Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

The Flight Simulator Art Team

Today I had the opportunity to meet two of the Flight Simulator MVPs, Nick Whittome and Dr. Geoff Cohen as they came over to join Jason for an art walk (btw Nick, look! You got your link -hehe).

Jason has a cool write up of the walk over on his blog.

I love the art walks.  Even though I interact daily with a small subset of the art team (mostly Jason, Pete and Adrian), it's amazing to see what the rest of our wonderful art team are doing with our new graphics technology. They really are putting some features - features that I wish I could talk about - to really interesting uses that I had never envisaged.

It's great to see our idea for a generic and flexible architecture put to such great use.  Remove the technological straight-jacket from your customer and watch them get all creative.  We're really making a big effort in this cycle to be an enabler for art.

Actually, that's another interesting point.  We're quite lucky in the graphics team in that as well as having actual paying customers (i.e. you guys that buy the product at retail), we have the art team are our direct, in-house customer.  By providing them with a functional and highly maleable pallette to work with, they turn around and use that to make great art.

I love graphics.  It's such an immediate, instant gratification!

As we we're doing the art walk, Nick and Geoff's jaws were literaly hitting the floor.  Personally I was astounded with the wonderful quality of the models, texturing, animation and application of the "secret sauce".  I couldn't have been happier as thoughts like "I enabled that!" kept bouncing around my in head.  It's such a trip, working with these incredibly talented artists (oh, and some of them don't just build Flight Simulators).

I can't wait for you to see it too.

Compensating for compromises in Flight Simulator

A wonderful post by Hal on the compromises made by the team to achieve greater realism in the product.

In my opinion, our vision, our design for each release of Flight Simulator could be distilled to a pretty simple equation: Take Reality, subtract the Last Version of FS, and then set about minimizing the difference.

Spot on, Hal.

Automatic OPML feed

Scoble is looking for a blogging platform that automatically produces an OPML feed based on tagged data.

Well, I just knocked this index template up for MovableType which seems to do the job. It loads fine in Dave's OPML editor too:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="<$MTPublishCharset$>"?>
<opml version="1.0">
<head>
  <title><$MTBlogName$></title>
  <dateCreated><$MTDate format_name="rfc822"$></dateCreated>
</head>
<body>
<MTCategories>
<outline text="<$MTCategoryLabel$>">
  <MTEntries>
  <outline type="link"
           text="<$MTEntryTitle 
               remove_html="1"
               encode_xml="1"$>"
           url="<$MTEntryPermalink$>" 
           created="<$MTEntryDate format_name="rfc822"$>" />
  </MTEntries>
</outline>
</MTCategories>
</body>
</opml>

Just add it as an index template, and you're golden. This is working in my install of MovableType 3.2 - I expect it will work fine with TypePad.

The autogenerated opml for my blog is now appearing over here.

Back to work

Today was my first day back in the office after my sabbatical. To be honest, I had grown used to my routine over the past eleven weeks of taking Julian to daycare, followed by eight hours of pottering around the house and writing code for whatever idea popped into my head.

On Tuesday night it finally hit me: I've got to go to work tomorrow!

The day was wonderful. Catching up with friends (i.e. my co-workers), taking the pulse of the project (not that I've been too distant, as I've been on email), blowing the dust off my desk, syncing my enlistment to the code, etc...

It's great to be back.

I must say though that I'm happy with my decision not to take any big trips. I've done a lot of traveling around the globe - both for business and pleasure, and I hope to do more. But for the first time in my life I spent my time off at home - relaxing; doing some recreational coding; catching up on other unexplored areas of technology; welcoming our new daughter into the family; getting a new roof put on the house; writing music; playing golf...

Don't feel that vacation, time off or whatever must be filled with intense pursuits so as "not to waste the time".

Take the time to chill and recharge.

The Scoble Effect

I was just thinking that I couldn't have written anything interesting recently as I haven't been linked to by Robert Scoble for a while, when low and behold a new post from him shows up in my PubSub feeds. Not only for my Ajax service GoTo, but also for yesterday's podcasting article.

Cue a nice spike in traffic, both for this site and for GoTo. Cool.

The really interesting thing for me was that the big influx in trial users for GoTo showed off an oversite in my recent changes to support lazy registration, aka trial mode. When I added the trial mode, I also added a default set of blocks and links so that new users aren't presented with what amounts to a blank page.

Of course, this meant that the statistics for those sites went through the roof, so I've excluded links from trial users from the "Top Ranked" statistics.

Need help testing edge cases of your code under load? Just figure out a way to get Robert to link to you...

How I put a podcast together

After reading a few posts about various people's podcasting setups, I thought it was time to write a decent description of my podcasting setup and approach to producing a podcast from an audio standpoint.

Now, my setup is probably way more than most people need, but I'm a bit of an audio geek, and I write and record music with my setup also. Having said that, the components that I use to actually podcast are fairly cheap and can be acquired very easily.

My setup

You need a computer

First and foremost, you're going to need a computer. Mine is a homebuilt 3.4 GHZ Pentium 4 with 1 GB of RAM running Windows XP. The only special part of this machine as far as audio goes is the sound card. It's an E-MU 1820. This card allows low latency recording (via ASIO) and has built in dsp effects as well as a built in virtual mixer allowing you to route audio all over the place in many configurations. Back to that part in a while.

To actually record and mix, I use Steinberg's wonderful Cubase SX 3.0. This is a full recording solution that provides all the features you could possibly want, including great effect plugins, audio sample editing, looping, midi, etc... But for the purpose of producing a podcast it's there to record the audio, process it, and mix it with other content such as intro and outro music, promos, music played during the podcast and Skype calls.

Getting the audio into Cubase

E-MU 1820

I use a Rode NT1-A condenser microphone plugged into the front to the E-EMU 1820's breakout box (note that the 1820 is connected to it's PCI card in the PC via a single ethernet style cable - everything is digital between the PC and the breakout box). The 1820 provides phantom power to the microphone and has a great sounding pre-amp.

Rode NT1-A

Now, lets look at the 1820's virtual mixer:

Mike A Send

If you look at the first channel in the strip, you'll see that it represents the input for the microphone and that it has two "inserts". These inserts could be effects or special "sends" that create an audio channel back to the PC.

The first send injects the audio for the microphone to "Wave L/R - Host". This means that when using normal Windows applications that want to see a normal microphone input, they get the audio from my microphone. I use this to send audio to Skype.

The next insert is the key one for recording.

Mike A Direct Monitoring

It creates an ASIO audio channel, sending the audio to ASIO channels 1/2 (i.e. left and right) in the PC and returns the audio back to the 1820 from the PC. What this means is that Cubase can pick up the microphone's audio and by activating "Direct Monitoring", the 1820 allows me to listen to my voice in my headphones as I record it with zero latency. This is important as I hate it when the sound of my voice in my ears is lagging behind speech.

So basically, I have dry, effectless audio heading into the PC and the 1820 routes a copy of it to it's outputs so I can listen to it with no latency. The last bit is that I like a bit of vocal juice on the headphones, even though it's not being recorded - it just "sounds better" than dry audio in your ears when recording.

So, if you look at the microphone's channel strip again, you'll see that the "aux 1" knob is turned up a bit. This means that it's sending a copy of the audio at a low level to the aux 1 bus.

Aux1 bus

Now, over on the right side of the virtual mixer in the "mastering section", you'll see a stereo reverb setup on the aux 1 bus. This reverb effect runs on the 1820, and so has no performance impact on the host PC.

So now I've got my dry audio from the microphone channel mixed with a little reverb, and it sounds good in my ears.

The rest of the 1820's I/O

Channel strip 2 is basically the same as channel 1, for a second microphone when I have a local guest on the show. The audio is sent to ASIO 3/4 so I can record it and treat it separately from my microphone.

Channel strip 3 is not really used for podcasting. One of the output busses from my physical mixer is connected to an input on the back of the 1820. This audio is send to another ASIO channel to be recorded in Cubase. I mainly use it record outboard equipment such as synthesizers.

Channel strip 4 is the output from Cubase. The main Cubase output is sent to ASIO channel 31/32 which the 1820 captures. It is sent to one of the outputs at the back of the 1820 and then fed into the physical mixer.

Channel strip 5 is the main Windows audio output. I.e. all normal windows audio such has beeps, alerts, Skype, iTunes, etc... The clever thing I do here is to route a copy of that audio back to the PC via an ASIO channel so that I can record it. This way I can record the Skype calls and have my voice and the other party's voice on separate tracks in Cubase. Note that there's a second send on that channel that routes the audio to a physical output on the back of the 1820 and from there into the physical mixer.

That's it really. You don't really need a physical mixer as the 1820 has a headphone output and a main mix output, so you can use headphones and connect up your normal speakers to it.

Mackie 1402-VLZ Pro

Now, on my physical mixer, the output from Cubase (via the 1820) appears on strip 11/12 and the main PC output appears on 13/14. The total mix from the 1820 appears on the tape input. This means that I can monitor mixes of all of these via physical sliders and send them to different physical audio outputs (i.e. headphones and speakers). I won't go into all this - it's a normal mixer, but the interesting thing I do is to send the control room output from the mixer to the headphone distribution amplifier in the rack.

Behringer Powerplay Pro Headphone Distribution Amp in rack

This has four headphone outputs. I use one for my normal headphones when recording and mixing, the iPod earbuds plugged into it for a sanity check after mixing and there are spare outputs for when I have a local guest on the show.

The "Main Mix" output from the mixer is sent via the BBE Sonic Maximizer (just for when I listen to CDs, it is bypassed when doing production) to the Alesis Power Amplifier and finally to my main monitors - a pair of highly regarded, out of production Yamaha NS-10M Studio near field monitors.

Note that this is all overkill.

Back to actually recording

Cubase SX 3.0

On track two you'll see my vocals, which I'll just duplicate and change the input to Mike B if I have a local guest. Track one contains the intro and outro music - you can also see some volume automation going on. This raises and lowers the volume of the intro/outro while I'm speaking and performs the fade in and fade out at the end of them.

Track three is where I place all other elements such as music, promos, etc...

If I'm doing a Skype call, or import some other element that requires some processing, I'll just create another track for it.

Processing

Now that I've got all the elements together, chopped them up and put them in the right place, it's time for some processing on the vocals.

Track two settings

Basically I have four "inserts" running on my vocals. Inserts are serial in nature - the audio is run through the first one, the output of which is run through the second one, etc...

First up is a gate.

UAD Gate/Comp

This effectively stops audio from passing through if the volume level is too low (I have it set to -40 dB) and is great for removing background ambient noise during the silent bits when your microphone is very sensitive (e.g. a condenser microphone). Be wary though of using a gate when the level of ambient noise is quite high relative to your speaking voice. In this scenario, the gate will cut out the ambient noise during silent bits, but you'll still hear it when you're speaking. This can sound very odd, especially when the gate is cutting in during a bit of silence.

Next we have the DeEsser.

Cubase DeEsser

This reduces the sibilants in your speech - microphones pick these up really well and you'll want to drop them a bit.

Third is the compressor.

UAD 1176LE

This levels out the overall volume level of your speech and depending on the compressor will inject some wonderful warmth into the audio. The aim here is to get a nice comfortable signal, with a consistent volume level as close to 0db as possible without clipping. You don't want to compress it "flat" either. This is a "feel" thing.

There are many types of compressor, but they basically do the same thing. I use the software version of the classic 1176 compressor. For more information about compression than I can ever give you here, check out the articles at Tweakheadz and Sound On Sound for great introductions to the subject.

Finally, we have EQ.

UAD EX-1 Equalizer/Compressor

I don't like to EQ very much, but generally add a little bit of "air" around 14 KHz. I might carve the audio off with a soft high-pass at around 60 Hz depending on what my voice sounds like on the day. Remember to EQ after compression. You don't want to boost some frequencies only to have the compressor smack'em back down again. Please note that the compressor section of this plugin is bypassed.

So that's the dry audio processed. To juice it up a bit, I have a send running to an aux bus with a little subtle reverb. I really don't like hearing non-reverbed speech, so I add just a touch of reverb which is hardly noticeable and it really warms up the sound so that it feels like I'm in a real place - not a cardboard box.

UAD RealVerb-Pro

Just don't go overboard and try to make me think you're podcasting from a Cathedral...

Mastering

On the output bus of Cubase I add in a mastering effect. This effect (really a combination of effects - EQ, compression, maximizing, spatializing, etc...) applies to the whole mix.

Cubase Output Bus

I use Izotope's fine Ozone mastering plugin for this.

Izotope Ozone

Here I mainly add a little spatialization, and maximizing. The Maximizer aims to raise the volume level to a target, typically just short of 0 dB. I use -0.2 dB. The rest of the effects just add a little audio secret source.

Occasionally I'll compress the main mix too. But usually only if I have a guest on the show which will affect the overall level of the audio. When mixing real music, I will definitely apply some compression to the whole mix.

Just for grins, here are a set of audio files that take us through the differences when adding the effects:

This Cubase configuration is saved as a template and used as the basis for every show. I'll still tweak the effects every time, as my voice changes every day depending on how I've been abusing my throat, lungs and vocal chords.

Anyhow, it's fun to tweak stuff. For me, the recording and tweaking is half the fun of putting together a podcast.

A word about plugins

Cubase as standard comes with a fine selection of software plugins - EQs, compressors, reverbs, etc... There are also many companies that sell other plugins, and up until very recently the only third party plugin I used was Izotope's Ozone.

Plugins are a balancing act though, as they take away precious CPU resources. If you add too many on too many tracks, the audio clicks, pops, slows down and generally becomes unusable.

There are many ways of getting around this such as freezing tracks that you're not editing "right now", on just switching some of them off for a bit. And that is exactly what I've been doing up until very recently. This has mainly been a problem when working on a real music project with many tracks (and running things like Reason in the background) and has rarely been a problem with podcasting.

My solution was to purchase a UAD-1 from Universal Audio. This is a PCI card that hosts the processing of plugins. The only part that lives on the host CPU is the UI. This works great for me and as reduced the plugin overhead to almost zero. The UAD-1 comes with a bunch of really good software versions of classic audio hardware such as the 1176 compressor. Highly recommended, but not really needed for your regular podcasting setup.

In conclusion

My setup is way overboard.

A cut down version of my setup with just Cubase, the E-MU 1820 and the Rode NT-1A microphone would work perfectly and give you great results. The rest of my gear (i.e. the mixer, headphone amp, power amp monitors, etc...) are really for convenience and because I'm an audio gear head.

Just remember to listen - both to your own podcast and other spoken word audio that you admire and then perfect your own sound.

Oh, and have fun!

Back Home

I just returned home from our local bar where I met our good friend Sam and her fiance Charles and friend Will. Early this morning Charles and Will arrived back in the US safe and sound after a year's service in Iraq.

Welcome home.

I've never seen Sam happier.

Ideal For Podcasting?

Here's an ad for a new microphone that I found in the US edition of Future Music. It's a condensor mike, with a USB cord. I guess it gets it's power from USB, but as condensor mike's usually need 48V of power, I wonder how this will affect your USB hub.

USB Condensor Mike

From their website:

Seamless integration was the idea, and it was obtained by creating a studio condenser microphone that can be plugged into any computer with no in/out boxes, no expensive computer pre-amps, just a USB cable.

I guess the mike has it's own preamp inside, but I can't see any discussion of latency on their site. Has anyone tried this? It could be great for a mobile/laptop scenario.

bitjobs for the masses

Please have a listen to "bitjobs for the masses", a great music podcast out of the UK. Of course the most recent show is an exceptional treat as it starts out with Ferryman...

On the show, Phil voices something that I've heard a few times: that people find it weird hearing me sing, play in a band, or write music. Because to them I'm Steve the podcaster, software developer, blogger. Steve the rock musician seems weird.

Hehe.

A Brit Abroad - September 20, 2005

As usual, it's been a while, but this time I have a really good excuse!

Today I talk about the new nipper, microphones, Apple's "Geniuses", Guitar Center, Katrina and PodcastCon UK.

Today's music is by me! It's my new solo track Ferryman.

At just over 23 minutes and weighing in at 16MB, It's A Brit Abroad!

Show Notes

00:00 Name and date check.
00:05 Intro sweeper and music.
00:19 Introduction to the show. Introducing Jasmine Susan Lacey.
02:21 New microphone - Rode NT1-A.
02:50 Rejigging the home studio.
03:55 Guitar Center and the microphone purchase.
06:32 Promo: Podshock - A Dr. Who podcast.
08:37 Exchanging an iPod - a tale of frustration with the "Genius Bar" at an Apple Store.
14:34 Brief Katrina thoughts that led to my new track.
15:02 Music: Ferryman.
19:17 Flight Simulator PM helping out in Katrina relief effort.
21:07 PodcastCon UK.
21:52 Promo: Britcaster.
22:31 Conclusion. Comments welcome, both text and mp3 - steve@steve-lacey.com.
22:48 Outro music.
23:07 End.

Enjoy!

Sorry Darling…

I love this new service, Save My Ass (of course, it should be arse - I don't have a donkey that needs saving...), because I had exactly the same idea back in 1997 shortly before relocating to the USA. Of course, I didn't do anything with the idea then...

If you're a successful professional whose career demands the bulk of your time, you know the problem. You want her to be happy, but you're busy and it's hard to be on top of flowers when you have deals closing or decks to finish. Sign up for this service once, and we'll take care of the rest. She'll be happy, you'll be happy.

It was a good idea then, and it's still a good idea. They should do more than just flowers though. By varying the type of gift, it doesn't look too suspicious.

I love the idea of a panic button, with a slider to indicate how bad you've screwed up. A cool, fun feature that means you don't mind paying a premium.

Save My Ass.

Via evhead.

AVSim Convention

The annual AVSim convention was held this past weekend in San Diego, and by all accounts was a good one. As usual, the Flight Simulator team, represented by our Dev Manager, Carl, was there to give a presentation. There's a good write up on the California Classic site, including some shaky pictures of the slides!

It's good to see the hard work that my team have been performing given front and center attention, but I guess it's always the graphics that get all the glory in presentations *grin*. Mind you, the stuff that was shown is only the tip of the eye candy iceberg: there's plenty more than was shown, and the other areas of the product (i.e. the actual Sim itself) will just blow you away.

I'm really looking forward to the moment when we can reveal the whole product to you in it's glorious, feature rich goodness.

Invalid RSS for the Gillmor Gang

Dave Winer points out something that has been bugging me for a while. The Gillmor Gang Podcast's RSS feed has an empty title element. This element is required by the spec, and it's absence is causing Katana, my aggregator, to fail to add the show to WMP or iTunes as it uses the title as the playlist.

I've complained to them to no avail before, but hopefully it'll get fixed now that Dave has pointed it out.

Eighteen Holes of Glorious Golf

This morning at 7.30am, CJ came round and we headed off to Mount Si Golf Course to meet up with friends Andrew and Dave for four and a half hours on the links.

The weather was perfect with very little wind. It was cool for the front nine, with low lying mist over the fairways giving us some glorious views of the surrounding mountains. It warmed up considerably for the back nine, but the beer cart helped with that...

Of course, my golf game still sucks, but I take consolation from the fact that my driver behaved reasonably well, and my irons (especially my favourites, the four and six) were, for me, outstanding.

I really need to work on my putting and chipping, though I had some flop shots come off very well and I stayed out of the water and sand. In fact I only lost two balls, both on the same hole.

As for amusement value, CJ and I shared a cart for the round, and shortly after Dave described how his son had flipped a cart on a flat fairway, I proceeded to nearly roll ours after launching us down a steep dip. This triggered much hilarity.

Hopefully, we can get out on the links again soon.

tags:

Sexy Beast

Michael Geoghegan from the Reel Reviews podcast has just put up a review of one of the best films I've seen this year: Sexy Beast.

I haven't listened to the review yet, but am really looking forward to it - Michael's reviews are incredible.

This film was definitely a find (it had escaped me since it's realease in 2000) and I love the other British gangland flicks (Snatch, Two Smoking Barrels, etc...) So to find this movie whilst scanning the channels was a treat.

Anyhow, check out Michael's review and check out the film.

PodcastCon UK

It looks like the very first PodcastCon UK went off without a hitch yesterday in London. My congratulations to Paul, Neil and Adrian for putting it together, and all the other people that helped out.

There's a bunch of write ups coming out now (Technorati , Google blog search), but the Britcaster forums are a great starting point. Photos are up on Flickr.

It's really cool to see a conference like this come together. It was put together by a bunch of people from the Britcaster site. No company running the show - just enthusiasts. Dare I say it, it sounds like the conference was the Gnomedex of Podcasting.

I really wish I could have made it.

Haircut?

So this evening after the munkins and their Mother put their collective heads down for a well earned session of sleep, I headed down to my local bar, with a nurtuned copy of The Economist in hand for a few beers and some intellectual stimulation.

I met a friend of mine, Tim, but he headed off in short order to leave me with my libation and cerebral stimulation.

A short while later, a young looking man walked in and sat next to me. He ordered a beer and was duely carded. As our bartender checked the document, he called out his birthdate.

"1983".

As is usual in these situations, I perform the mental gynanastics in my head and decalare myself older than Lazarus.

Then he turns to me.

"Do you know where I can score any weed?"

Maybe I need to get my hair cut.

Flight Simulator PM Flying Relief Supplies

Kevin Griffin, one of the Program Managers on the Flight Simulator team is currently down in the disaster area with his Maule transporting relief supplies. What follows is a email he sent to the team last week and an update relayed over the weekend. Reposted with permission and editted only to remove some non-pertinent private information.

Safe flying, Kevin.

Subject: Katrina Relief Effort

Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2005 22:36:26 -0700

From: Kevin Griffin

To: xxxx

Tomorrow night I will arrive at Central Texas airport, Lago Vista (5R3) to fly relief supplies via the Maule to airports in Mississippi, Louisiana and surrounding areas. A church group has stationed an unlimited supply of relief items at Lago Vista. Already they have delivered >70 loads (about 17,000 pounds) & made a HUGE difference in people's lives. There are currently 17 volunteer pilots, including myself and 1 other friend who is a pilot & Microsoft employee. We will be flying dawn to dusk. No night flights that I'm aware of as there is no power at many of the destination airports.

While this effort is entirely at our own expenses, (although volunteers are boarding the pilots and logistics volunteers in their homes around the airport), if you feel like donating, no gas money offer will be refused. Even though gas prices there for Avgas are only $2.25 a gallon, getting there they average around $3.80-4.50.

...

I have heard the military is not allowing photographs, but will do my best to keep you all appraised of the situation.

Take care,

-Kevin

And here's the update:

From: xxx

Sent: Fri 9/9/2005 9:27 PM

To: xxx

Subject: FW: Friday: Update: Kevin

Volunteering for Katrina Relief Effort

Good evening all.

I was finally able to talk with Kevin for about 20 minutes tonight - it was good to hear his voice and hear of all the wonderful things that they are doing for people in need.

Let me try to piece together all of the information he gave me .. which was alot.

He has taken about 200 pictures so far, but without internet connection, sharing them out will have to wait until he comes back home.

Today he flew to Hattiesburg, Mississippi (not Slidell as originally thought). 8.5 hours of flying total and over 400 miles each way. The destruction from the air is very hard to realize. Most of the areas that have been hit by the hurricane look like "junk yards" from the air. Once he landed, however, he saw some of the damage at the airport. He told me of a hangar that looked like it was ripped to shreds. The hangar door had been completely torn off and had landed on the wing of a King Air still parked inside. The insulation and metal was just hanging from the structure which was once a hangar.

Hattiesburg is a staging area for the coast. Most of the supplies that are being flown in are being put on trucks and transpored to more remote areas.

Kevin transported about 400lbs of cargo today - including baby formula, rice, top ramen, mac and cheese, cookies, canned food, other non perishable items, and vegatables. All of the volunteers today, transported over 10,000lbs of cargo today alone - all of which has been donated. He told me that they were on the local news last night and, this morning, local residents start showing up at the hangar asking them where they could donate ... their trunks were full of supplies.

There are volunteers everywhere - at Lago Vista, they are there to load and balance the airplane, take care of the pilots, and a mechanic to ensure the planes are in good condition - at the destination airports, they are there to unload the planes and put the needed supplies in trucks (trucks are usually waiting for them or arrive shortly after they land - after hearing them approach on radio frequencies).

There is a lot of aircraft in the area. There are Relief Flights, which are all cargo (like Kevin). There are Angel Flights, which are transporting people out of the area. The Civil Air Patrol is there as well as a lot of Military aircraft.

When I asked him about how he was holding up - he told me again about the wonderful volunteers. The family that he is staying with is about a 20 min drive from Lago Vista airport and is housing both Kevin and Alan (the other pilot from Seattle). They take them to the airport in the morning and come back and pick them up in the evening. They are also providing them breakfast and dinner. He is very thankful to be getting a good nights sleep and good meals after full days of flying and loading/unloading supplies.

Tomorrow, Saturday, has already been set. Kevin's airplane is fueled and loaded with supplies - ready to take off. Tomorrow morning he will be going to Slidell - the flight will be a bit closer than Hattiesburg was today, so he may make two trips (which would probably make for even a longer day)

I told him about everyone here at home and their overwhelming support and pride. He enjoyed hearing as I read the emails and told him of the wishes that everyone has sent. He wanted to thank you all for your support, thoughts and prayers (as do I) - Thank you too for starting a "fuel fund" for Kevin... fuel is costing about 500.00 - 600.00 a day, so this fund is greatly appreciated.

When I told him that I was sending updates to everyone, he told me of a little story which he found a bit funny... when he landed today at Hattiesburg, he noticed that the air was thick with "fly" like bugs. He was told that these were "Love Bugs" and that they are not normally in Mississippi, but rather found in Florida. The hurricane had picked them up and dropped them off there... They were so thick that when Kevin came back to the airplane after it being unloaded, they had covered the airplane in a blanket (he thinks they were attracted to it). He had to use a papertowel to wipe them away just to get the door open... ick...

Again, thanks to everyone for your overwhelming support.

I'll continue to keep everyone updated, although I think that information may slow down as his weekend sounds like it will be long hours and a lot of flying.

Good night,

Now that is getting in there and helping out.

Bungie's New Office

I just had the opportunity to visit Bungie's new Kirkland office which they'll be moving into it very soon. All I can say is wow. A wonderful, vast open space with a high arching ceiling coupled with incredible acoustic damping, right in the heart of downtown Kirkland.

Apparently the Starbucks next door has laid on extra staff for when they move in...

Lucky gits. I'm jealous.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

The current fashion in the games industry, especially amongst games designers that don't appear to be making games that sell well, if they are actually building games at all, is to rant that it's "going all corporate", or that "games are too expensive to make", or "there are no distribution venues for great games", blah blah, ad nauseum.

I could go on.

If you want to make art, then make art. I firmly believe that mainstream games can be art. Look at Half Life 2, Halo, Prince of Persia, Ico, to name but a few.

But I think what most of these critics of the industry want to make is "art-house art". And they want to have the critical and monetary reward for it.

Please feel free to try, and I applaud you if you succeed. But don't blame the rest of the industry for your inability to succeed when what you what to produce does not appeal to the buying public. And don't talk to me about needing to "educate the consumer". That's just elitist arrogance, just like the "in" crowd you never quite fit in with.

In this industry, as in many others, the art requires resources and resources are expensive. That, unfortunately, can make the realization of a perfect dream unattainable. How many glorious movie scripts have gone unproduced?

From Charles Boom's (one of the most talented game developer's I've had the pleasure to work with) 7/30/05 rant:

The people making games in the industry are for the most part doing their best to make good games within the realities of the market. You can't rant at them to get more talented. You can't expect them to do things the market & financing won't tolerate. If you want to rant at someone, rant at the consumers who keep buying the derivative crap, but that's not unique to games, consumers keep flocking to the next pop music wonder, the next explosion-fest movie, etc. Part of the problem with this is the continuing cycle of consumers - the young spend the most on new products, and the young have shitty immature taste.

By no stretch of the imagination am I saying that mainstream games are shitty. I'm saying that your art-house title, or perfect ascetic of what a game should be may not sell well, and as a result be the most attractive prospect for a publisher. Maybe a patron model is needed?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

And remember, for every Steven Spielberg or Robert Rodriguez, we have our Will Wright or Jason Jones.

Ferryman

So here it is.

Ferryman is the first time that I've written music, or more to the point lyrics, as a way of expressing certain thoughts about current events.

I hope you like it! If anyone has any ideas about what genre you'd call this (well, other than "crap"), please let me know!

Disclaimer: I can't sing. I must get CJ to sing this when we perform it as a band. Oh and he can do the solo too ;-)

For the music technophiles amongst you, this was recorded and produced using Reason and Cubase SX. The guitars and vocals were recorded in Cubase and the bass, drums and percussion in Reason, slaved via Rewire to Cubase. Everything performed by me.

Ferryman (mp3, 3.3MB)

If you like it, please consider making a donation to the Red Cross. And if you don't, well make a donation anyway.

Comments welcome...

A week of downs and ups

A bit of a light week as home has been a tad busy. What with Julian being home from daycare with the squits, Jasmine and Nabila with a cold, and mum having a painful sinus infection for which we had to take a trip to ER to get it sorted. Remind me to comment sometime about how efficient medicine is in the US compared to the UK. Yes, you have to pay, but it'll be covered by her travel insurance and we didn't have to wait five hours for treatment. In fact, they apologized that we'd have to wait for five minutes...

Everyone seems a lot better now, and the kidlets are down for a nap.

Last night I finally got to band practice after a break of over a month - and the practice went really well. I played the guys a song I'd been working on - "Ferryman", a little social commentary sort of ditty, so hopefully that'll be working it's way into the band's repertoire soon. Once I've finished the solo version, I'll stick it up here for your aural pleasure.

Tomorrow, for the first time this year, myself, CJ, Darwin and Tim will be heading to the links for some early (6.56am!) 18 holes of spanking whitey. To say I am looking forward to that would be an understatement.

And with that, I'm off to add the final touch to my little tune.

The unfiltered concern of a child

One of the bains of the past week is that I've become a news junkie. It is permanently on in our home. I feel that I should be watching the unfolding events in the Gulf Coast and to not watch, to not be aware, would somehow be uncaring.

Of course I'm wrong, but that doesn't stop me.

The issue at hand though, is how much do you expose a two year old child to? Julian is around the house and becoming more aware of the fact that information is arriving via the television set. Do you not watch? I think not. I guess that I trust the mainstream news media not to air any images that would be too shocking to a child.

But this evening as I was watching the coverage, and Julian was playing his usual jump on the couch, fall over on dad games, and loving the footage of helicopters flying around, images appeared of children in diapers walking ankle deep in water.

He stood up and turned to me, with the questioning expression he uses when he wants me to fix something and said:

"Baby crying?"

The Red Cross.

Podcasting with Neil Dixon

This afternoon, Neil Dixon and I spent an hour on Skype and co-hosted a new podcast. I think Neil is calling it the Britcaster Podcast, but we'll have to wait and see to find out. Keep an eye on Britcaster, and of course, I'll post a link when it appears - hopefully before the end of the week. The show is aimed at podcasters directly, and this one has a really interesting subject...

This was definitely a fun experience - one I'd definitely like to repeat, but I think Neil is having multiple people co-host the upcoming shows, so I'm not sure if I'll get to do it again.

I really like the joint show thing. This will be the forth joint show I've done. The other ones, with CJ, Nabila and one with Ian and Phil from the UK (also via Skype) were a blast - it is much more fun being able to bounce the conversation around...

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.