Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cover of "Fake Plastic Trees," Parts 1-12 of 18

I am two-thirds of the way complete in presenting a cover song that took me less than five minutes to record. Of course, producing a "short film" for every 15-second segment of the song has taken a lot longer than 5 minutes. But it's all for a good cause, I suppose; that cause, of course, is getting better acquainted with the equipment I already have.

Conceptualizing each 15-second segment has been (and currently is) quite simple:  With some exceptions, I would either shoot/find footage either based on a loose interpretation of the current lyrics being sung, or based on one of the instruments being played.

With six more segments to go, this is what has "inspired" me so far:

1. Green plastic watering can, from the lyrics: I videotaped a green plastic watering can in action. It was a bright day, so I got to use the lowest ISO setting and highest shutter speed for my camera. The detail can be incredible when the lighting is good. Then I used some green-ish filter to ruin the image.

2. My custom-wired "fake bass" starts playing: I created a slideshow of the "birth" of my fake bass. Then I re-enacted my foot switching un-mute for the fake bass signal.

3. Town full of rubber plans, from the lyrics: I found old footage of when I drove to Disneyland with a camera rolling the whole time on the freeway, and I sped up 40 minutes of driving into 15 seconds.

4. It wears her out, from the lyrics: I found footage of my dog Kate, a puppy at the time, being frustrated by a laser pointer. There is an effect in Final Cut Pro X that made the laser point bigger than it was in reality, so I used it.

5. Pouring milk really had nothing to do with the lyrics or music, but I wanted the visual to be a distraction from the funky chord I accidentally played during my one take, no overdubs, no fixes performance. I shot this at 60 frames per second, then slowed it down 50%. I found a water drop effect in Final Cut Pro X, and used it for the fun of it.

6. The drum machine actually kicked in during the previous video, but I wanted to highlight this instrument here. It was another opportunity to experiment with effects and transitions that I'd normally ignore.

7. Deconstructing a burrito had nothing to do with anything, but this was my third attempt at photographing this stop-motion time elapse of the creation of a burrito. I realized I needed a tripod all along. The previous two burritos had better-looking filling ingredients. I used the hashtag #tapatio because I used that brand of hot sauce for the burrito, and the official Instagram account of Tapatio 'liked' the video, which is pretty cool.

8. Plastic surgery is implied in the lyrics for the previous video and in this one, so I went literally plastic with stop-motion LEGO minifigures. It's currently the most popular of the song segments. The animation looks pretty decent at 15 frames per second. I used a cable shutter release when shooting each frame, which probably created some shakiness in the animation. The next time I attempt stop-motion animation, I'll use a wireless remote control to take the photos.

9. It wears him out, from the lyrics: This was the drive home from Disneyland (the same day as Part 3), and I hit an awful bit of traffic that evening. It's currently the least popular of the song segments.

10. It wears him out, from the lyrics: This is footage from Diablo III: Reaper of Souls of my brother's character (a Demon Hunter) and my character (a Crusader) fighting a Rift Guardian. This was one of my first attempts at capturing video game footage. My computer isn't fast enough for capturing game play videos, so there was all kinds of lag producing this video. I had to speed it up anywhere from 200-400% to resemble some sort of animation. At least my Crusader got the kill shot, so that made the video look at little cool.

11. She tastes like the real thing, from the lyrics: Originally, I just wanted to produce a 15-second video for this part of the song. Then I, for some reason, wanted to release the entire recording. Anyhow, off-brand Oreo-like cookies do not taste like the real thing. I shot this at 60 frames per second, then slowed it down to 25%. This is essentially 15 frames per second, just like the stop-motion animation in Part 8.

12. Fake plastic love, from the lyrics: I wanted to produce a ridiculously epic LEGO-sized rock concert, with lights and large stage pieces (relative to the size of LEGO minifigures). The "band" onstage is a minifigure that vaguely resembles yours truly on guitar, "fake bass" (naturally), and vocals, and a robot minifigure on drums, representing the drum machine. The audience is made up mostly of the "female" minifigure parts from Part 8, with some pop culture surprises as well.

This is what I've (re-)learned concerning video file formats, especially using Compressor to make Instagram-friendly videos: If two videos are the same file size, the video with the least amount of movement and colors (e.g. Part 6) will look exponentially cleaner than the video with all kinds of movement and colors (e.g., Part 12). I knew this once upon a time, but remembering is a hard lesson to (re-)learn!

Right now, I don't know what Part 13 will look like, and I have six more of these to go! If I have nothing more interesting (to me, at least) to write about on March 5th, I will be sure to conclude the extended-length performance of my cover of a Radiohead song.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Cover of "Fake Plastic Trees," Parts 1-7 of 18

This song took less than five minutes to record.

I try to sing and play the guitar simultaneously. I've wired a guitar to also play the (fake) bass, under the low E string. I can control a drum machine with a footswitch, to start and stop playing, and add fills that transition to another drum pattern. Basically, I can perform a facsimile of a power trio rock band, completely live, in one take -- just like Bert from Mary Poppins. Before chopping off the quiet at the beginning and end of the audio file, and adding a bit o' reverb for good luck, the performance lasted for four minutes and thirty-five seconds.

For the past week, and for next 11 days, I have been slowly releasing my cover of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" on Instagram, 15 seconds at a time. While the song took less than five minutes to record, it'll take a while to fully play on the Internet.

I could always just release the entire performance as a whole, which I will probably do in the future, but for now, I get to produce 15-second short films that each sort of tell a 15-second story, to varying degrees of success. Here are first seven parts of this eighteen-part series:

A video posted by Ryan DeRamos (@ryan_deramos) on

A video posted by Ryan DeRamos (@ryan_deramos) on

I'll try to remember to post the rest of the song, sometime next month.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Ca-Ca-Cable Took My Sports Teams Away

Watching the NBA All-Star Game online, via the NBA app/TNT Overtime, reminded me how much I miss watching sports on TV. Once upon a time, a local television station had the rights to broadcast the games of one or more local sports teams:

The Los Angeles Lakers were on Channel 9 for most of my life, through different call signs (KHJ, I believe, and KCAL). The Clippers were usually found on Channel 13. The Clippers were really awful for decades, and Channel 13 was the fuzziest broadcast station of all, with an unexplainable layer of static in both video and audio.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' broadcast games shifted among Channel 11, 5, 13, 9, and whatever else, depending on the year. The California/Anaheim/Los Angeles of Anaheim Angels also shifted amongst those stations, sometimes the same as the Dodgers, sometimes not.

When LA had NFL teams, they were on 5 or 9 or 11, but I don't quite remember.

Channel 56 had hockey and non-WWF pro wrestling, the ethnic channels -- 18, 22, 34, 52 -- had soccer (but usually the Spanish language channels). You'd have had to be a sports hipster at the time to be really into those sports, unlike today.

I'm taking the opportunity to essentially lament the loss of my favorite sports teams, due to their dealings with what seems to be a dying industry: Cable TV. (When I refer to "Cable TV" or similar, I mean pay TV providers -- cable, phone line, satellite, etc.) The easiest solution to my predicament is to subscribe, but it's just not in me to do so: I didn't grow up with a subscription to cable or satellite. I am well-acquainted with bunny-ear antennae and how the human body can either enhance or diminish the effectiveness of bunny ears. In any case, it's just not in me to spend $20? $50? $100? per month for channels I don't have the time to watch.

And that's just basic cable. From what I understand, a customer would have to pay for basic cable (or basic satellite or basic phone-line TV), and a sports package on top of basic ... for a chance to get the local team's individual station. Time Warner Cable, specifically, has the rights to the Lakers and Dodgers channels, and they may or may not lease those rights to competitors, like Verizon FiOS or AT&T U-verse.

Long story short, I haven't watched a Laker game or a Dodger game, other than a few special games broadcast on network TV or transmitted through the Internet or at a cable customer's house, for years. I guess I'm not much of a fan anymore. Whenever I am fortunate enough to be at the right place and right time for a game, I don't know who most of the players are.

In the past, fans got to watch the games on TV, in exchange for watching advertisements, and usually, those fans would pay to watch the games in person, and those same fans would pay to purchase team merchandise.  Nowadays, a fan would have to pay for everything in order to express their fandom.

I'd like to think the Lakers' current multi-season slump was caused by abandoning broadcast TV for their own Time Warner Cable channel, but that's just an odd coincidence. When they left "free" TV, their management made bad decisions (like leaving "free" TV), and their star player became prone to injury ... and is probably past his prime years. Sorry, Kobe.

And the Dodgers ... let's say that 1988 was a long time ago.

I have to suspect that these are business moves by a dying industry. Netflix and Amazon Prime (and maybe Hulu Plus) provide past content, as well as produce current content, without the need of cable providers. Therefore, the big umbrella media companies move their sports broadcasts from "free" TV to their cable subsidiaries, in order to double-dip their income from both advertisers and audiences. Outside of sports, if you missed a show on ABC, and would like to watch it streaming on their website/app, you would have to access these shows through your cable provider -- it's an unnecessary middleman! If you don't have a cable provider, you would have to wait a week before watching the episode online, or you'd have to purchase the show through iTunes/Amazon Instant Video/Google Play ... or piracy.

In the recent past, cable stations were useful -- they brought us Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Then again, Netflix binge-watching brought Breaking Bad to wider audiences, and piracy apparently did the same for Game of Thrones. To curb piracy, it seems that HBO wants to provide its HBO Go service outside of premium cable packages. Netflix and Amazon Prime have been producing their own shows, to varying degrees of critical and audience acclaim. Netflix, Amazon Prime, and PBS have cartoons for kids. Who needs cable anymore?

If and when sports are no longer part of pay TV, then cable/satellite providers will only have ... funny news (intentionally and unintentionally funny)?

For next time (maybe): Land-line phone companies, providers of pay TV (boo!) and relatively decent Internet (hooray!) and cellular phone service (neat-o!) and relatively useless landlines (seriously, why?).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Moon Is the Heroine Humanity Deserves, But Not the One We Need Right Now.

I want to write a new mythology.

I'm going to take various tropes of previous mythologies, and I'm going to spin them around. I'll pretend to present them as prehistorical human beings might have weaved these stories of gods and monsters, but I will usually be self-aware with a modern understanding of the symbols.

So let's start with the big one: God. The head god of various Indo-European language pantheons, and likely other language families as well, is the Daytime Sky. He's Zeus for the Greeks, Jupiter for the Romans, Odin+Thor+Tiwaz (it's complicated) for the Norse, El for the Canaanites, etc., etc. The Daytime Sky is the big, blue, all-seeing protector and advisor of humankind.

Come to think of it, the Daytime Sky also describes the monotheistic god of several religions. Our Father, who art in heaven; our Father, who is heaven? In any case, Big Blue is the good god of this new/old mythology.

If there is a good god, then there has to be an evil god as well. Many religions have this duality in place. Humans seem to be, by nature, afraid of the dark. Therefore, the Nighttime Sky is the evil god of this new/old mythology: Darkness, the unknown, secrets, predators, fear ...

The Daytime Sky seems to have two children/companions: The Sun and the Moon. Humans eventually figured out that the Sun is responsible for daytime, but for minds not ready for any scientific truth:  The Daytime Sky is big and blue in all directions; the Sun is a little yellow circle. A blinding little yellow circle, but little nonetheless. Big Blue is a god, and Little Yellow is his sidekick.

The Sun is always by his father's side. The Moon, however, is sometimes with the good god, but usually she is in the domain of the evil god, the Nighttime Sky. There are at least two ways to read this cycle of celestial bodies:

The first way is standard in its misogyny. The Sun, identified as male, is the ever-faithful champion of the Daytime Sky. The Moon, identified as female, is inconsistent with her waxing, waning, and showing up in the Nighttime Sky, perhaps to betray the Daytime Sky? That's a really awful way to explain why the objects in the sky are the way they are. Misogyny happens in various forms of civilization, and we are pretending to be pre-civilization in formulating this new/old mythology.

The second way is fairly equal, if we're going to continue to assign gender to heavenly bodies. The Sun is pretty much a homebody, always hanging out with Big Blue. He keeps the Darkness at bay, as long as he can, but his endurance changes depending on the season. Sometimes, especially in the summertime, the Sun becomes overzealous of his powers, and it's just uncomfortably hot for the rest of us. (In this new/old mythology, humans haven't figured out what the Sun really is.)

The Moon, it seems, is the battle-tested champion of the Daytime Sky. She will "physically" fight against the Nighttime Sky, but only when she is strong enough. At her strongest, as the Full Moon, she will seemingly defeat the Night, but the victory is always short-lived. As the Nighttime Sky injures the Moon, she will grow weaker and weaker, finally dying in her father's arms. But, yes! She will be reborn and grow stronger to once again battle the Darkness. The Moon's cycle of death and rebirth occurs monthly, while the Sun's cycle happens over the course of a year.

I think we'll use the second option for our new/old mythology. The Sun and the Moon are equally badass in that scenario.

And what of the stars and planets? Whose side are they on? Are these little specks of light minions of the Nighttime Sky, or are they the army of the good Moon? That is a tale for another day, I suppose.

Clouds, it seems, are double agents. When the Summer Sun is cruel, they mercifully hold him back. When the Moon seems to defeat the Darkness, clouds have the ability to defeat herq. Clouds bring rain to end droughts, but clouds bring also dangerous storms. Anyhow, another tale, another day ...

Bottom line, to paraphrase The Dark Knight: The Moon is the heroine humanity deserves, but not the one we need right now. So we'll hunt her. Because she can take it. Because she's not our hero. She's a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A silvery ... warrior princess, apparently.

I don't know why we'll hunt the Moon, so scratch all of the Batman stuff. Now that we have some semblance of a primitive cosmology, we can move forward to the equivalent to the Garden of Eden or Golden Age or Dawn of Man.

Until next time!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

In Which I Try Writing about Bees and Numbers, or a Case of Writer's Block

I took this photo of a worker honeybee gathering nectar and pollen about a week ago. I usually get interested in various subjects for a brief amount of time, before moving on to the next unexpected topic, and the subject of bees is no different. In any case, I read up on a handful of Wikipedia articles, and I called it a day, as far as researching bees.

I might drone on about the recent decline of honeybees, their relationship to virtually all human agriculture, and perhaps how this can be a dark horse factor in the unsustainable nature of human civilization -- but I won't go past that run-on sentence.

I want to write about numbers. In my "extensive research" -- the skimming of Wikipedia mentioned earlier -- I learned that there are two kinds of worker bees. There are the ones that don't lay eggs, and there are the few worker bees who lay unfertilized eggs, which hatch into drones. Worker bees are genetically female, if you hadn't known that already. Drones are male bees.

Of course, there's the queen bee, whose eggs are fertilized by drones from other hives. The queen's offspring hatch into worker bees and future queen(s).

Let's get to numbers, starting with the Drone, a male, to whom we'll refer with a capital D -- 1.

The Drone bee has one parent: A laying worker bee, a female -- also 1.

The Drone has two grandparents: The hive queen (female) and an outsider drone (male) -- 2.

The Drone has three great-grandparents: the previous hive queen and an outsider drone, as well as an outsider laying worker bee -- 3.

The Drone has five great-great-grandparents: The previous-previous hive queen and an outsider drone, an outsider laying worker, and an outsider queen with a drone from another hive (perhaps the Drone's hive) -- 5. The great-great-grand-drones are different bees because a drone can only mate with one queen; he dies soon after.

The Drone has eight great-great-grandparents: The previous-previous-previous hive queen and an outsider drone, an outsider laying worker, an outsider queen and an unrelated drone, an outsider queen with an unrelated drone, and an outsider laying worker -- 8. At this point, the outsider laying workers might have come from the same outsider hive, or there is a small chance that a single outsider worker might have laid multiple drone eggs for the next generation(s). The chance for redundant ancestors for the Drone becomes greater at this point on.

In any case, the Drone's family tree is basically the Fibonacci sequence: 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 etc. Any given worker or queen has a family tree that includes one self, two parents, three grandparents, five great-great grandparents, etc., or 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34, etc.

For those uninitiated concerning the Fibonacci sequence, I can't provide any useful information. It's a sequence that occurs in nature, and humans caught on only fairly recently, a thousand years ago or so -- because it was a cool pattern, I suppose. You take 1, which equals 1. You add those previous numbers, and you get 2. You add the most recent two numbers, and you get 3. Then you get 5. Then you get 8. And so on, and so forth. 

Humans and animals who come from fertilized eggs just have an exponential amount of ancestors: 1 self, 2 parents, 4 grands, 8 greats, 16, 32, 64, 128, etc. The fun part, putting polygamy/incestual humor aside, is to identify the first possible redundancy in a fertilized egg family tree. Like the Drone, we'll call this subject "the Human."

The Human has one self.

The Human has two parents.

The Human has four grandparents, but there is a chance that the grandfathers and/or the grandmothers might be the same person. That took three generations for a small chance at polygamy/serial monogamy, with incest a generation after. It took male bees six generations, and female bees five, from self to a small chance at having redundant ancestors.

In all likelihood, actual ancestor redundancies occur as the great- prefixes accumulate. The Human's maternal great-great-great grandparents might also be the Human's paternal great-great-great-great grandparents. It is very likely that each person has multiple redundant ancestors.

Since our ancestors are more-or-less exponential, it is possible, if not probable, that every civilized person's family tree overlaps with other civilized person's family tree, no matter their current nationality or ethnicity, within a few centuries to a thousand years or so, tops. Isolated populations are another story, and civilization's collective family tree overlaps with their ancestors probably thousands of years earlier.

It's the same with bees, of course. With other bees, to be clear.

In any case, I had nothing substantial to write today, the 5th, so I wrote about numbers. And bees. I don't even find numbers that interesting, that often. I still find bees fairly interesting, especially their honey. I should have written about good, local bee honey, the kind you'd find at a farmer's market.