirs that aren't on their official studio albums include:
  • "the lion sleeps tonight", a cover on the b-side of, obviously, "the sidewinder sleeps tonight."  simply beautiful, if i've ever made you a cd, there's a change this is on there.
  • "bad day", released only as a single around 2004, it's essentially an alternate version of "it's the end of the world as we know it."
  • "wall of death", a great extra on the "e-bow the letter" single from 1996.
  • "yellow river", a b-side of "all the way to reno" and soaring, jangling guitars with lead vocal by mike mills (because if you've read this far, you actually care about that).
  • "silver bells." every year, they send out a Christmas single to everyone in their fan club.  these are impossible to find otherwise.  usually they're slightly sarcastic or really goofy (if you heard "silver bells" on the Christmas cd i made a few years ago, you also heard "Christmas griping."  yeah...)
hopefully, that'll give you somewhere to start.
stay tuned for the next one whenever they might be giants decide to split.


(*i fully acknowledge that no one save one or two readers here are actually interested in delving through this.  rather, this is a post for me.  thank you for bearing with me.)