Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Talk about anticlimactic!

So sorry to disappoint the reader. But perhaps balance has been restored to the universe. This is what happened in my hotel bathroom while I was out today.... hope you're ready for this.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Free Hotel, Pt. 2

OK, so I was hoping my little Critter Cam experiment was going to turn up some really big theft of prescription medicine, netting me a free night's stay at the Sheraton. So far, I'm disappointed. Yesterday, by the way, my camera's battery died before they got in there to clean.

But today... I had two cameras going. I remembered that my tablet has a time lapse capability too. So... you can see here that these housekeeping women are honest and oblivious to the possibility that they could sell my Norco on the street for like $25 / pill. Of course it wouldn't do much for the whole Tampa drug community.... I traded the Norco for Tylenol.

Maybe tomorrow will be the jackpot!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

How to get a free night's stay in a hotel...

I stayed at a Marriott hotel in Savannah, GA a few months back. It was a very nice place, in fact, no complaints about the posh Neuvo-Asian decor, or the two bathrooms. 

My accident from 2006 has left very few ongoing issues for me, except one. I have some chronic pain in my left side that tends to flair from exhaustion, stress and lack of sleep. All of which are possibilities when I travel... with or without Nuevo-Asian decor. So, I carry a bottle of Norco, an interesting blend of Hydrocodone and Tylenol. (since Tylenol alone doesn't seem to cut it for me these days). 

The first day I was in Savannah, I left the room, with the "Do Not Disturb" sign up... and came back about three hours later, in need of a little pain reduction. That's when I discovered that a lot of my Norco had vanished. 

The hotel manager scanned the door swipes and discovered that sure enough, someone from housekeeping had come into the room at exactly the same time my Norco grew legs. (They issue, he told me, a new key to each housekeeping staff, every day). Coincidence? I don't think so. But even now, the manager claims the person flatly denied any such thing, (never mind that he/she entered in spite of the DND sign!!!) ... and, "well, it's your word against theirs". Hmmmm. In the end I think Marriott credited my rewards account (after three phone calls and two emails) with 5,000 points or something. I think that can be used to upgrade to bigger towels the next time I stay at a Marriott.

So today, I am in Tampa FL. I don't want to miss an opportunity to get more reward points from Sheraton so... I set up a Contour camera on a 3-second time lapse interval just before I left the room today. And... the results are, well let's say, INTERESTING. It would be silly for me to write it out, when I've got some pretty good footage.

Have a look at the video and see for yourself that there is just something about prescriptions that make a person stop and well... wonder, I suppose, about the street value of little white pills.

I will continue my little game while I stay here and see what evolves. Is it just me, or does this woman spend just a little too much time on an activity that shouldn't take ANY time at all. When I do the math on the time intervals, she spends around 15 seconds just reading the label! 

Makes you wonder.... well... it makes ME wonder anyway, how many free nights I'll get from Sheraton if I actually succeed in documenting it. 

Sweet dreams.....

Here's a large, High Resolution version of the video if you have a fast connection: Tampa Sheraton

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This is why I love engineers!

Jonathan Palmer is the son of John and Sandy Palmer. Ok, so that may not mean a whole lot, unless you're in the business of building SUPER high resolution X-Y Plotters that don't just draw.... they CUT. That's right. Autometrix is the name of the company John and Sandy started about 20 years ago. Though Sandy is not writing software or out there with the mechanical/electrical engineers designing the next cool thing in making it easy to cut perfect patterns, as John says, she DID start that company... And I'd wager, she's been a big part of why it's still here.

But all that is merely setting for the birth, some I dunno, 24 years ago??? of Jonathan Palmer. He's the mechanical engineer who contacted me to produce their videos to address the badmouthing that's been coming from their envious competition. It was great fun!!!

So that picture you see up there... What you're looking at is what happens when you show up in a room of visionary engineers and say... "hey, you know, I've always wondered how hard it would be to build a.... {     }" It's no sooner that you've filled in that blank than you have them scribbling out on a napkin and firing up the drill press.

Autometrix, I must admit, has it all. Starting with a great group of people. Committed and focused, these are the people who change the world. John, for example, took an idea he'd had 20 years ago as a sailing enthusiast, and built a table that would make it easy to cut sails, very precisely and repeatedly. We're talking huge spinnakers and other big honkin' slabs of fabric meant to move a few tons through the water.

The company went through the typical growing pains and now with 500 Autometrix cutters in the world, their customers make the most ingenious things out of textiles, and alien materials... like composites, things that require something like a kajillion of an inch tolerance on their patterns. Aerospace, and hockey sticks, bullet-proof vests and bicycle rims (that look like massive frisbees, weigh a couple ounces, can take the Tour de France like its a short commute, and of course costs a couple thousand bucks for a set of wheels)... these are all industries that require unbelievable and delicate, or as John says, "perfect patterns".

Jonathan and I were thinking through how we'd approach some of these competitor objections. So we did what any smart defendant would do, we invited a few others to the party. Their customer service genius, Chris, Teri from marketing, and then Abe... or Joel... one of the two or both maybe? Identical twins who have built and serviced these machines since they were wee lads, identical twins, they. And I swear one of those guys really should grow his hair out so the rest of us don't keep going, "Hey...." And of course John Palmer, who loses sleep over the thought of sloppy patterns.

Here is an apparently typical thing one of their competitor's salesmen will say, "Oh that Autometrix machine is lightweight. And everyone knows that what you really want is a big burly WWII era tank-like thing to move a 2 ounce blade through nylon jacket material...." Uhhhh. Great thinking guys! Their tables (hey this is MY blog, I don't mind nameing them... the companies are Eastman and Gerber), are responsible for a 2 degree shift on the Earth's axes. Because like "everyone knows", to get the space shuttle into space, or for Greg Lamond to win the Tour, or to keep a Prius on the road, what you really want is big iron beams and huge motors to grind them along... NOT.

So there I was with this elegant lightweight machine that wears down fewer parts since there's no INERTIA (OK the more I think of Eastman and Gerber salesmen, the more I think they should go back to whatever sleazy thing they were doing before trying to convince good old fashioned entrepreneurs and textile giants that a fat man doing pull ups can compete with a zero-body-fat trained athlete. I should point out that is a "metaphor" in case one of their engineers is out Googling their name and this blog shows up....)

I had this thought... What if we put something really heavy on that carbon fiber beam. (It's 4"x4", by 72" long). I was thinking maybe like a Smart Car. Then Jonathan goes, "let me do some numbers, but I bet we can drive a truck on one of those." I love it when he talks like that. Well, to make a long story short, we did drive a Toyota truck onto the beam. And as if that wasn't enough, Teri invited her buddy with a very patriotic Hummer over to give it a try. We did that too, and the beam only bowed a quarter inch, and sprung back to its original shape. Just in case they started objecting that the beam was really made of steel and we painted it to look like composite.... we had two kids, brothers about 4 and 6 years old, carry the thing out after the Hummer had its way with it.

Oh yeah, the picture... So Autometrix machines move all that lightweight stuff as smoothly and effortlessly as possible. I mentioned it to Jonathan.... "I've always wondered how hard it would be to build a camera slider...." It worked. Jonathan, only a  few hours later had a single rail slider mounted to a carbon fiber beam on the smoothest rollers I've ever seen. Later he said he's got ideas to make it even smoother. Sheesh. I shot more than half of the video using my Canon 60D without a crew I might add, and moved that slider all over the place. The picture above shows it next to the rack they threw together to support the victim-beam and my camera mounted on a combination of spare parts they built to my specs. I am not kidding when I say it rivaled what some over-priced, hand-wringing craftsman was selling this year at NAB after three years of development. I had around 8' of motion and my cheap little tripod head got me level even when I clamped the rail between two step ladders.

Good old American innovation. Oh, and I haven't heard yet, but the video was debuted at a tradeshow that started yesterday. I'm sure the competition is now out there saying something like, "We meant... that ... the Autometrix machines can't cut a LOT of fabric, because it's so light... ummmm weight....."  Maybe if we're lucky, they'll start to pontificate on the trouble with American politics as a diversion to the truth about their antiquated and massive contribution to the spare parts industries around their hulks. Who knows maybe they'll solve American politics.

Just in case they take a shot at durability over time... the other video I shipped off showed a relic of one of the first Autometrix machines that has been running for 15 years without downtime.  The "Old Driller" has cut thousands of holes on the lexan vaccuum table-top installed on every Autometrix machine (and not a few Eastman and Gerber machine's I hear, by the way). That single old dog of a plotter head has done the most thankless job in the house, with only the usual change over of consumables that wear at half the speed of the competition. Things like pinions and gears. It sort of reminded me of Pixar's Wall-E as it chugged along humming it's little tune from days gone by. I hope these guys keep coming up with new smack about Autometrix. It's very fun to see what the brilliant engineers are willing to do to prove a point.

We've actually got a bag of great stuff we're going to do when the gang comes back from the trade show. In all, it was a good week, hard work. In the end we got three short videos out in record time, and a longer version almost complete even now. But that's what we do, right? Small budget... no problem, no time.... no problem..... high enough quality to kick butt at the biggest trade show in textiles.... DONE!!!

Every producer needs at least one client who is willing to write the rules when the competition has worked so hard to break the last ones!

A Hard Week

Dealing with loss. I hate loss.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Chaney Janssen painted a picture of a dandelion just about to go to seed, for our friend, Lori Leaman, back when she was having some bout or other with chemotherapy. The painting hung in sight of her bed where this past week, she breathed her last.

I was sitting at the table with Lori's husband, Scott and some others when the topic came up of the printed programs for her services. I had this idea in church today of backlighting a dandelion over black (sometimes called, 'shooting in limbo"), but I didn't know what I'd use it for. I just thought that it was just cool and symbolic, this idea of Chaney's.

A seed goes to soil, it becomes a lovely flower, then as it struggles against the death throes finally the flower, now fully mature lets fly with the seeds... that this is what Chaney meant... this spreading of love not by words nor actions alone, but by one's giving of his or her life. As she goes, Lori has started those seeds of faith, and courage, and fear and passion and love over again in the lives of those left behind.

It's how we'll all go in one way or another. And as we do, if we're well-lived, we'll be blown to the four winds, our small offerings of our selves. Of course the other way to look at this picture is as the part of a greater community. Ancient (and some not-so-ancient) Christians considered it the cloud of witnesses. I had the chance to talk with Lori a month ago about that. I apologized. I told her, "I'm sorry, you're about to see me as one of those in the 'cloud', and I'm going to say right now, I'm sorry. You're going to be so disappointed in me...." Of course she denied that she'd be able to see anything. Someone joked about not wanting to be seen by a cloud of witnesses. The word witnesses, I argued, means they can observe something... of course, the counter argument was made, "a cloud means maybe they can't see all that well..." So perhaps that's the saving grace... if it's more like a "tule fog" of witnesses, maybe Lori won't see what a jerk I can be. Still not a bad idea to think a little about Chaney's painting... and what it is we all have the opportunity and responsibility to sow well.... Seeds.

So I'm sharing this picture with you and the story behind it. I loved making it. And I thought of the many things that come into my thoughts through the lens and through the physical world around me that tell the story of God's love for us. That tell the story of struggle, and hope, and joy and life and death and life again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cordell Bank

Abord the Fulmar while filming at Cordell Bank
There's this place out there off the coast of northern California. I have hardly met a person who's known where it is. "North of the Farallones" is usually what I say, but not many people have been out there either. Usually, they equate it with great white sharks. I guess that's fair, I'm pretty sure it's breeding territory out there. 

Well, this past week, along the quest to develop out a film on Cordell Bank, I met with Dr. Bob Schmieder. Not many people have ever heard of him either. Yet. The amazing thing about Dr. Bob is that he's the one largely responsible for the place being protected... a National Marine Sanctuary. more to be said about that alone, but for now it's enough to say he's put a lot on the line to make sure that an otherwise little known ecosystem will remain rich with marine life. Since you can't get there without a boat, the idea for the film is to make this spectacular place more accessible to the rest of us.

Last October I accompanied three teams of NOAA tech divers. They were some of the first divers to visit the underwater mountain that is the "bank" perched on the edge of the continental shelf. That is, one of the first since Bob began leading divers out there in the late 1970's. We were surrounded most of the time by pods of Humpback whales, Blue whales, black footed albatross, dolphins and lots and lots of krill.

This story keeps unfolding and getting more and more interesting. Marine biologist and filmmaker, David McGuire and I are working together with Dr. Bob to bring an amazing story of sacrifice and commitment to the surface, along with some great underwater footage. Stay tuned, it'll be worth the wait. The footage from the deep water dives, 100' to 200' is pretty spectacular.

We're in story development at the moment and will be looking for funding. PBS Natural Heroes, the program airing In the Wake of Giants, has already said they want the film for next season. Could be a great ride!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Couple of days down the tube.

Like I needed to be parked in Vallejo for two days. Driving across the causeway from 101, I finally gave into the steam that was rising off the hood of the car.

I waited for the thing to cool down and refilled the radiator with water from a nearby ditch.

Now its getting a radiator flush and new cap. Something that took all day and two nights at the lovely Ramada Inn.

Such a thrilling life.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

On a music video shoot with some of my favorite production people.... about to start shooting. Gtg.....

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The blog has changed.

OK, so there's a time for everything and it's time to get my web presence up and running. So. That means what was "Hold Fast" all these years is now a new blog name, and it's hosted at a new site...

The new blog name is "North Yuke". I know sounds like a submarine destination or something, right? Well that's because... it sort of is. When Dusty was a young lad, he came up with the place. It would be where he'd go in his submarine when he grew up and GOT a submarine.... well so, I liked the thought that it's not really a place, actually, but a place you'd journey to, if you had the means to do it... a sort of almost place. And that's what my life seems like these days. A journey for sure. I'm not certain where it will actually take me. Who does, though, I mean really.

So if you go to www.northyuke.com you'll find there is this blog and it's on another site. It's really part of www.blatsnapper.com. That's the new site where I'll host all my work related stuff. Again... there was Dusty and his older brother made him mad one day. So Dusty screamed at the top of his lungs, redfaced at Blaise (who was then going by Danny...) ... "You ..... Fartfelly blatsnapper". Well that was the end of the argument or annoyance, because everyone in the house was on the floor laughing.

Dusty always had a way with words.

So there it is. Blatsnapper, a word nobody really knows what it means other than something you shout when you're frustrated, and North Yuke, a place you're going to, but doesn't, as far as anybody can tell you, exists. Sound like an adventure? I guess that's the point. some of those adventures are pretty frustrating.

I'll try to write more often. I promise.