Paul Geromini

To content | To menu | To search

Monday 16 July 2018

Girls' Last Tour AMV (Fifth Overall)

You can watch it here.

This was my second entry to Connecticon 2018, but it was not accepted. A bit of a different take compared to what I normally pursue, this one focused almost exclusively on a single episode of Girls' Last Tour, a fairly recent anime. The episode I used (episode 6) was my favorite of the series and is a great standalone episode even if you have not seen the series before. For the song I used "Fly Away" by John Denver. I am not a country music fan, but I felt this song matches a lot of the themes I was going for both literally (flying away from some place) and metaphorically (escaping).

Scene Breakdown

00:00 - 00:41: I really like the non-musical opening. It sets the stage of the world well (which may not be familiar to some of the audience) and quickly conveys the journey the girls are on. In general I think silence/non-musical scenes are underutilized in AMVs.

00:47: A bit too quick of a cut here, but there was no other way to get around it since the characters start talking right after and I like to avoid seeing that if I can.

01:08: Good sync up with the lyrics and plane image here.

01:12 - 01:13: It is hard to notice, but there is some lip movement here. I tried to avoid it, but it would mess with the story progression too much if I cut it. It is hard to notice so I felt it was ok to keep in.

02:10: More lips flaps here, but the scene was too critical so I kept it.

02:19 - 02:29: I am not sure I was able to convey that the pilot wanted to escape in these few scenes, but it was the best I could do with the limited options available. On the last scene (02:29) I actually froze the clip as they are talking during it.

03:04: I think the animation in the show is average, but I do like the faces they make from time to time.

03:34: I like the sync between the picture and the song a lot here.

03:58: Continuity error here with the propeller starting in the scene before, but being stationary here. I felt it was ok to leave in as most people would not notice and its not really a big deal.


Overall, I am happy it turned out as well as it did and I very much like how this piece is different in structure than what I normally do. That said, I am pretty bummed it was not accepted as I felt it was a strong overall piece, but I cannot say it was better than the actual finalists so I will just have to do better next year.

Bubblegum Crisis AMV (Fourth Overall)

You can watch it here.

This piece was my second entry to Anime Boston 2018 and my first entry Connecticon 2018. It was accepted at neither convention. This AMV is pretty normal given my past work and is indicative of my general style: poppy music, oldish anime, ironic lyrics, boarderline extreme violence. I happen to really like Bubblegum Crisis (the original OVAs, less so for anything after) and MC Frontalot (who is featured in this song, Robot Party by Supercommuter) so it was a natural fit to merge both.

Scene Breakdown

00:00 - 00:14: I like this intro a lot. Not a lot of musical cues and it sets the scene well. Perhaps I could have used some background noise, but I think the silence is cool and unusual.

00:37: There is a weird white flash here that probably works better in the anime than it does in this AMV. I thought about removing it, but it seemed best to leave it in so that scene would not become disjointed and look weird.

00:45 - 00:50: This is one of the first bits I put together and it inspired the rest of the AMV.

00:55: I consider this AMV to be mostly about robots tearing up a city, but it can also be seen as a stealth Knight Sabers AMV as they appear in the background from time to time. Some of the Knight Sabers appear in this scene for the first time in the AMV.

01:00: I thought the biker sliding during a spin out was a clever match to the "rotating" lyric.

01:37 - 01:44: Probably the weakest part of the AMV. I wanted to match the lyrics, but there is nothing available that quite did it so I was left with this.

01:48 - 01:50: I had to slow this clip down a bit so it would fill out the lyric, but it looks a bit weird because of it.

01:56: Another Knight Saber appearance.

02:18: I really like how "dance" and the guy flying line up here.

02:23: This is a Knight Saber "sword" here. Nothing else really matched.

02:45 - 02:52 : Pretty obvious Knight Saber scene here which fans of the show should recognize.

03:45: I considered ending with a tv screen turning off, but it it never worked well enough to use.


I spent a lot of time gestating this one and I like it a lot. I am surprised no one else seems to like it, but that seems to be more an indictment of my taste than others'. Overall I am happy how it turned out.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

One Year at NetNumber

It has been one year of full employment at NetNumber, which means the revival of the year retrospectives!

What Did I Learn This Year?

1. Being more efficient programming in Java. Now that my job requires me to care more about efficiency in the Java language I have picked up a couple new tricks in this area. Chief amongst them is thread locals which are a bit verbose to use, but helpful. I also am getting better at working with threads which still bend my mind on occasion.

2. I have an expensive gun fetish. It seems I realized this year I I could buy guns and just like that I went on a bit of a buying spree with an eye towards many more acquisitions. I think this newfound love is driven by two factors. One, I have a thing for old rifles which (since they are not making them anymore) means the stock is always being reduced and the price always going up. Better to get them now before they get more expensive. Two, the legal situation may make it so some pieces may be harder to find (e.g. AR-15s) which again means I should get them while I have a chance. And of course with all these nice pieces I need a place to use them which lead to me joining a local shooting club. It is nice, but I wish the range went out farther than ~100 yards. I would like to try some long range shooting at some point. Furthermore, it would be a shame to have my rights further restricted, so I have joined all manner of gun advocacy groups (GOA, NRA, GOAL) to protect what I have now. It remains to be seen how long this expensive affair will go on, but I am enjoying it so far.

3. I can win AMV awards! This was a pleasant surprise, especially for such a high profile convention, but I am a bit baffled about the disconnect between the AMVs I like and the ones that actually win awards. My tastes may be too eclectic for mainstream appeal. I am not sure if AMV hipsters exist, but I am happy to pioneer a new subculture. That said, I plan to keep experimenting and hopefully find a happy medium. Expect more progress in this area this year.

4. I can work on cars. I have joined a Lemon's team and we have been working feverishly for almost a year to get our car ready to race. We should be ready for our first race in August, but I will not feel comfortable about it until our car is actually running. That said, I have learned quite a bit about cars and with that knowledge I feel a lot more confident about conducting repairs. Luckily for me aside from needing some maintenance and basic repairs my daily drivers keeps on trucking. I do hate how dirty cars become though. I go through a lot of gloves when I work.

What Am I Looking To Explore This Year?

1. Ammo reloading. This is mostly as a way to save money as some of the pieces I shoot can be pretty expensive ($1.70 a round for 30-40 Krag for example), but I also like the idea of being able to reload what I shoot from a self sufficiency perspective. This also has some interesting offshoots like forming your own bullets or brass. For now I have acquired a book and I will be looking for some local classes so I have a good sense of what I am doing before investing in some equipment.

2. Some oddball AMV ideas. I have some ideas which are a bit out there as far as my next AMVs go. I am not sure how that will help me win any more awards, but they should be different from the usual fare if nothing else.

3. Home improvements. I am looking to tear the carpet up from my lower floor bathroom in order to make it a little less awful. I also need to do some work on the shower in there too as the lining is cracked and peeling. The yard also reminds a bit of a sore spot. I half want to make it very nice and half do not care. We shall see how it goes this year.

4. Cooking. I have grown a bit tired of my usual recipes. I need to branch out and find some new flavors. I hoping to solicit some simple recipes from people I know.

5. Video game development. I keep thinking about video games I would like to make myself, but I keep not doing anything about it. I hope this is the year I carve out some time to do some experimenting. I am thinking using unity would be a good start as it seems pretty feature rich and free.

What did I Fail at This Year?

1. Saving money. Despite my grand plans I am not saving as much money as I thought. Between unexpected house costs, my gun hobby, and our race car my savings rate has slowed. This is kind of concerning because I do want to retire by 40 still, but I also want to invest in my hobbies. It seems that the hobbies are winning for now, but I am disappointing a bit by my lack of will to save. I shall think on this.

2. Civil War Reenacting. I keep wanting to do this, but I keep delaying looking into it. I think this might be the year since it pairs nicely with my gun habit and new found willingness to spend money on my hobbies.

3. Blog writing. Nuff said.

In summary, I had a really good year. I will work to make this year even better.

Sunday 1 April 2018

Space AMV (Third Overall)

You can watch it here.

Another Anime Boston, another AMV submission. Building off my last accepted work. This time I decided my best bet at acceptance into the finals was to be on theme. Given the theme was space I used a lot of modern/sci-fi anime for my first multiple source AMV. Specifically I used: - Planetes - Legend of the Galactic Heroes - Moonlight Mile - Space Battleship Yamato 2199 - Royal Space Force: The Wings of HonnĂȘamise - Freedom Project - Bodacious Space Pirates - Magnetic Rose

For the song I used Melody Sheep's Beyond the Horizon which I edited somewhat to remove a section in the middle that was not fit for my purposes. I would recommend giving him/her/it a subscription as they produce a lot of interesting musical content.

I submitted this to Anime Boston 2018 and it was accepted as a finalist in the "Other"category. It won "Best Concept", my first award ever!

Scene Breakdown

00:00 - 00:04: It just cannot be an AMV without a little Legend of the Galactic Heroes love.

00:05: This scene is unremarkable except that I had major difficulty with it in Sony Vegas. Specifically I had issues with Vegas trying to changes its frame rate. It was very frustrating and it would often render in a stuttering manner until I sorted it out.

00:017: I spent a long time trying to find the right clip for this scene. This was the best I could do.

00:18-00:19: I love this shot. It was one of the first clips I used.

00:39-00:40: Not a fan of this shot, but it had to do.

00:55-00:57: These clips are from Royal Space Force and they look gorgeous. This movie never seemed to got the acclaim it deserves both story wise and animation wise. A big miss with modern CG is organic looking shots like these.

01:04-01:23: I went back and forth a lot on this section between trying to actually find clips of Neptune and just showing planets. I think what I have works, but it lacking. I wish I did have some Neptune shots. I also am not so sure that section in the middle that flashes a bunch of planets (01:13-01:16) works. It just seems choppy.

01:32-01:34: This scene is from Freedom Project and it is one of my favorite shots in the series. The framing of the ship flying over the moon to the earth is this AMV in a nutshell.

01:41-01:42: They say you should avoid flappy lips in AMVs, which I agree with, but I made an exception because if it is just the button press it does not make a whole lot of sense.

02:06-02:08: Kind of a boring shot, but I did not have anything else to use.

02:09: This is where I cut about 30 seconds from the song. Have a listen to those seconds here. Its the only part of the song that would be hard to work with since its a very sudden tonal shift and their is some straight unautotuned voice over. I am pretty happy with my cut as it is unnoticeable to me.

02:27: It is really nice how the Yamato blinks out with the beat. That was a happy little coincidence.

02:34-02:36: This little jump of the spaceship with the beat is about the most clever thing I have ever done. I have a long way to go.

02:43: I went back and forth a lot if I was going to stick to just modern ships or show some futuristic designs like this one from Bodacious Space Pirates. In the end I wanted to show both the past and the future so I ran with it starting with this clip. It is also hard to find anime about the space program or even modern spaceflight. Related to that, I so wanted to include some Nadesico somewhere, but it is in 4:3 and would look weird with all the other widescreen clips. I think Nadesico will be my next project.

02:46: I may have overused the main characters from the Freedom Project.

03:35: The close out with the baby going for the star is great in my opinion and I get more Legend of the Galactic Heroes in.


Overall, the final product is acceptable. Given my previous work (like my Saikano AMV and Ran FMV) this piece lacks a fun juxtaposition of violence and upbeat tunes that I think characterizes my work (and my other, in this author's opinion, better second submission which I will write about latter). That said it is good to have an optimistic video every now and then and I cannot say I am unhappy about taking home an award. It is just weird that I won for a video I was probably the least enthused about.

Saturday 26 August 2017

An Unfortunate Misfire

As faithful blog readers will know I have been creating a number of video projects as of late. During all the copious free time I had while I was unemployed, I spent some of it on this Gundam AMV. I found out I like Gundam a lot and I like the song I used (Mecha Mechanics by Whoremoans) a lot. But this AMV just does not work out. I am not totally sure why, but I have a theory. This video represents the ultimate "literal interpretation" theory of AMV creation. AMVs subscribing to this school of thought try to match the lyrics being spoken as close as possible to clips from the series. That school of thought worked out well for me with the Homeworld and Saikano videos, but I feel I was too slavish to lining clips up and consequently the video lacks a coherent theme. I also just had a hard time finding clips for everything. I spent a lot more time than I have on other videos trying to find things that would work.

I ended up not submitting this to any contests.

Scene Breakdown I have a couple comments on various parts of the FMV. You can think of this as a textual director's commentary.

00:13: Not sure how I feel about this 9/11 reference.

00:19: I really like this short clip and how it times up well with the music.

00:21-00:22: This is what I talked about above. These are clips of Gundams, but it is not the models mentioned in the lyrics.

00:33-00:34: I love this joke

01:31-01:33: These clips do not work that great. I ran the first one in reverse to look like it was going back into the water, but it looks awkward.

01:35: I think the next couple clips with the blue Zaku are the best executed in the AMV.

02:01: I was not sure what to put here and this is the best I could come up with.

Overall, it is a bit disappointing spending a lot of time to produce something that is not that great, but I learned a bit so it was not all a loss.

Thoughts on being unemployed

I am a few months back to being employed and I have some thoughts on the two or so months I spent unemployed.

1. I am not ready to retire yet. The one nice thing about being unemployed is all the free time you have. While this was nice originally, I mostly did the same thing I always do with my free hours: watch TV, play video games, and read books. It was awesome for a while, but after a month or so of gorging it begins to become unstimulating. While it is true I did work on some side projects, like an AMV or two and a Chex Quest cosplay, I mostly have little to show for my long break. This does not bode well for my early retirement plans. Consuming media is fun, but not rest of your life fun.

2. Job Hunting is hard. Even for a field in-demand like software engineering, job hunting was not an easy task. I applied to 50 places, had 10 phone screens, and three in person interviews. Part of the problem was geography, since a lot of work is in and around the city of Boston and I did not want to work there, but I feel the main issue was a disconnect between me and the applications I was viewing. While it is true not all the jobs I applied to were perfect fits for my experience and skillset, I felt most of the applications I submitted were good matches. Given the 20% contact rate the employers disagreed. This leads me to think their job postings were not accurate to what they wanted.

3. Youtube is awesome I started really using Youtube and subscribing to channels and there is quite a lot of good content to be found there. Some of my new favorites are: 1. Forgotten Weapons 2. LGR 3. Tank Museam 4. The Examined Life (of Gaming) 5. Spacedock

4. Baldur's Gate is awesome I had beat Baldur's Gate 1 (along with Tales of the Sword Coast) before I was "budget actioned", but all this new free time begged for long, involving RPGs. Thus began epic quest to rid the world of evil in Baldur's Gate Siege of Dragonspear, Baldur's Gate 2, and Baldur's Gate 2 Throne of Bhaal. Ultimately that is 100+ hours of classic D&D gaming. Overall I would say it was time well spent. The isometric graphics hold up well, the voice acting is solid (Irenicus portrayed by David Warner being the highlight), and the story being pretty compelling. I will say, I am still rubbish at the combat.

5. Gundam is awesome Surprising no one I started watching Gundam and it is as good as everyone always told me it was. I do get to cheat a little and watch just the good series though. That turned out to be Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (just the first two cours), and Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt. I would recommend those series if you are in the market for a mecha anime.

6. Unemployment Services are a pain I got my first taste of the MA safety net when I started to collect unemployment. What I did not know was I had to prove to the state that I was looking for work every week I wanted benefits. That was not a huge issue, even if the site for reporting what you did that week was slow and poorly formatted, but it does highlight an unfortunate gap. Specifically, if you have signed an offer, but have not started work yet you still have to be looking for work to get benefits. That seems rather disingenuous so I did not do that, but I missed out on two weeks worth of benefits. I also had to go to a unemployment class which was a huge waste of my time. I did not need a class to tell me MA offers a site to do job searches on.

7. Being unemployed hurts the ego Its pretty deflating to be unemployed. I very much enjoyed being a software engineer and having that title. Lacking it, is was a big bummer. It is strange, because I was still the same person, but it was harder to prove I was who I said I was without some sort of outside validation (like being employed).

8. The MA healthcare bureaucracy is vast I almost had to switch to MA healthcare and it was a huge pain. They wanted forms faxed (no online upload or emailing) and it took forever to hear back from them. One day I got two letters in the mail. One saying I had been denied health care and the other saying I had been accepted into the plan. It was all very confusing and I am glad to not have to deal with it now that I am back to work.

And that is my unemployment nutshell. I hung around the house for a bit, played some games, watched some anime, and then went back to work.

Monday 10 July 2017

My Second FMV

I have finally gotten around to releasing my second FMV (Fan Music Video). You can watch it here. It was a first for me in that the source material is a video game. Specifically, Homeworld: Remastered (a remaster of the 1999 classic) and briefly Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak (A 2016 prequel).

Homeworld has always been very special to me. It is an excellently constructed game, with unique gameplay mechanics (full 3d unit movement), excellent graphics, strong art direction (see Peter Elson, the Terran Trade Authority Books, and this fan site). I have played it and its sequels many times and I have always wanted to pay tribute to it in some form

Here is what the finished project looks like:

This FMV was a huge technical challenge for me. I would have to capture almost all the video clips I needed (minus some cinematics) and work with three different styles (Homeworld Remastered, its black and white cinematics, and Deserts of Kharak). I did a lot of research and testing on various capture solutions, eventually settling on the excellent and open source OBS ( While testing this tool, I found only recording at the highest quality (lossless) captures the vibrant color of the ships and backgrounds of Homeworld which is critical to the end product. This resulted in huge video files, about 100MB for every 5 seconds compared to 61GBs compared to my average size ~5GBs. Thankfully, Sony Vegas had no problems handling these large files. Painful as it was to work with all these large clips, it did allow me full freedom in selecting the shots I wanted as all I had to do was move the camera and record. This was made easy since both Homeworld games have a cinematic mode which hides the UI except for the pointer which can be hidden by holding the right mouse button down. All this freedom can be a challenge however as you get to decide what you want, instead of working from a set palette of clips. More freedom, but more indecision. It was a new experience in that regard as I had to have more of a director's eye rather than being given everything to start with. This does help cut down on all the time trawling though episodes to find what you need, but It is replaced by lots of recording and lots of thinking you are recording only to realize you forgot. For the story, I wanted to present the full journey through the first game so I took highlights from most missions, skipping missions that did not contribute to the main story. It was tough to get a few shots given a game is going on, but judicious saving made it easy to get most of the clips I wanted. Finally of note, the end product is letterboxed a bit. I did this because the cinematics from the first game are letterboxed and it was distracting to see the bars appear and disappear as the video went on.

I submitted this FMV to Connecticon 2017, but it was not accepted as a finalist. I was a bit bummed by that as I thought it was pretty good (biased though I am). I will take it as a challenge to submit a better one next year.

Scene Breakdown I have a couple comments on various parts of the FMV. You can think of this as a textual director's commentary.

0:00-0:03: I love using voices from the source material and having a cold (music-less) open. This clip is actually frozen until the hyperspace window appears at 0:04. It was too hard to capture the mothership (the banana ship) and Kharak (the planet behind the mothership) standing still and then hyperspacing in one shot. You can see a tiny bit of the hyperspace window, but it is hard to spot (IMHO).

0:29: This shot comes from Deserts of Kharak. It actually has a bit more of a letterbox than the clips from Remastered, but it is not that noticeable (IMHO).

0:44: The next few clips are from an in game captured log of the attack on Kharak so it intentionally has static and a timer in the upper right. There is nothing I can do about it so I left it as is.

0:55-0:56: I love the explosion of the space station blending into the cinematic explosion. It works really well.

1:04-1:13: One of the weaker parts of the video if I am being critical. I had to introduce this ship (as it is very important latter), but it is not very interesting otherwise.

1:16: This clip is stretched a tiny bit since some of the UI actually crept in on the edge and I had to hide it. At long distances in Homeworld: Remastered ships get a border that cannot be hidden.

1:24: This is a cool shot of a lot of ships, but I have no idea how that ion frigate got so out of formation at the bottom.

1:35-1:36: I think the abrupt song transition from fast paced to slow is very well complimented by the shot selection here.

1:44: These are cryostasis pods which might not be apparent if you have not played the game.

1:54: This shot of the hyperspace inhibitor is actually not from the cinematic montage of enemy structures used in the previous clip. It will become important latter on so I wanted to set it up here.

1:58: We can start to see some of the great color usage in the game as it goes from a black background to a vibrant red here to orange and yellow as we go on. You can really see this gradual color change in the project picture.

2:13-2:17: Really cool shot of some bombers making a run on the Kadeshi needle. I setup to record just the bombers and got lucky one was destroyed during the filming.

2:17-2:20: This ship is an important story piece so I set it up by including it here.

2:23-2:29: Again, I got lucky here as the camera automatically zooms out to prevent clipping into a ship. It gave this great shot that goes from being tight on the fighters to wide as they break off showing all the capital ships in play.

2:31: Those are actually captured enemy destroyers in the background (there is an ingame capture mechanic). It would be confusing for someone not familiar with the game to see them up close, but it is far enough away and well obscured so I thought it was ok to cheat just this once. This was some of the first footage I recorded and I had forgot about that mechanic. Gamewise, capturing everything is always the correct strategy which is why it was heavily nerfed in the sequels.

3:43: I probably overdid it with carrier explosions as here is a second one.

3:47: This is captain Elson in his black destroyer. He is very important to the game, but hard to explain without words. I do not think I succeed in conveying that to people who are not fans of the game.

3:59: I love the strange angle the multigun corvette is taking as it comes into the shot in the lower left.

4:03: A great shot, but for this mission the head on approach is very costly. Two cloak generators in the middle of a tight ship formation is far more effective.

4:04: You can see the turrets on this heavy cruiser moving, but not firing. I am not sure if that was a bug, but I let it be.

4:10-4:12 Probably the hardest shot to get. I had to get both the homeworld and the mothership in frame. It took a number of reloads to get it just right.

4:13: This attack in Remastered is actually very different from the original as it is far more aggressive and reckless. Thus the Remastered version has a big difficulty spike here.

4:23-4:25: A very Michael Bay-esque shot here with multiple ships moving at multiple distances from the camera.

4:29-4:30: I got lucky with this shot as the missile strike destroys the fighter right on a music beat.

4:41: I think I should have held this end shot a bit longer. The song ends pretty quickly, but we need some time to decompress.

Conclusion Overall, I really like how this came out. I think it struggles a bit with some boring shots that do not make sense if you are not a fan or familiar with the game, but it was fun to make and a interesting technical challenge. Look for something more familiar for my next project.

Monday 3 April 2017

My Second AMV

After much effort I have completed a second AMV which can be seen here. I am very happy with how it turned out as it was accepted as a finalist at Anime Boston 2017 in the other category. This is the most success any of my video projects have had. Just like those two other projects I want to give a brief overview of why I used the anime and music I did along with a couple comments on particular scenes.

Music and Anime I found the music first. During the time between Christmas and New Years I worked from home for a week and I was listening to a bunch of music. I started listening to The DoubleClicks as I had head them at Pax East 2016. When I heard the song I ended up using: Can't You See the World is Ending, I knew right away this was going to work with an actiony anime. At first I thought I might make another Legend of the Galactic Heroes (LOGH) AMV like I did with my first one. Reinhard would be the focus and there would be a lot more action. I scrapped that idea because this song has more of a high school/young adult vibe and as much as I want LOGH to become more popular, I am not sure I alone can carry that torch. Then I thought of using Nadesico since that has more of a lighter vibe benefiting this song and I want more people to watch this show too. I was not sold on the idea though and I did a brief search to see if another anime fit the bill better. Then I remembered Saikano and it just fit right away. It was just a nice bonus that the show is not in vogue anymore.

Editing Before I started editing I had a lot of difficulty getting quality source material. Saikano has never had a blu-ray release and the actual animation quality is just ok. That did not stop me from spending a lot of time with conversion tools (mostly handbrake) trying to get the best I could. The end result is functional, but certainly not as good as I would like. A big take away for me in the future is to secure better source material before becoming married to an idea.

For the editing process I used Sony Vegas. Here is what the finished project looks like:

When I start I lay the music track down first, then I put notes (those orange flags) around lyrics I want to get specific clips for. For example when the song reaches "try to stop the bombs" I want to put a clip of bombs falling. It is pretty basic, but it helps me keep things organized. Then I have a couple video tracks. 1. The main "AMV" track which will be the final video 2. A track above that for "Clips" so I can easily swap clips in and out that I want to try. You can think of this as alternative cuts. 3. A number of "Effect" tracks which holds things like text I want to overlay. I had a lot of more of these effects than any video I have done before. I am sure there is a more clever of way instead of using multiple tracks, but this is easy to do and what I was doing was not super complicated so I ran with it.

Once that is all setup I just trolled through the episodes to find clips I wanted to use. I would bring the whole episode into Vegas and I would scan it quickly (say 2x-3x speed). I had a good sense of what I wanted to see, so when I saw a clip I liked I would cut it from the episode and place it roughly where I wanted. I did this with all 13 episodes (ignoring the OVAs). After I went through all the episodes I had a lot of clips in rough position. I refined things from there, going back to get more clips when I needed. After that I added a few effects with some text and I was finished.

To render I create a new template with the technical specifications Anime Boston wants and I make an RC or release candidate. From there I send the video out to a select review group for comments (Mr. Skehill of the inimitable Quixotic United and my sister). I get comments from them and make various RCs until I am happy. That final RC becomes a release and I submit that video. This is a rough imitation of the software release life cycle.

Scene Breakdown I have a couple comments on various parts of the AMV . You can think of this as a textual director's commentary.

00:00-00:08: This is the part of the AMV I am least happy about. I was never sure what to put here and this just ends up feeling like wasted space. Originally I had put a bunch of establishing shots of buildings and countryside, but that was pretty boring. At least opening with a bunch of crying shots gets your attention.

00:17-00:00:20: These are flashbacks in the anime so they have a hazy border. It has the effect of making the animation quality look even worse, but I really wanted to use these scenes so I figured it was worth it.

00:26: It took me forever to find a clip that worked here.

00:32-00:34: I like the dichotomy of these two clips a lot and that vibe is what I try to hit throughout the AMV. The main drive of the song is everyone is acting normal in an abnormal situation so I wanted to highlight that wherever I could. The one drawback here is it spoils a bit of the surprise later on when we see her with the Gatling gun (0:53).

0:53-0:55: I think this scene works particularly well. It lines up with the song, it is pretty snappy with all the cuts, and the contrast between the destruction in the background and her being the hero is just right.

0:55-0:56: There is actually not a lot of action scenes in this series, with most of them coming from episode 1. Lucky there are enough clips for this AMV, but most of the actiony shots come from this episode and episode 13.

1:00: I went back and forth on actually showing people eating food when the song mentions it. I did not have anything better to use, but I wish I did. Mostly it just seems lazy to show food when the song mentions it.

1:06. This is the first effect I used. It is just text, but I had to cover up what is actually shown on the pager with a block of color. It is basic, but it gets the message across. Looking at it now, I think the text should be more digital.

1:15-1:16: Best part of the AMV in my opinion. Happy trumpets with a sad violent clip.

1:29-1:30: This is a subtle effect. Chise (the standing character) actually talks in this scene, but it was distracting to see. I effectively froze part of this clip so we could see the animation around the exclamation points, but not her talking.

1:42-1:43: Those familiar with the series will see Chise shopping here which is not congruent with the song. In the song Chise is effectively the singer so she would not be shopping, but her friends would be. That said it goes by quick so I do not think it would upset many people. There was also no other shopping clip to use.

1:56: I do not know what the Japanese says here.

2:01-2:02: The most complicated part of the AMV. Basically I repeated the effect from 1:06, but I had to animate both the text and the color block to move with the pager. It took a long time, but I think it syncs up quite well. I also like the humor of mentioning the AMV title here. Interestingly, I came up with this hashtag first and then I liked it so much I used it as the title.

2:25- 2:26: Ok, this might be more complicated than before. Effectively, I had to cut out part of the clip with the TV, and then overlay the hamster dance video where the cut out is. The tricky part is a character is moving right next to the TV so with each movement I had to change the part I cut out (the mask) so it would look consistent. On close inspection it does not look amazing, but perfect is the enemy of good so I moved on.

2:33: This is the second part of the scene from 1:15.

2:49-2:50: I actually uploaded the clip I wanted to show here to youtube and then screen recorded it to get the youtube controls. I then inserted that clip on top of a TV from the anime. The effect is nice and it is a bit of an inside joke if you can see the title and are familiar with the anime. On reflection I think I should have filled the screen with the youtube clip and not bothered putting it on a TV.

3:00-3:04: Originally I had a clip where Shuji (the guy at 0:09) was crushed by a giant wave, but I got feedback that a scene like this would work better and I agreed.

Conclusion Overall, I like how things turned out, but there are a few scenes I would tweak. Big picture, I think this AMV was hobbled by the source quality. I should be a bit more sure about what I have available to work with before I get too involved. Interestingly, the next project I am working on I have just about absolute control over. Look for that around July when Connecticon happens.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Four Years Later

It generally takes three times for the normal mind to understand something. The first sign I got was seeing my senior coworker having part of his cube in boxes, the second sign was having another coworker come by and shake my hand saying, "it had been great to work together", and the third sign was my new, one on one meeting at 10:15. This is what it is liked to be laid off (although I prefer the more humorous "budget actioned"). That was March 7, 2016 for me. It was the end of a (just about) four year period of employment, my first post-school job. I want to take the time, now a week or so later, to describe what I actually did for four years. I want to give the highlights, the lowlights, what I thought we did wrong and what I thought we did right. I will preface this all by saying I harbor no ill will towards anyone I worked with or Oracle itself. Oracle always treated me fairly, I am just sad it never worked out for them.

May 28 2013 My first day of work. The week immediately after Anime Boston. It was going to be the 27th, but that was a holiday (Memorial Day). I was horribly late, the latest I ever was in my four years there. I left early, but spent ages in bumper to bumper traffic. I called in to let them know I was going to be late, but I was still majorly embarrassed. After getting in late I was rapidly given a bunch of documents and a cube. As I was getting setup in my cube, I remember opening the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet and finding three liquor bottles in it. It was nice liquor too. I told my coworker and he secreted it away never to be seen again. The rest of the day I sat in a HR conference call. I would be the last legacy TEKELEC hire before the company was completely Oraclized.

July 2013 My first real assignment. Before then I had been familiarizing myself with the code, trying things out, going to meetings to learn our process. Now I had my first real piece of work to do: S9. You can read more about S9 here. I was responsible for everything: GUI and backend. I would work on this for the next few months. It would never ship as the customer who wanted it never actually wanted it. Company wise, everyone was stoked that Oracle was going to keep our office in Marlborough and not have us commute to Burlington.

November 2013 I am a bit hazy about this point, but at some point I finished S9 and moved to building the "Subscriber Activity Log". A feature that allowed a customer to track a subscriber as the subscriber's calls flowed through the system. You can read about this in the 11.5 release notes as it actually shipped.

December 2013 My first company Christmas party. We go and watch: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at the IMAX in Jordan's furniture. It was good, but my boss was mad it ended on a cliffhanger, so we went back next year to see the final film. I remember spending a long time in traffic trying to leave that area.

January 2014 Again, I am bit unsure when this happened, but at some point I finished up "Subscriber Activity Log" and was moved to a new project: MPG. The Mobile Policy Gateway (MPG) was a project to develop a device that would deploy policies to a customers phone. One of the big use cases was a provider could offload certain customers onto wifi if the load in an area was too great. I would work on this for nine months, but it would never ship and it would ultimately be cancelled. Company wise, things are going great. We are making good money and selling a lot of product.

September 2014 NGCMP, our replacement for our current configuration management platform (CMP) begins. I am project lead and I start investigating new technologies. My first challenge is to pick between OJET and LUX, two competing JS GUI libraries. I end up picking OJET, which you can use today if you want. Weekly Wednesday calls with the offsite groups (Bangalore and Nanjing) start. I went to JavaOne at the end of the month and got this great photo:

I wrote more about that trip here.

November 2014 My first raise and bonus! I live the good life. The NGCMP is starting to grow as other people finish up the projects they are working on and get assigned to it. NGCMP starts driving major reforms around how we do work. Code reviews are formalized, code quality tools like SonarQube start to come into play, and we get serious about unit and robot testing.

December 2014 Second company holiday party! We see the last Hobbit film in IMAX. It is ok, but not worth sticking through the traffic in that area.

February 2015 I miss most of the super bowl (I hear about the Patriots winning during the flight) as I travel to India to meet the team in Bangalore. I stay for a few days. I wrote about this trip back then.

March 2015-May 2016 Nothing of real note happens during this period. I do get a raise, and we continued to make a lot of progress on NGCMP. Customer demos are being planned at this point. NGCMP itself is in an ok place. It has a lot of functionality, but a number of bugs. I produce the greatest Star Trek TNG parody video during this time. It was a demo highlight.

June 2016 Things are not going well for our business unit. We have our first layoff. Management talks about pivoting to a cloud based deployment. NGCMP gets "paused". We no longer want to build a product that does exactly what our legacy product did, we want to build something for a cloud based customer. TREC is born and we pivot to new use cases.

October 14 2016 I close on my first house as more people get laid off the same day. This would start a gradual local attrition of talent.

March 7 2016 Judgement day. I along with 90% of the office get budget actioned. Layoffs are around 200 for my business unit. The Bangalore team gets assigned to different projects and the Nanjing team gets reassigned back to the legacy CMP product. TREC presumably dies as there is no one assigned to work on it. The show ends.

That is the whole story. I really think things started to go wrong when Oracle panicked and moved us to the "cloud". It never made sense how we were going to make money in that area and we certainly could not produce a viable product for another year at least. In the end, I think Oracle could not take the losses it was taking so it bailed. Ultimately it was a pretty good ride. I had a lot of fun, made money, and learned a lot. It is just a shame it never worked out.

Monday 10 October 2016


It may have taken some time, but I finally have my own tiny slice of middle class pie in the form of a house. And not just a house, but land, and trees, and a strip of asphalt as a driveway. This is the end result of a long, frustrating, vexing, and stressful process that began all the way back in 2014. A process resulting in 50 private house tours and open houses, thousands of real estate listings, and countless sleepless nights. After all that hard work I ended up paying more than I thought I would. I estimated it would cost me $260,000 (with interest after the down payment), but in actually it will cost me $310,000 (+ interest). A difference of $50,000 + interest. I also underestimated my yearly houses costs by about $3,000 (estimated $5,500 with an actual more around $20,000). The good news is I got exactly what I wanted (garage, close to work, decent square footage, gas heat, quiet neighbor hood) with only one draw back (an above ground pool).

Some Thoughts on the Process

1. The time of no financial obligations is over. I now have a very large obligation (a mortgage for 30 years) and monthly bills of various forms. While I hope to pay the mortgage off as quick as I can, monthly bills and quarterly property tax payments are going to be no fun and will reduce the aggressive savings plan I have had up to this point.

2. Dangerous financial waters ahead. While I do have some cushion to an unexpected income loss (read job loss) I will be exposed for a bit to this possibility. This will lesson with each paycheck, but it will always be a possibility until the mortgage is paid and my investments start generating enough money to live off of. That will be some time. A quick review of what can happen if you do not pay is enough to keep me saving for those bills and mortgage payments.

3. There are a lot of hungry mouths to feed when buying a home. Everyone wants a cut of the action. The bank will add on a bunch of fees so you can take out a mortgage, your lawyer has a fee to look over the agreements, the home inspector wants a few dollars for every square foot he or she inspects. It can be a little frustrating to see your hard earned green backs flowing out just so you can buy a house, but they are providing a service, so it was not all a waste.

4. A sense of melancholy. I had thought I would be very happy buying a house, but for a few weeks or so I have felt pretty melancholy about the whole affair. It is nice living very close work to work, and my friends and family are only a 30 minute drive away, but something about living alone with all the responsibilities that comes with that seems to be getting me down. I also have very quickly changed my relationship with my parents. I am less child and more family relation now. With time I think I will feel better, but it will take some adjustment.

5. Heightened cost awareness. I am now very aware that I have to pay for everything: food, electricity, heat. As such I have become hyper aware of limiting when I can these costs. This is good for my bottom line, but perhaps being so serious about turning lights on or off is of little importance in the long term.

Ultimately, I am glad this has all been taken care of, but after exerting so much time and effort what do I do now?

Sunday 24 July 2016

Another Video Project

Just like last year I have created another video for Connecticon. This time, instead of an AMV, I made an FMV (fan music video). This translates to using a live action video source instead of an anime one. Go on and give it a gander. It may not have won any awards, but I like it.

I approached this piece differently than my last one. At first I was planning on making a far more simple video than before. The last one was very drama/story focused and I wanted something a little less involved and easier to grok. Something more actiony and less reliant on knowing the story of a particular series. I already knew I wanted to use the song I went with after remembering its use in Metropolis. As far as the video source, I was not quite sure. I knew I needed something with a lot of action, but I did not want to do something very well known (e.g. Attack on Titan or Black Lagoon). I want my videos to not only be entertaining, but also to highlight less known works. That is when I remembered Ran. This is not the most obscure film, but it is not super well known or talked about either. Based on the Shakespeare play, King Lear, it is about a Japanese warlord who divides his kingdom amongst his three sons. Two of the sons betray the father who goes mad, only to be rescued by his third son. It is an engaging film, with vibrant colors, devastating battle scenes, and masterful direction by one of Japan's great filmmakers: Akira Kurosawa.

Initially, I was thinking that just setting the battle scenes to music would make a pretty good action entry. In preparation for making FMV, I printed out a copy of the lyrics and rewatched the film, taking notes and marking time stamps of scenes I wanted to use. As I started to string clips together I naturally progressed to a more story focused video, like my last one. The actions scenes did work well set to the music, but If I had used just those scenes for the whole thing, I would be stretched thin clip-wise. Kurosawa is a skilled director which means he is not one to linger for too long, so there is not a whole lot to work with. That is when I started going for more of a storytelling piece.

+Comments on Particular Scenes+

The cold opening (0:00-0:0:15): I really like the opening. Most AMVs/FMVs do not do that. They just go straight into the music and video. I toyed with making this part SUPER long because I like the idea of people sitting there wondering what is going on, but I did not want people getting too bored. It is a real fantastic scene from the movie and I just had to put it somewhere.

Start of the music (0:16) The dichotomy of the violent murder of the King's entourage and the feel good lyrics of the song is a really dissonant in a good way, IMHO. It sets the tone early on that this is going to be a weird piece of work, with the song and images constantly at odds.

Flashbacks(0:29-0:0:38) I wanted to put more in here, but there is very little time in the song to allow for that. This does an acceptable job of providing some back story, but it was a concern of mine that this would not be enough. It is hard to judge how understandable the story is since the audience is probably unfamiliar with the film, but I am intimately familiar.

King's guard bleeding out(0:55) Again, the song and pictures should be at war with each other. This is a scene I really like which highlights the dichotomy at plan.

King picks flowers(2:41) I love this cut. The King is really happy (in a mad way) in this scene, but it is totally at odds with the scene that came before.

Son comes to king's aid(2:59) It is a bit on the nose, since "Blue" in the context of the song is really about the singer's emotional state and less about the color, but as Bob Ross would say, it is a "happy little accident" that this scene lines up.

Son's death(4:07) This is a tough one since it is not immediately obvious what happened. In the movie all you hear is a gunshot from the distance, context which is lost given all you hear is the music. I left it in since it sets up the next two scenes, but I am not a huge fan of it. This is the real struggle of making these videos: trying to convey meaning with the scenes you have.

King's death(4:10-4:12) A big peccadillo of mine is flapping lips or any speech you cannot hear during an AMV or FMV. Unfortunately there is just no way to cut this scene to avoid that. Yet, if I leave this scene out the funeral procession next scene makes no sense.

That is it. It took about ~10 hours to do with minimal changes after I made a first draft. This was a lot quicker than the last one, but I had a lot less footage to work with and a much stronger theme. I hope you like it. I will try again next year and see if I can get an award this time around.

Monday 30 May 2016

Three Years at Oracle

Today is the third year of my full time employment by Oracle. And with that I say hello to Oracle's one and only longevity perk: five more days of paid time off a year. Jokes on them though because I rarely take it. Long time readers of the blog will remember last year's post on the subject and even longer readers will remember my first post about this

Let us review the year.

What Did I Learn This Year?

1. I am addicted to process. I hope to write more about this, but the short of it is I find myself getting mired in why something happened and how we can prevent it. Which is helpful in a small way, but in conflict with the guiding principle of all workers: getting things done.

2. My patience is growing shorter along with my temper. It may just be a function of the quantity of work we have left on the project I contribute to, but I find myself with a shorter and shorter amount of patience each day. The end result is terser conversations, less guiding hands, and more links to the development guide.

3. I have a better, if still incomplete, sense of how large scale applications are built. Before I understood only pieces of the whole. Now, with another year of experience, I have a much broader and holistic view of the app. The benefit here is knowing where to put code, not just what to put.

4. The money is in management, but the passion is in engineering. This is the second year I have split my engineering time with management time. Management is a lot harder. In some ways, this is frustrating as I much prefer to be programming compared to making slide decks or charts. On the other hand, helping keep three sites supplied with relevant work and pushing a project forward is an interesting challenge. I am not ready to hang up my still shiny programming spurs just yet, but I understand now why managers make more money than the people they manage.

What Am I Looking To Explore This Year?

1. Different conventions. Last year we went to DragonCon for this first time and it was awesome. I want to broaden our horizons and check out some other, perhaps further away conventions.

2. My investments. I made steady progress this year increasing my investments. I continue to work with Betterment and I have happily broken the five figure mark. It is that sixth figure that will be my next challenge. It is hard to say how much this is helping my ultimate plan, but it certainly is the right path.

3. Small film projects. Last year I made my first AMV which was quite fun, but simplistic. I want to try and make a few more things this year, AMV or otherwise.

4. Improve my technical skills. Like every year, and like every programmer, I must continue to improve my technical skills. This year, I am less interested in the technology and more interested in the design or architecture. To be sure, I must continue to learn the tools I have at my disposal, but using tools without purpose is inefficient. I must concentrate on learning how to build large scale apps so that I can be judicious about the code I write (or need to write at this point).

Things I Failed at This Year

1. Buying a house. For a second year I remain houseless. This is causing me increasing consternation, but I remain committed to this campaign. It just may be I will not find the house that meets my exacting specifications so I must learn to compromise on some parts or be without home for a very long time.

2. Car maintenance. My car runs fine, and I do change the oil when I should, but I cannot dodge the feeling that I should be doing more. Everything is still working, but I feel like I am missing something and it will all fall apart on me. For sure, the brakes will need to be replaced soon, but how soon is the part that is vexing me.

3. Writing more for the blog. There are a number of topics I want to pontificate on, I just need to settle down and get writing.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

The Little Death

I have been growing the neck beard out lately, much to the chagrin of people who know me. I must confess it does look awful, all scraggly and unkempt. Some people grow nice full beards, but all mine ever seems to do is grow down, not out. Still, I have got to make out for my losses up top somehow. I do this about once a year, partly to see if it looks better (it never does), but mostly just to prove a point to myself: that I still am myself and not what others want me to be.

To be a part of a society is to conform to that society. To uphold a common set of rules and standards. In many ways this is a good thing, you probably would not like to live next to someone who thought arson was ok. This gives rise to the good side of society: our laws. There is an inverse side though, an insidious side: the drive to create automata. Automata (singular automaton), as Wikipedia defines, is "a self-operating machine, or a machine or control mechanism designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations, or respond to predetermined instructions". What is an automaton as it relates to a person though? It is a person who has lost their identity, who has become what society expects of them. It is a person who gets married, has 2.5 kids while working 60 hours a week. It is a person who works 40 years and retires at 67, who owns a house, likes football, and vacations once a year. Yet, despite how negative I have made this all sound, there is nothing wrong with this if that is what you want. Not surprisingly, If you were to look at the things I like (football), and the the things I want (a house), you would see the automaton reflected in me. Is that what I want or am I just playing along because that is what everyone wants for me?

This is the the little death. It is the slow subjugation of yourself as you integrate into a society. Each time you think to yourself, "Well, it is just what people do." or "That is what everyone else is doing." a little part of yourself dies. A unique piece of the multifaceted color of you goes gray. Make no mistake, this is what some people who know you want. They want you to be like them, they want you to like the things they like, to have the same goals, the same aspirations. They are not evil for trying to do this, it is just their nature. If that is what you to want, great, but if not, do not suffer that little death.

So too do I often wonder if the things I like and want our my own wishes or simply my desire to be part of society. How can I prove otherwise? How can I prove I am my own man. Simple, do the things society shuns, do those things that are frowned upon, relish the embarrassed laugh you get when you surprise a person. Cherish that look of disgust and disappointment. This is not an excuse to be a bad person, but an excuse to be you. So yes, my neck beard is awful, but it proves I am me.

Monday 8 February 2016

Review: Star Trek Hidden Evil

Star Trek has never had the video game pedigree other Sci-Fi properties, like Star Wars or Warhammer 40k, have enjoyed. For every well received Elite Force or Bridge Commander there are a dozen more Away Team and Borg waiting in the Briar Patch. Sadly, Hidden Evil, a 1999 Presto Studios game, joins this unremarkable bunch. It is short, difficult to control, and forgettable.


You may be forgiven for forgetting the great contribution Insurrection made to the Star Trek canon. A film in which the best scene involves Data acting like a life preserver. To be fair there is probably a decent episode's worth of material in the film, maybe a two-parter. Yet it loses its way somewhere between Picard and crew becoming leather clad action heroes and the enterprise being maneuvered by a joystick. Thus, it may surprise you to realize this game is a sequel to that masterpiece. Our main character is Ensign Sovok, a human raised by Vulcans. He joins Picard and Data on the planet of the film to investigate a hitherto undiscovered alien artifact the Son'a and Ba'ku found while constructing a colony. There is not much story to ruin as the game is quite short, but suffice to say the Son'a still do not like the peace loving Ba'ku, Romulans are evil, and the alien artifact is actually really dangerous. It ends up being pretty well traveled territory, both by Star Trek's and other show's standards. It is enough to move the plot along, but it will never surprise you.


This is not an action game, despite what the publisher's screenshots may tell you. This is an adventure game in the same vein as Grim Fandango. Walk around, collect items, solve some light puzzles, move the story forward, etc. Fans of Fandango will find a similar awkward control scheme at work here. Sovok controls much like that of a high schooler's car: poor maneuverability, slow acceleration, and no speed. This is a troubling foundation on which to base a game that requires a fair amount of phaser shooting. There is some light auto-aiming going on, but you still have to slowly rotate to face enemies. Your best tactic is running in circles until they miss then trying to get a quick shot off. This is if you can remember the key to select your phaser. All your equipment (tricorder, communications badge, phaser, nerve pinch!) is accessed via the number keys. This is functional, but every time I wanted to get at an item I hit the wrong button. Most of these items end up being useless anyways, occasionally you have to scan the environment, but it rarely tells you anything interesting. Nerve pinch sounds cool, but it is ridiculously hard to get in the right position to use it, and the enemy has to be unaware for it to work. Most of the time you will be blasting away with your phaser. Occasionally you can pick up a hypospray for healing or another equally powerful weapon, but for most of the game what you start with is what you got.

Lengthwise You are looking at 9 missions, for about 5 hours of ok to frustrating gameplay. Everything is pretty easy, except for the last two missions which have you navigating corridors that look very similar. With no minimap except for the weak imposter they use with the tricorder in the last mission. Most of your time in these last two missions will be spent trying to remember what is where.


An unexpected high point. Despite being released in 1999, the game looks pretty decent. Backgrounds are static in the style of Myst and are suitably detailed. Actual characters and objects are 3d models which, though rough, are pretty good for the time in terms of detail and animation. It is a bit of mishmash putting 3d characters in 2d paintings, but it works.

Music, Sound Effects, and Voice Work

Nothing egregious here, Christopher Gorham, voice actor for Sovok gives an unremarkable performance, backed up Patrick Stewart (Picard) and Brent Spiner (Data). The actual plot does not give them much to work with, but you will not be clawing your ears out either. The music is forgettable, but all the sound effects from TNG are faithfully replicated. Phasers and transporters sound like you would expect.


Overall, its a short game that is occasionally frustrating, but has a decently moving story and some of your favorite TNG characters. I give it 5 Lt. Cmdr. Datas out of 3 Stargazers.


1. If you are going to play this, I recommend this walkthrough. 2. This game does run on Windows 7, but you must install the packaged version of Quicktime player and install a NoCd crack. It also helps to run it in Windows 95 compatibility mode. 3. There is no quicksave, it was a 90s thing.

Sunday 4 October 2015

The Doctor Who Problem

Doctor Who is back for a new season and having seen the latest two episodes it is right back to having the same problems that have dogged the new series for years. Before we get into it, some background first. I do not claim to be a super who fan. You will find plenty more knowledgeable folks than I. That said, I have watched a number of the old serials, and all the new series, and there is a distinct difference between the two. More than just the clunky special effects the old series approached its stories and characters in a fundamentally different way. Some spoilers incoming, so you have been warned.

Lets start by comparing the very first episode I saw of the classic series, Pyramids of Mars, to the most recent two episodes: The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar. At the start of Pyramids of Mars an outside force surprises the Doctor and his companion (Sarah) and the Doctor stops to investigate. They then start to uncover a mystery while avoiding malevolent unstoppable mummies. It is all very fun and engaging. In The Magician's Apprentice in the first scene we encounter a younger version of an antagonist to the Doctor. Then we spend the next 30 minutes or so (in a 45 minute episode) trying to find where the Doctor is and what he is up to. Everyone is all concerned about having him solve their problems, or they want to talk to him about this and that. In my book, that is a problem. The new series has always been focused on the Doctor. How he impacts the worlds he goes to, his past, his motivations. The old series was never that concerned. Who cares why the Doctor travels around, who cares where he comes from. Let us go someplace exciting and different and have an adventure. The new series is obsessed with the Doctor to the detriment of the story. In the Whoverse there is no one more important, and that is a problem. I may sound old and crotchety here, but the older serials had the right idea. Doctor Who is an anthology series that happens to have a few recurring characters.

The second problem in play is the characters. Lately Doctor Who has just been a factory for tumblr memes. Sure you are allowed some funny lines from time to time, but all this off beat, look at me I am so random, twitter chaff is just distracting. Especially guilty is this Missy character. Every other sentence is trite "I'm evil so I speak in stream on conscience style and it only makes sense to me. But you know I am serious because I kill people from time to time." I admit to having a special loathing for this character. She has added so little to the series and it is just awful to hear her lines.

Next up we have some serious worldbuilding issues. Nothing is ever final in the Whoverse. People die and come back. Planets are destroyed and come back. Whole races are killed off and then miraculously reborn the next season. In the series 8 finale Missy dies. She is literally disintegrated. Series 9 starts, shes back just fine. Just a simple hand wave and no respect for the continuity of the series. When your universe has no consequences there can be no suspense. At the end of The Magician's Apprentice, Claire (the companion) and Missy are both disintegrated by Daleks. It is supposed to be a great cliffhanger, but you literally brought a character back from death at the start of this episode, no way I believe these main characters just bought it. And of course at the start of the next episode you drop some contrived garbage for how they survived. Take some risks, kill some characters, have some actual consequences in your show or else no one will ever trust you when a main character is in peril.

Speaking of the Daleks, that nicely highlights another issue the new series has. It keeps going back the well. Star Wars has this same problem. Everyone likes the old characters, the old races, let us just roll them out again instead of creating a new idea. I am so sick of the Daleks showing up every series for a few episodes. Seriously, look at how many races we have to play with! You can use them too we do not have to have the Daleks be the big bad again. Maybe then we can have the Doctor use something other than his sonic screwdriver to get out of a jam for once. Maybe then someone other than the Master can be the Doctor's big nemesis.

Let us summarize, the new series: 1. Revolves around the Doctor instead of the adventure. 2. Loves to fill dialogue with jokes and upstart memes instead of contributing to the plot. 3. Prefers to constantly fiddle and retcon the past instead of having something they did be final. 4. Loves to go back to the well instead of creating new things.

And yet, after all that, I am still going to tune in next week, because when everything works the show really is something special. When they go somewhere wonderfully new and meet a new race and have a rip roaring trek it is magical. It is worth all the awful. Each time I hear that music I hope this will be the episode all sins are forgiven. Sometimes I am right.

Friday 28 August 2015

Lets Get NASty

I want to talk a bit today about my storage setup, specifically my NAS or Network Attached Storage. I have been running my system for a little over a year now and have had no issues so it is a good time to give a brief half review, half description of setup. I started considering a longer term storage setup when the available space on my desktop began to dwindle. I am a bit of "digital hoarder" if you will, constantly butting up against my limit. When space is so cheap and ubiquitous why throw anything out? The problem with this is you always need to be increasing your capacity. At the time I was getting my NAS my several year old external drive had failed, another drive in my desktop was faltering, and the rest of the case was already filled up with other drives. I did not want to get rid of my existing drives and I also wanted a better solution than continuing to lock data to my desktop. Enter the ReadyNAS 104.

The first thing you need to know about NASs (NASes?) is that there are a ton of models on the market featuring wildly different prices and sets of features. You will need to determine what you want out of your NAS before you consider purchasing one. For me I had just two requirements:

1. Four drive slots. This allows for a ton of storage and is very flexible when it comes to determining your RAID setup. 2. Minimum computational performance, I do not need my NAS to be a file server or another computer. I need to put files on it and get files off, that is all.

With those requirements you can pretty much be satisfied with things at the low end of the market, hence the ReadyNAS 104. Your real cost on the low end here is going to be in drives. I went with four of these drives for a total capacity of 16 terabytes. Total (including the NAS) this ran me $1045.94. You could cheap out here and go for smaller drives or slower drives. From what I read 5600RPM drives work just as well, albeit slower. I went max size and max speed because I wanted a long term solution. There were at the time some rebates, but I do not remember how much they were for. As far as quality of drives this particular brand came recommended, but other brands are just as well regarded.

For setup I configured the drives in RAID 5 (~10TBs of space). Take a moment to read up on the different RAID options here. In my opinion RAID 5 gives you the best space efficiency (you lose about 1/4 of the capacity compared to 1/2 in some other configurations) and reasonable fault tolerance (you can lose one drive and not lose any data). I do not want to lose data, but then again it is not exactly mission critical. Actually formatting and configuring the drives takes about a full day so sit tight. After that there is not much other configuration to be done. Plug it into your router and it should assign itself a local IP address automatically. It would be wise to configure a static address in your router's control panel so its not always changing on you, but this is not required. You can access your system via its IP and (at least on Windows) it will appear like one giant network drive.

Of course since your NAS is basically a low powered computer you can run any number of programs on it. The ReadyNAS people helpfully have a site with some options. I myself jun run qbittorent for my torrenting needs, but there are some useful apps to be found. If you are handy with the command line you can SSH into your NAS and do whatever you want since it runs Linux.

For daily use a NAS is pretty helpful. Transfer times can be slow since I connect through mine wirelessly, but its not terribly slow. Think a few minutes for a couple GBs. It is certainly quick enough to stream video from itself to your computer which is what I primarily use it for. Although when initially transferring all your files to it I suggest hooking up an external drive. There are a few USB ports on the back so it can mount drives, but I could not figure how to connect it physically to my desktop.

In regards to configuration you can mostly roll with stock settings. I suggest disabling file snap shots, which can be a bit of a pain, but will save you a lot of space. I also recommend enabling SSH access (so you can fiddle with things yourself) and enabling "Disk Spin Down" to both conserve power and the life of your drives.

Overall a NAS is a little pricey, but it is a convenient way to get a lot of storage you can access from anywhere in the house. It also allows you to sleep safe knowing your files are backed up. Granted its not off site, but if your house burns down you probably have bigger things to concern yourself with.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

My First AMV

It is true here it is spoilers and everything: view here, download here.

For a while now I have been thinking of doing one of these and I mentioned it as a goal for this year. I recently finished the main anime adaptation of Legend of the Galactic Heroes and it was very disappointing to me the series has such little visibility amongst English anime viewers. Granted its age and its MIA English localization probably play the largest role in its lack of popularity. That said I wanted to do a little something for a show more people should watch, to that end my first AMV.

For those not familiar with the format, an AMV is a series of anime clips set to music. Sometimes they tell a story, or showcase some action, or are just funny. I wanted to make an AMV that covered roughly the events of the first half of the series (episodes 1 - 53 to be exact). I did not want a flat retelling of events though so I themed it or focused it around the relationship between Reinhard (blonde hair) and Kircheis (red hair). To those not familiar to the series, they are childhood friends who set out to conquer the galaxy.

For the music I wanted something that fit the feel of the series. The show makes extensive use of famous classical music, mostly Beethoven. While not classical I went with Time To Say Goodbye, sung by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. I like the mournful nature of the song and the interspaced use of English. I did not want to go with a poppy contemporary piece as it would be jarring with the visuals of the series.

Scene Breakdown

Now that I have given a brief summary I am going to provide some commentary on parts of the AMV.

00:00-00:22, I wanted to start big to give a good scale the series works with. A shot of the galaxy to begin with and with each strum I narrow the shot until we focus on the ship of our two main characters and then the characters themselves. The preceding shots show a vast battle taking place until we fade out to the end result of the battle, lots of ship wreckage. Not a huge fan of the fade, but it does its job. These scenes are mostly from early episodes so we see a very young Admiral Reinhard.

00:25, Shot of the Odin, the capital of the Empire. Its not important that you know that, but series fans probably recognize it.

00:25-00:31, I wanted to establish that Reinhard is important within the Empire, but still not the leader. The scene shows him being honored for the battle we saw in the beginning.

00:32, Start of the flashback. Need to establish the long relationship between Reinhard and Kircheis that started when they were young.

00:38-00:46, This scene with the bully helps establish both Reinhard's aggressive nature and how Kircheis is always there to help Reinhard out. The rock beating scene also nicely matches up with the music. At times I think it is a bit humorous, but I resisted changing it.

00:47-00:58, These are some scenes set after the bully time frame, but still when Reinhard and Kircheis were young. I wanted to convey Reinhard ambitious nature and I like the imagery of the gun shooting into space that fades into his ship in full action. As you can tell I like fades. There is an important subplot to the series involving Reinhard's sister that these scenes are important to, but it is not important for the story I am telling.

00:58-01:12. Easy call here to tie Kircheis's death to the first "Time to Say Goodbye" lyric. It is perhaps a bit quick setup after the flashback, but it is really important that death and lyric are timed up well. This is a pretty big spoiler for people who have not seen the series and arguably the most important event in the entire series.

01:22, I went back and forth on including this somewhat gratuitous death clip. It is a bit jarring, but I think it works. Kind of quick flashback that Reinhard is contemplating.

01:25-01:43, Second flashback showing a bit more of Kircheis interacting with Reinhard and doing his own thing. As a side not we can really see the jump in quality across some of the early episodes in these flashbacks. After the series came out some episodes were remastered so the quality can be all over the place.

01:45, Its debatable if we need this shot of just the gravestone as the earlier scene basically covers what we need to do, but I like lingering here a bit.

01:49, The locket is a very important item to the series so I had to get a shot of it here. You can see it also includes his sister who is important to the story, but I ignore here.

01:50. Kircheis in the stars may be too cliche, but its from the series and bookends this section of the AMV nicely.

01:53-01:56, The music changes and I need to jump a bit chronologically and show how Reinhard has increased in power in the Empire. The scenes with the crowd accomplishes this.

01:57-2:01, This scene is a bit clunky. I want to convey again how in charge Reinhard is and setup the rest of the AMV, but we linger, perhaps too long, on planning screens.

02:05, I love this shot of Reinhard and all the ships engines. As a side note that is Mariendorf next to him. She becomes pretty important around the half way mark of the series.

02:06-02:13, This is the planet Fezzan, a planet not in the Empire nor the Free Planets Alliance (FPA). The two major antagonists in the show. It is one of the first planets Reinhard takes on his campaign. It is a relatively quick battle which I used to convey the size of Reinhard's fleet in action.

02:14-02:19, Some of the most well drawn scenes in the series. Bookends Reinhard's conquest of Fezzan.

02:20-02:25, Maybe the cheesiest part of the AMV. That is an actual scene from the anime so I went with it. Also you can see the locket again which is super important.

02:26-02:45, Lot of ships again. Start to show some large battles with the FPA, but nothing decisive.

02:52-03:19, Again we return to Reinhard's ship and then show his decisive involvement in a battle. Lots of FPA ships blowing up climaxing in a nice large explosion. I cheat a bit and take a lot of battle clips from across the series, but we need a lot of different shots here and frankly a lot of these battle shots look the same.

03:20-03:23, Good scene to show after Reinhard's great success. You can see how lonely he is on the empty bridge and it contrasts well with the first shot of him and Kircheis from the beginning.

03:24, This is Heinessen, home planet of the FPA, after being captured by Reinhard.

03:26-03:27, This is a shot of Yang Wen-li, Reinhard's counterpart in the FPA. He is super important, but not covered at all in this AMV. I wanted to at least give him a quick showing and I think these two rapid beats help introduce him as the adversary nicely.

03:28, Real cool shot of both of their massive fleets converging.

03:28-03:41, Start of the battle, lots of fireworks to show the scale, but nothing to show who will win.

03:41, Maps again! Its hard to convey how the battle is going so I went with maps (which the series likes using too) to show things going against Reinhard. This shot also has Yang in the middle.

03:44-03:51, Might be asking too much of a person not familiar with the series, but I need to convey the battle turning in Yang's favor. Showing the map of a fleet disintegrating, FPA ships firing, and a lot of Empire ships exploding hopefully conveys this. It might be difficult to get if you cannot distinguish the different sides ships at this point.

03:54, Great scene of the Empire ships moving to defend Reinhard's ships. Hopefully conveys how desperate the battle is going.

03:55, Another really excellent scene of Reinhard having the ships guarding his front explode.

04:01, And here we are end of the AMV. This shot is the best in the series and what motivated me to do this AMV. I love the giant imposing FPA ship bearing down on Reinhard. Its awesome and in my opinion, a a great ending with the sudden cut to black.

The thing about that ending scene is, its a massive cheat. The very next second that ship gets blown out by the timely arrival (in true anime fashion) of Admiral Muller's fleet. I admit its deceitful, but I really just wanted a nice cliffhanger to end on to motivate people to watch the series.

Tools Lets wrap up with a quick tool discussion. All of my editing was done with Sony Vegas 13. I like it a lot since its relatively simple to use. I am sure other editors like Final Cut are just as good, but I have been fiddling with Vegas for a bit now and I know how to do what I want. The only real issue I had was the video sources. I was using files in MKV format and Vegas cannot handle those files. I had to convert each episode I wanted to use from MKV to MP4. I did this using Handbrake which is dirt simple. It was a tedious work around, but it got the job done. I will leave you with a shot of all the clips in the editor. You can see I like to have a lot of clips lying around so I can mix and match and see what works.


Monday 1 June 2015

The Grand Unified Plan

I recently mentioned the grand plan I will be pursing these next few years in my yearly Oracle post. I want to provide a overview of that plan in a bit of detail. The main goal of this plan is to retire AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. This is not because I hate work, but because I want to have the time to pursue other projects. To provide some context to that idea, I like to think of my life as split into three portions:

1. Ages 0-23: Education, the time of my life when I was mostly focused on learning. Learning how to be of value to people who know me, future employers, and to the world.

2. Ages 23-40: Work, the time of my life when I get my living and finances in order so I can retire early. The learning has not stopped, but my focus is more on producing things of value. Either for a company or for people who know me.

3. Ages 40-Death: Retirement, the time of my life when I can take my accumulated knowledge and produce something. I hesitate to call this the "Legacy Building" period, but I do want to use the time for some long spanning works and projects.

Now how can we achieve that? The short answer is, predictably, lots of money. Right now I have started a small investment with Betterment, an online investing service. I give them money and the make more out of it. Investing (either through Betterment or something more hands on) is the key here. Now, I am going to start the math talk explaining how this is going to work. If that sort of stuff bores you skip the summary section.

If you look at some of Betterment's returns you can see they averaged 11% a year. Lets round that down to 10% to make calculations easier. That means if you had $100 invested in 2013, when 2014 starts you have $110. Now if we scale that out to say half a million dollars, 10% of that yearly would be $50,000. Plenty of income to live comfortably. So the goal is have half a million dollars invested as quickly as possible.

Now that we have a number, how long will it take to reach it? First we have to consider expenses. I have got two big ones in the future: a house and a new car. The house will probably be around $260,000. This number represents the remaining mortgage including interest and not the total cost. I arrived at this be assuming a $100,000 down payment and a loan with a 3.75% interest rate which I predict paying off in under 15 years. I predict the car will cost around $15,000. Since some sources estimate your car will last on average 10 years, it seems prudent to budget for at least one. So now we pushed the goal back a bit as it is $775,000 (rounded to $800,000). This represents the predicted expenses ($275,000) and the necessary investment ($500,000).

Based on my records from last year I spent $9230.94. I do not expect that to change greatly, but let us round that up to $10,000 a year in personal expenses. I will also be on the hook for around $4,000 in housing taxes and $1,500 in heating costs. So that puts us at around $16,500 in yearly expenses. Let us round that up to $20,000 to make life easy and account for unforeseen expenses somewhat.

Now what about income? If I take my current salary, add in a 6% raise each year (the average so far), and then calculate my total income after 10 years that puts me at $995,990 or almost a million. However, this is before taxes and expenses. If I subtract my average tax burden (26% of income) and $200,000 (my expenses over 10 years) I get $540,000 to put towards my $800,000 goal. Close, but not there yet. If we do the same calculation out to 15 years we get $1,761,362. Now if we subtract taxes and expenses for that period we get almost exactly a million (total income: $1,761,362 minus taxes at 26%: $457,954.12 - minus expenses for 15 years: $300,000 = $1,003,407.88). That puts me well in the range of my goal with plenty of buffer. Now if you look at the above age range and know I am 25 this year you can see how in 15 years I will be 40 and just hitting the retirement age and retirement investment I want.

The best part of this is I suspect the numbers will get even better. If you look at the goal, some of that is just lost/non-interest generating cash (the house and car or $275,000), but the rest goes into my investment account (some $500,000). And that amount will grow year to year, so if every other value were to remain consistent I would get to my goal earlier than predicted since every one of those dollars contributed to the $500,000 goal will be working for me earning cash.

Now it is a bit dangerous to assume all these numbers will turn out as expected. It does seem unlikely to see a 10% growth on investments each year or that my income will rise each year, despite some anecdotal evidence. It could very well fall. You will notice I took some cheats here, like assuming my expenses, taxes, etc stay constant. You should not see this plan or a prediction, but as a guideline with milestones. I have an objective and I have a path to get there. I know the numbers I need to hit on that path, and as I walk it, I can adjust as the path unfolds.


Through low spending and high savings I hope to have enough invested in 15 years to live of the interest and pursue fanciful goals. I cannot predict the future, but hopefully being thrifty will get me to a retirement earlier than the US average of 62.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Two Years at Oracle

Today is the second year of my full time employment by Oracle. Studious readers will remember a similar article exactly one year ago on this day. There is nothing particularly important or auspicious about this day, but it is a good milestone to reflect upon the previous year.

What Did I Learn This Year?

1. Buying a house is hard when you are picky. At this point I have looked at around 20 houses or so. I have come close to making offers on two of those, but ultimately decided against it. The benefit to this is a growing down-payment which will make the purchasing easier. The downside is a a kind of purgatory where I wait for something to happen. I am going to give it a few more months and then consider more seriously a place less optimal than I would have liked. The thought of another winter, house less is decidedly unpleasant.

2. I do not have to do everything. For a few month I have been helping to oversee a project at work. It has been tough, but I am growing more accustomed to delegating things to be fixed instead of just doing myself. It is tempting to try and be the guru who knows and does everything, but this leaves no room for the team to grow and become empowered themselves. It also serves to centralize knowledge which can make maintainability troublesome in the future.

3. I have a better idea of my long term life plans. Expect an article on this to come, but I have a much better sense of how I want my career to go and how (hopefully through good planning) I can retire early and pursue a second less profitable career.

4. Investing is a big large monolithic subject, but easy to do once you clear that first hurdle. I started a small account with Betterment and I am up $10 last I checked. With continual investments every month this service (or some other endeavor I run myself) will greatly contribute to my long term goals.

5. As you remember from last year I wanted to find old friends who I had been out of contact with for some time. The good news is, in this digital age, finding old friends is easy. The hardest part is starting to talk to them. It is a lot like pulling out the knife from deep in the peanut butter jar, slow but once you finish you get a sweet reward. I have had some great success rediscovering what made us friends before.

What Am I Looking To Explore This Year?

1. Interested in doing some more metal working projects. With the great success of my foundry I want to try actually making something useful with it. Maybe a butter knife. The real problem now is making a good mold so my research will focus on that next.

2. More puzzle hunts. We have done two so far with a vast increase in success with the second one compared to the first. Hopefully we can do some more and maybe even finish one.

3. Film projects of the small variety. I really like AMVs so I want to try making a few to see how difficult they are.

4. Improve my technical skills. I said I would do it last year, and I am recommitting to that again. I learned a lot of web2.0 frameworks this year such as knockout, angular, some of the new java 1.8 enhancements (like lambdas), and a fair amount about our build tools like ant and rpm.

Things I Failed at This Year

1. Buying a house.

2. Doubling down on costuming. I did do a little work making a helmet, but I was nowhere close to making the two costumes I thought I would. I am just less interested in this than I used to be.

3. Historical reenactment. I did nothing in regards to this during the year. It is on hold until the house thing is settled.

4. Contacting my old friends. I had some success, but there are still some who elude me.

Overall, an enriching year. 6 more years to retirement? 16 seems more realistic.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Melting Metal:Attempt 2

When last I attempted this I was met with a decided lack of success. Whether it was a faulty microwave or a generally bad plan I will not pass judgement. Luckily, I was groomed to be stubborn and one failure was not going to dissuade me from my dream of controlling intense heat.

Thus we arrive at attempt two (try one):

What are we looking at here? My very own homemade foundry with a hairdryer for a bellows. Instructions courtesy of this youtube video. The general idea here is, put a bunch of coals in the foundry, turn on the blower, and hope it gets hot enough. The results were again disappointing. After about half an hour the foundry was at about "hamburger grilling" temperature and the zinc block still resolutely solid. I needed to get to, "melt your hand" temperature and that did not happen. Another failure, but an instructive one. This leads us to attempt two (try two):

For the first try with the foundry I had not filled it with coals, using only a conservative six coals or so. This time I could really amp the number up so I packed in as many as I could which was 21. I accomplished this by reducing the size of the crucible from a stainless steel pet food bowl to a tall shot glass. I also significantly increased the air flowing into the foundry by replacing the hair dryer with a leaf blower. The results were impressive:

And this was on the low setting. It is hard to see clearly, but there is a very hot glow from the foundry this time. The difference in heat and noise was immediate when I turned the blower on. With the hair dryer, the heat was tepid at best. With the leaf blower there was very much a fiery roar. Looking in from the top, the coals were glowing with heat within a few minutes. A marked difference from last time. The heat pouring out the top was, in the words of a person who never looked at a thesaurus, very hot. Worryingly, I found a part of glass blown out from the foundry. Regardless, I let the whole thing run for about ten minutes. After I turned off the blower, the sound died down and I took a look. Upon removing the lid I came to a few conclusions:

1. The coals looked like moon rocks.

2. I could not find the glass.

Digging around a bit I eventually found what was left of the glass:

Yes it seems I put too much faith in the $2.09 Walmart glass purchase I had made. Looking online it says glass does not melt until 1000-1500 degrees, but it could become malleable around 700-900 degrees. Since 787.2 degrees is the melting point of zinc, the metal I was trying to melt, this was not good. Lesson learned the hard way, do not use a glass crucible next time. What of the zinc though? I too was perplexed until I dug to the bottom of the foundry and saw it had pooled at the bottom as a liquid. Yes, sweet success never felt so hot. Moving quickly we were able to pour it into a coffee can and then to the mold. The liquid was so hot it burnt the label off the can, but thankfully the can was stout enough to not melt itself.

You can see the bottom of the mold was not good enough as the metal pooled out, but the general shape is there. I would call this a success.

What did we learn?

1. Glass is not a good crucible.

2. 21 coals and a leaf blower is enough to get 800 or so degrees of heat. I honestly did not expect it to get so hot. I really must get a IR Temperature Gun to see how hot I can get it. Also would be interesting to see if I can get the same results with less coals.

3. I need a bigger foundry cover. A number of embers slipped out via the edges and we had to constantly put out small fires and keep the ground around it wet. This should not be too hard to do, I can just add on to the cover I already have.

4. I need a better mold, with a better seal on the bottom. Perhaps investigate these sand molds on the same youtube channel.

Overall, it took three tries, but after some tweaks I got it. I look to make some improvements and give it another shot. You can find a few more photos in the album.

- page 1 of 4