Weep Not

As a dog person, I encounter a lot dogs, and among many things, I notice one universal truth.

A dog can be blind, deaf, three-legged, one-eyed, sporting a pair of wheels to carry its back end, or named Lucky, and there is one thing you never see. You never see a dog wallowing in grief at the loss of function. As people, we could lose a limb in a horrific accident and there is no doubt that the experience will change our worldview. For some people it seems to light a fire; for others it triggers a will to quit and wallow in the victim’s land of despair.  We could go either way. In the land of dogs, the universal response seems to be: Work with you’ve got, and do what you do.

Earlier today, Sharon and I were at the Olympia Pet Emergency with Becker, one of our ODH foster dogs. He had the rapid onset of a range of symptoms that could amount to a common form of vertigo in old dogs or neurological deficit, which would point to bigger underlying problems with no good outcome. This set of symptoms is very hard to pin down, very hard to treat, and usually ends up in a discussion of quality of life and euthanasia. The emergency part is not the overall condition, which is always difficult and mysterious. The emergency comes from getting some symptomatic treatment so that Becker can hold down food and water well enough to evaluate the larger problem over time.

Presumably, every dog in the place was experiencing some kind of discomfort, and yet, I encountered a Bull Mastiff, A Black Lab, a Harlequin Great Dane, a weird long-legged Shih Tzu, and a Rhodesian Ridgeback, who were all more interested in making friends than in wallowing in whatever affliction had brought them to the clinic today. Meanwhile, Becker, who was experiencing the nauseous, drooling world spins of a college student with a bottle of tequila, was unfailingly good-natured with the whole process, including with the vet who stuck him with two shots.

But I still haven’t gotten to the point… I’m laying out the Way of the Dog in terms of dealing with limitations and discomfort, but then there was the vet himself. I don’t recall his name, and I wouldn’t single him out in any case, but I am here to offer my respect to him for this simple reason. He was born with a congenital defect of his right arm, and he treated it like any dog would. He acted as if it were not a factor at all. He shook hands with it, he handled the dogs with it. He used that malformed limb with the grace of a concert pianist and never once did anything to hint that we should even notice it, much less treat him differently because of it. Clearly he doesn’t need my respect because he handles it without a hitch, but he has my respect just the same. In a world where it’s all too easy to play the victim card to the hilt for issues much less intrusive to the actual practicalities of life, here’s a guy who works with dogs and played it just like a dog would. Work with what you’ve got, and do what you do. I offer my total respect, in the form of someone who couldn’t possibly measure up to that standard.

Adversity breeds strength, even in human beings.

On Being Smart

There’s being smart, and there’s good at being smart. The crux of being good at being smart is to be dumb. Ask dumb questions. Check every basic assumption you have, and then recheck it. Qualify your own thinking. Are you 100% sure? 60% sure or not sure at all? What are the likely outcomes of your decisions? No idea? Good. That’s smart.

Then there’s the other side of that coin. Do you know? How do you know? There’s no rule that says you need to make a court case to be accurate. Sometimes you just know. On a gut level. That’s knowing and that’s smart too. In fact, if you went back and thought about every time you went against your gut level response and talked yourself out of it, you’d probably say you were wrong more often than not.

How do we know on that level? It’s been floating around for decades that our subconscious has many times the computing power of our conscious mind. Maybe so. Maybe it’s our soul talking. Maybe it’s God trying to save us from our own limitations. Maybe it’s the fact that our mind is so much larger than our brain that we can’t get the full report, or maybe there is simply something buried within our instincts that helps us along when our brains get carried away with our own thoughts.

In a thin-sliced world of ultra-parsed thoughts and words, maybe it’s worth pondering the simple knowing, of right and wrong, complex and simple, smart and foolish in some practical measure, or the simple distinction of comfort versus discomfort within our own minds.

The State of Jim

Those of you who are paying attention, and after all this time I expect that’s a low number, are probably wondering what the heck I am up to these days. I thought I might lay it out for you.

In my quasi-professional life, there is an axiom that has held true for over 25 years. If I’m working in technology, the client thinks there is a magic button that handles all the details, even if they are trying to sell 500 products. If I’m working in design, the client thinks there is magic button, that I have some software that makes all the decisions and pops out a nice, shiny result with no real effort on my part. If I’m working in industrial design, which I refer to as “engineering lite,” since I am not an engineer, although I play one on the internet, and I’m pretty good at faking it… Well, you guessed it, once again there is the perception that there is a magic button and that everything should be fast, cheap, and excellent.

Of course the old production rule is that you can have fast, cheap, or good. Pick two. I can tell you from vast experience that it’s almost impossible to get a client past cheap, and if you can, that’s a client you want to keep.

The interesting part is that client concerns are only part of my equation. The other part is my own narrative. Those of you who have been waiting for the rest of the Renewal, including my infinitely patient and likely disillusioned editor, probably think the client concerns come first, and they do in terms of daily survivability, but beyond that threshold, my narrative is king. A good question is why. Why does my narrative even matter? I mean, I’ve been soaking it all in for almost 51 years, and obvious patterns have emerged. We have issues, I would say. We know nothing, I would say, but I would also say that the minute we stop using the observations to drive our decisions into the future, we have lost what it means to be the leading species on the planet.

We could ask all kinds of questions about whether anything we say or think even matters. I cannot affect the political dialog, which I have come to refer to as “the face of madness.” I cannot groan at our President’s tweets without asking whether we would be in far worse shape under the power hungry, amoral alternative. I cannot live in Liberal mecca without keeping very quiet about the logical disconnects that drive the discussion. Someone would probably burn my house down. I cannot look at politics at all without asking the obvious questions about who our politicians actually work to serve, because it sure ain’t us.

The line between fact and opinion is so blurry that no one can realistically be expected to discern the difference. We are all too busy worrying about the vast detail of survival in the most complex system ever devised. Can you do your taxes on a postcard? Nope. Can you have a significant health issue without 20 calls to the insurance company? Probably not. Can you travel within the borders of our own country without being treated like a potential terrorist? No? Is it because we don’t actually have borders? Can you rent a car without a very specific type of plastic card in your wallet? Do your children have more schedule and legal requirements than you can track, much less actually fit into your daily routine? Well, guess what? The answer is, if you follow the herd, you probably can’t keep up. If you have managed to back up a bit and have actually examined the culture we have created, the answer is: possibly. I definitely know people who can spin a lot of plates, and those people are invariably good at knowing which plates need spinning at any given moment.

The end result is one of two things. Either you have no time to really examine the inputs to your belief system, or you check your facts with some level of critical thought intact. In option one, you choose a narrative and go with it. This is the easy way out. It works until it stops working and then you are you recovering from the shock and you go shopping for a new worldview. In option two, you live with the fact that no one’s narrative is satisfying. No one’s narrative answers the important questions. This, of course, leads directly into the pit of despair (Dilly, Dilly!). It invites endless cynicism and self examination, examination of the facts you can obtain, lots of hair splitting and qualifying of information, and frankly it’s hard work. Most of us are too busy dealing with the minutiae to engage in a rigorous debate with reality, and we choose option one. There’s no judgement in that, in my view. Here’s why…

When things get cloudy, I hit rewind. If I say something stupid, I rewind to some point in my life when I said something smarter. If I hit a professional wall, I rewind to some method or process that worked in the past and try to adapt it to the current problem. If someone does something I purely fail to understand, I rifle through the deck of old events and look for a pattern that may fit. The deck of old cards is our lifeline and our adaptive advantage. In tech terms, the value of those memories depends on how well we have tagged them with our own value system, but all of this process is only the first push of the rewind button. The second push involves history. Just like most of you, I sat through high school history half-listening to Mr. Hawkins (shout out to those who remember) drone on about things that I thought had zero value to my all important teenage life. I went on to college and spent more time watching my Western Civ professor (because she was attractive) than listening to the story of the victors she was spinning. My course of study was not history laden. I got the Cliff Notes version. Over time, I finally found the value of history in the practical, “doomed to repeat it” sense, and these many years later, I look back to realize that I am an ardent student of the subject. It comes in very handy when trying to make sense of the world we live in. In the broad strokes, history is a fabulous guide to human nature, which guides us to the depths of depravity and the heights of nobility before we even notice the difference. Push that old rewind button one more time and you can predate history altogether. This is also informative in very practical ways. For those of you who interpret belief to our creation in the knowable past, this whole thread breaks down quickly. I personally have no trouble blending my belief in the Creator with the evidence of deep history, but that’s an argument for another day. For me, it’s very useful to remove every advantage of civilization and to think of us as lonely tribes working hard to survive in a world that treats us no differently than it does any other species. It’s also interesting to note that there are still tribes that operate on that basis. I think it’s probably too much to expect that there are human populations that have had no contact with civilization today, but there are still people who have not been overrun by our modern systems. We can blithely sit back and judge primitive people, but you can’t really dismiss their own version of accomplishment at surviving without the internet, drive-through windows, or a global just-in-time supply chain. There are valuable lessons in the big rewind.

If you walk back through your own life, you will see the patterns. Good decisions, bad decisions, decisions that had a much bigger effect than you would have predicted when you made them. A narrative of your own life develops. You can chain together your own events in a way that has meaning. How you interpret that meaning is largely dependent on your values and beliefs. When you put it all together, you have a story with meaning. Think about it. Your life has meaning. I don’t care who you are or what you have done, if you apply a set of values over the events of your life, meaning emerges. I can sit back from my perspective and apply my own values to your life, and that has meaning too. As a believer in the inherent goodness of humanity, noting of course that goodness is a value judgment, I expect to find a meaning in your life that is worthwhile, and only rarely am I disappointed. Pretty cool, huh?

Where does that leave us? First off, we like to think we all operate from provable facts and logic, and that is patently false. We operate from belief. All of us, myself included, adopt beliefs for whatever reason, and bend the facts to fit that set of beliefs. I can prove this in the negative by saying that if we all operated purely from the facts available, we would all find ourselves in agreement. Two humans in total agreement is historically impossible, so we can safely say that we do not operate from facts and logic. We all have our beliefs, and we work very hard to twist the available facts to support our beliefs. Period. If you and I are sitting across the table at Thanksgiving and discussing world issues we will get along by belief, not fact. You hand pick facts to support your beliefs, and I can hand pick facts to support mine. If I’m feeling devious, I can support a view that I don’t actually believe. For clarity, an example… If you believe that prison serves as rehabilitation and I believe that prison is intended to be so painful that it will serve as a deterrent, then you and I will disagree on almost every point of what should be part of the daily existence of a prisoner. This example can be expanded to touch every point of life in today’s America. Policy, Culture, Procedure, Tax money, Expenditure priority, and so on…

But back to the state of me… I’m writing. So much writing… In fact, I’m busy thinking up ways to stuff more writing into my life. Let me be clear. Writing is a game of mind management. I suspect there are writers out there with much more practical models for what is worth writing. My motivation is mine. What makes a person sit down and think up an entire cast of characters, inject them into a plot designed to make a point that matters enough to the writer to keep going? I can think of a metric ton of motivations that work for me. Unfortunately, making money is not one of them, with apologies to my wife who has supported my bizarre worldview in superlative fashion. Here’s the thing. I care about the outcome. I really care.

What matters? Happiness, contentment, challenge, what comes next? Who really knows? One of my pet peeves is the overuse of the word “experience.” Watch any block of commercials and you will hear the word “experience” these days. It has become one of those amorphous words that means nothing unless it motivates you to spend money in a directed fashion. Traditionally, experience was a lesson, something that happened that taught you something you didn’t know. Usually it came with a painful cost. Nowadays, it’s a cozy place in a totally safe, all-inclusive resort that teaches you that for that for the right price, life becomes idyllic. The worst that can happen is that you miss the bus to the other resort. That’s a long way from the version of experience that teaches you when to plant your crops.

What matters is, who are we? Where are we going? How do we gain the most from the benefits, and perhaps more importantly, the limits of human nature? I believe (operating from a belief model here) that human nature is not something that we can decide to ignore. It is inherent to our existence – for good or bad. I happen to encapsulate both. I am good and bad. If you happen to tip the scales into my version of bad, I will happily write you off. If you tip into my version of good, I will work my butt off to support you. It’s not for me to make the final analysis; I’m sure that at any given moment, there are people who judge me either way. My wife is much better. She begins with the assumption that you are good by her definitions and she will try to help you. I used to be that way, but I became more cynical and realized that I needed a harder filter. People are fully capable of the sublime, and people of are fully capable of the suck, usually in the same person.

One piece of human nature is sex. We cannot ignore it. It happens before thought even intervenes. It makes perfect sense. If sex were not inherent to our existence, we would not exist. As far as we know, sex is still the only way we make new humans. That serves as no excuse to the dirtbags who happily blend money and power into the sex equation in a forceful way. Those losers are bubbling up like the oil in the Beverly Hillbillies opening theme. Look it up, young’uns! In evolutionary terms, if you cannot attract sex on some merit that involves a woman choosing you, then you do not deserve to procreate. Speaking as a man here, which makes me the lowest form of observer in today’s model… A woman can choose you to fulfill any number of roles: friend, helper, supportive listener, protector, lover, person who agrees with her, her child’s father, provider, some subliminal chemical cue, whatever works for her; you do not have the right to subvert that choice through power. Men, be worthy. Women, pick your terms, but don’t be surprised if you fail to gain respect for your choices. It’s your right to say no, and men should absolutely respect that (even the dirtbags who don’t recognize the obvious fact), but it’s your burden to live with your ‘yes’.

Another aspect of human nature we can’t ignore is the big WHY. This is a question that exists on a million levels. If you don’t believe in a higher power of any kind, then it’s an existential dilemma. Literally every choice you make is universal. You can rail and shout at the sky all you want. The problem is that the choices are sitting atop the proverbial house of cards. I can sit in a restaurant and listen to people having conversations that sound like critical decisions in life. The tone is that of people trying to make life-scale decisions; the subject is which app they use on their phone, or what someone said on Facebook. Again, I’m not judging. It’s entirely possible that someone said something on social media that changes your life, but if that’s the case, perhaps you should just call that person and have a conversation. Better yet, meet that person and have a face to face conversation so that you can take advantage of all the non-verbal cues that come with actual human interaction. It’s all too easy to forget that we live in a world that depends on a lot of technological systems working correctly to derive meaning in our lives. If the person in question makes that impossible, then it is credible that a higher order of values come into play, and that person is no longer worth your time, attention, and concern. If you do believe in a higher power, then you can offload some of the outcomes to a greater cause. Is that cause intended to work out in your favor? It’s like the two high school teams who pray before the game. They are both praying for victory in some form, but only one will win on the scoreboard. What is the preferred outcome for your higher power, and does it supersede mine? I like to run with this concept. I’m willing to listen to your beliefs as long as they don’t directly involve harming people with other beliefs. The beauty of beliefs, and the risk, is that we can’t prove them in this lifetime. If we believe in an infinite creator, yet we live finite lives, then it’s fairly logical to assume that we don’t have all the facts. We live in a box of existence that is intended to be measured within the dimensions of that box. The creator of the box makes the rules. We don’t know the rules, and we can’t say that we are winning or losing until we escape the box. In other words, everything we decide is important is a box within a box within a box, ad infinitum.

Do we then fall to an innate sense of rightness? Is that a real thing? God, I hope so. Otherwise, we are lost. Without that sense of right and wrong, it’s all too easy to imagine that we don’t deserve to survive as a species. Using the big rewind button, we know that entire species have disappeared from the Earth. They are disappearing as we sit here, looking at our high definition screens. What if 65.1 million years ago, there were dinosaurs that had decoded morality completely. They had it figured out, and they were destroyed by a wayward asteroid. Does that mean that we are not intended to understand the big picture, or does it mean that those dinosaurs had it wrong? If we have it wrong, does the logic, the hard rules of the cosmos, mean that our view gets replaced by that of dogs? I mean, dogs are far more reliable than we are. If you were a god, choosing between our moral flexibility and the stalwart dedication of a dog, would you choose the random nature of human morality over a being that expresses dedication to its master in unfailing service? The life of a god would be far better served by dog values than human ones. On the other hand, perhaps the hierarchy was intended from the beginning. We serve a higher purpose, and dogs serve us. If that were the case, perhaps we are intended to learn from dogs even as we master them. It’s entirely possible that dogs serve as training for a low order of control over our existence. Which means that we should be paying attention… Just in case.

Control, as in that of a master over a dog, god over a people, or parent over a child, is a delicate balance. In any of those cases, pushing too hard results in rebellion. Those of you with teenage children are nodding your heads vigorously. Pushing your dog too hard in training doesn’t result in rebellion, it results in confusion. That dog is entirely willing to follow your lead, it is simply unsure of what you want. What if you believed in a god named Dewey, and Dewey’s commandments included a clause that required you to do a literal song and dance every time you crossed a threshold? This performance requires 3 minutes of your time, literally every time you moved from one room to another. The rebellion against this commandment would be that we all live in giant rooms to avoid the threshold ritual. We would forsake bathroom privacy to save those 3 minutes, four times per day. Our value system would be literally warped around Dewey’s rules. This is an entirely fictional and exaggerated example of how strong our belief systems are against practical considerations. If you are a parent, you already know these things. I have been a step parent but not a parent of my own offspring (why would I propagate heart disease and diabetes,  not to mention the lessons of my father?) , which means that my entire reference comes from being the offspring of typically flawed human beings. Grain of salt factor … As a side note, being married to a very intelligent and analytical woman means that I qualify every bit of data that I share. I may be guessing, fairly confident, or totally certain. I’ll qualify it in some way. As I tell my wife, if I don’t qualify it, you should treat it as the truth. As the ultimate hedge, my truth is probably not your truth. Luckily, I know my wife well enough to define the truth in her terms. She’s good that way.

I have wandered far afield. Let’s just call it an anchor in the “face of madness” of current events. What you really need to know is that I am writing in several venues. One is the Renewal universe, which is built on a lot of what I have shared in this piece. The biggest struggle with Renewal is that the reference line keeps shifting. 2017 is not 2011. As I wrestle with the story, I keep having to shift my focus into broader realms to accomplish what I intended from the beginning. The current truth is not the broader truth. Two is the Definition universe. It accomplishes a few things in my motivational structure. One is that I have a basic optimism for the future. Two is that historically and currently, we know nothing. This could be a very pessimistic view, but I see it as an optimistic view. If we limit our future based on what we know now, then it is very limited indeed. If we assume that we know nothing, then we have an unlimited future. I prefer that we will continue to re-frame our understanding until we open the doors to the universe.

Keep that in mind the next time you encounter the idiot who doesn’t know how to work a four-way stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Goes into a Modern Documentary of Modest Means?

First of all, I’m not the expert. I was once an expert in video production, and much of that experience still applies, but getting down to the nuts and bolts has been a major re-education. I worked on video almost every day for a decade or more, but that was more than a decade ago. It was before HD, much less 4k UHD. It started before digital editing was powerful or particularly reliable. I spent fortunes on systems that lived with open cases and box fans blowing on the chips just to keep them cool. I worked with used 3/4″ tape decks from TV station surplus sales. I fined tuned my ability to push buttons in a hopeful effort at getting within a second of where I wanted the edit to occur. I used and killed hard drives that weighed 15 pounds and stored less than a freebie flash drive from a trade show. Ah, the early days.

Now, all I need is a decent computer (could be a laptop), a piece of editing software, and enough storage to hold the footage.

All of us grassroots video producers in those days were chasing the holy grail of broadcast quality. Standard definition was the only definition and broadcast quality was about color accuracy, being able to carry that signal though the edit process without ending up with smeared video mud. Mostly we failed. The only way to true success was through a very expensive gateway that was dominated by stations and networks that not only could afford the equipment but had all the means of distribution under their collective thumb. Raise your hand if you grew up with 3 channels on your floor cabinet TV…

Now your cell phone probably shoots pretty good video, you can find free (but limited) editing software, and a YouTube account anxiously awaits your next post.

After a whirlwind tour of the state of the art in video, some basic rules bubble to the surface:

One, it’s remarkably cheap to make credible video these days at quality and resolution that far exceeds the high five-figure cameras I used way back when. Accurate editing is no longer even an issue. Honestly, it wasn’t really a problem when I stopped making video a decade ago, but the modern ability to manipulate footage has made enormous progress and offers up a lot more room for creative decisions.

Two, relatively high quality still costs relatively large amounts of money, but the entire cost/quality scale has dropped radically, especially compared to shooting on 35mm film, the only way to achieve a filmic look back in the day. If you recall, George Lucas created a big stir when he decided to shoot the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy on digital cameras – code for staggeringly expensive video cameras. We all know how that turned out. The modern equivalent is impressive across a broad range of cost, but in general, the quality of “film” costs more like a used car than like a new mansion. Good news.

Three, the line between film (which was a dream in the old days) and video is very blurry. Most high end television and a large chunk of feature films no longer even use film even though they look exactly how we expect film to look. They are technically shooting video on the set. Low end television, obviously shot on video, still looks like it was shot on video. The point is that there is no radical split between video and film these days. It’s simply a matter of process and technique applied to equipment that allows enough room to achieve a filmic look. If you know what you are doing, that equipment line extends all the way down into GoPros and cellphones, with some nerd-talk limitations too numerous to mention.

Four, nothing about making a good film has changed. It’s still about telling a story that matters, at least to someone.

Now for the nuts and bolts, and why there’s such a large number attached to my GoFundMe page.

First, audio before video. My documentary is about our relationship with dogs, and features Old Dog Haven as the tip of the sword. Like any story, it requires a number of elements, all working in concert. Yes, it’s a video, and a lot of effort is being spent on the quality of the video. However, anyone who has produced video for a living understands that great video is nothing without great audio. Right now, I have a good microphone on my primary camera. This leads to three questions: One, is the audio good enough? In many cases, yes. In edge cases, no. I shot some quasi-interview footage at the Walk for Old Dogs, and the result was good as long as I was close to the subject and there was no major background noise. It also had the real drawback of no backup audio. Backup audio can take many forms, depending on the camera and microphones. In a perfect world, there are at least two video sources for any given interview and two audio sources. The video sources allow me to edit from one shot to the next to keep it interesting, and the multiple audio sources allow me even more flexibility. Let’s say that one audio source is a lavaliere microphone and one is the audio from the camera five feet away. In the edit, I have the ability to choose from both of these audio sources and mix between them to create the most clear and natural sounding audio for the interview. Most importantly, if one recording fails for some reason, like a jet flying over or a garbage truck rolling through the neighborhood, I have the ability to use the other source to cover the problem. Are there ways to clean up problem audio? Sure, Does it cost more than recording good audio in the first place. You bet, in both time and money.

Second, video quality. As you read this, be aware that I am simplifying drastically. Modern video quality depends a lot of factors. First is the camera. My current generation cell phone shoots amazing video, and the audio is impressive as well. So why not shoot the entire film on my phone? It has been done. Well, modern phone video is good but it comes from a minuscule camera buried in a phone and is largely dependent on the software that processes the video before it gets recorded. This is a great thing if you want to throw an off-the-cuff video on Facebook. It’s a drawback if you want to mesh the video with other cameras in the course of making a large scale presentation that looks like a film.

It gets into some technical issues, like bit-rates and codecs, but the long and short of it is that if you want to make a long-form film, having more control is better. At the ODH walk event, I shot on one camera, and Kelly shot on his GoPro4. Both kinds of footage came out very well, but they do not match. If my goal is to tell a seamless story without the distraction of two entirely different looks, I need the control to make the footage match. If anyone has spent time with a GoPro, you know that it shoots amazing footage in bright sunlight on a clear day. The colors are punchy and vivid, and the footage is crispy and sharp. This is a beautiful effect for video, as in, welcome to the part where I jump off a sandstone cliff and plunge into huge surf where a surfboard is waiting for me to shred (or whatever surfers do). As part of a seamless film, well frankly, it needs to be toned down. The usual method for controlling the over-punched effect is to shoot in something known as log. In GoPro terms, it’s called Protune. This is a method of shooting the footage without all the punchy effects, the high contrast, the vivid colors, the in-camera sharpening. The downside is that you can’t throw the video up on YouTube in one fell swoop. The upside is that it captures a bit more dynamic range than the normal method and allows you a lot more latitude in the edit. You can more flexibly define how the final footage looks. This is an important factor when trying to make footage from multiple, different cameras look like they are shooting the same scene.

Nerd ALERT! Then there’s the codec issue. Most lower end cameras shoot some variation of h.264, which is a codec (encoder/decoder), a particular algorithm for compressing the footage through the camera before it gets crammed onto an SD card. As it turns out, h.264 is good enough for this purpose, and it’s good for delivery of the final video. What it’s not good for is the in-between, the actual editing of footage. The reason is that h.264 is an interframe codec, meaning the compression considers the earlier frames and the later frames for each frame of video. It’s very efficient for storage of camera footage, but it places a high demand on the CPU of the computer doing the editing. Every time you look at any given frame of the video, it has to look at multiple frames to display that frame. This takes time, which equates to delays when actually trying to make edit decisions.

What’s the solution? First, I had to throw out my favorite editing software of many years. Even in its most current version, it choked on h.264. Of course, it could be my hardware causing the problem, but the reality is that I am running a heavyweight desktop machine. Yes, it’s a few years old, but it’s a serious, high performance chunk of hardware. Each individual hard drive is suspect, and I do have a few performance duds in the box, but I’m not using those for editing. I’m using the best single drive solution I have right now. If it’s not the hardware, then I need to look at the codec. It turns out that there are a multitude of good editing codecs, and every last one of them takes up more hard drive space than the camera original h.264. My first test filled up a terabyte of hard drive space like it was nothing. I worked through the options until I found one that had less-than-ludicrous storage requirements. Needless to say, my powerhouse machine for writing, photography, graphics, and CAD finds itself begging for more and faster hard drive space.

That’s without reliable backups. Imagine you go out for several days and shoot lengthy interviews of dog rescue volunteers and the related B-roll footage of the dogs under their care. You fill up multiple SD cards and take all that footage back to the editing machine. You copy it across to the hard drive and because you need the SD cards for the next shoot, you delete the files from the cards. The next day you’re happily editing away on all that interview footage and the hard drive picks that very day to release the magic smoke and grind to a halt. Without a backup that you made at the same time you imported the footage, you just wasted three days of your time, hours and inconvenience for each of the interview subjects, any money it took to get to the locations, and far worse, you just lost any of those magic moments that happen during interviews, moments that will never happen again.

Currently, I do have a backup drive just for footage, but at the rate I’m going, it will be full by the end of August.

Then there’s the camera itself. Thanks to support from some mighty kind folks, I have a camera that is almost perfect for capturing dogs in their element. Does that make it perfect for everything involved in this documentary? Unfortunately, no. The camera in question can record audio from the good microphone I mentioned earlier, but it cannot record the optimal audio for a solid interview. It is very good up to its limits but those limits do not include high resolution recording of colors. Why does this matter? Let’s say you are standing up for an interview and you are trusting me to make you look good. Higher quality recording of the color-space allows me to do a lot of adjustment to your facial tones and that includes some selective sharpening to minimize age. If I record at low end camera specs, I have very little room to adjust. If I record with better camera encoding, I can do quite a lot to make all my interview subjects look great.

Luckily dogs don’t care. With a modicum of love, they are all convinced they are perfect. This brings me to the other end of this camera point. The dogs.

If you spend as much time among dogs as I do, you understand that they operate at a higher speed than we do. They make decisions, change facial expressions, and interact with us faster than we do among ourselves. This demands the use of high frame rates. If I shoot a dog at the normal television 30 frames per second and slow it down, the software is forced to interpolate and artificially blur the action. If, on the other hand, I shoot at 60 or 120 frames per second, the software does not have to guess at what happened. The information is already there. At 60 fps, I can cut the speed in half. At 120 frames per second, I can cut it down to quarter speed and all the frames are available for the software to pick and choose. This means that I can slow the dog footage down to the point where we can see them at the speeds they actually play and interact. In a film about dogs, you can understand why this is important.

So, I take the output resolution of the whole project, I look at cameras that serve that resolution at high frame rates, I consider the quality requirements, and I end up with a certain camera.

I start with the amount of space I’ve already used for the footage I’ve gathered, extrapolate that into the plan for this film, and throw in some performance requirements to come up with a bundle of hard drive solutions. There are multiple approaches to the problem, but like everything else with this project, I aim squarely for the best cost/benefit solution.

Audio is a bit more complex. If I fail to gather enough support, then I aim for an add on solution to the camera I have now. If I get enough support, I can build most of the audio solution into the camera I would use for the interviews. In a perfect world, I would do both for all the redundancy I can manage. I’m pretty serious about those magic moments. Missing one, or capturing one that I can’t use because of bad audio would hurt – a lot.

This just to lend a glimpse into what it takes to make a quality film that involves a mass of footage and at least two species. (You never know when a cat will photo bomb the whole scene.)

There are two points remaining. One is that there are far more expensive ways to do it, and two is that the story is worthwhile. Please help me finish it.

 

Our Roster of Love

Well, Hagar was put to sleep yesterday. It was a hard decision and no one wanted to do it, but it was clearly time. The photo above was in his last hour.

 

Hagar in Better Days

First, I need to thank the entire crew at Tumwater Veterinary Hospital for their incredible support. We joked that Hagar was a rockstar, since he liked to wander late at night and sleep until noon, but he was clearly popular at our vet’s office too. We would walk in, and the folks behind the desk would announce, “Hagar’s here!” before the door even swung shut. I thank those techs who came in to say goodbye to him, and I thank Dr. Lina, who went above and beyond in her pursuit to keep him healthy. Old Dog Haven dogs are a tough problem. They almost always come with a mysterious multitude of health issues. I suspect that she was beating herself up with a bunch of woulda-coulda-shouldas, but the fact is that dogs can’t tell you what hurts. It’s a tough job. I’d trust her with any dog.

Minky Feeling Good

The consolation in every ODH foster is that every one of them is a dog who could have died alone and afraid. Instead, they pass on surrounded by people who love them, and they know it. When it’s time to say goodbye, they go with a palpable sense of relief and joy. My guess is that Hagar had some kind of event a couple of Friday nights past, a neurological thing that changed his behavior and made his recovery impossible. We will never know for sure, of course, but there is a certain spirituality in the passing of a dog that tells the tale. Hagar was lost and miserable. His body and mind had failed him. Dr. Lina administered a sedative, and I could feel him relax and let go of the pain. She delivered the coup de grace and he was gone. Usually I can feel it, but this time, it took a while. I imagine it as shaking off the effects of having a damaged brain, but after a while, I could tell that he was feeling the joy of re-connection to whatever dogs reconnect to after they leave this life. It was time indeed.

The ODH foster role can be tough, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Every relationship with a dog is rewarding, but these ODH dogs are the tip of the sword. The payoff is usually short lived, and the effort is high. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Will we do it again? Without a doubt.

The Aussie Club

Meanwhile, we have our own pack. I consider Hope to be the matriarch, even though she doesn’t really care for leadership. She cares for love and play. As a large Chocolate Lab, she lives for lap time with Sharon, although it’s a recliner destroying freak show of love. Behind her is Elke, who came into our current life with me. She is a Border Collie Jack Russell mix, which means that she has every form of dog OCD you can name, and she considers herself in charge of everything. The fly in her personal ointment is that fact that she has gone blind. I’d say she is almost fully blind now. It’s a long drop from her youth as a killer frisbee dog, but she has full-on bat hearing to compensate. She still has the ability to find balls and frisbees that our fully-sighted dogs cannot. Let’s just call it focus. Behind Elke is Jay.

Elke in a Tent on a Bike Tour

We pulled him from a shelter adoption day in the tri-cities. He’s some kind of greyhound mix, and he is probably our sweetest dog. He falls a bit on the timid side, but as he gets older, he puts up with less from the other dogs. It’s not hard to hurt Jay’s feelings, and we can tell when he faces the corner with only furtive glances to make sure we can see that he is offended. Then, there’s the Aussie club. Make no mistake, it is an exclusive membership club. They have certain rituals that look violent, but are not, until someone outside the club tries to participate. Luna is 7, and was born deaf. It’s a common problem among Australian Shepherds. In practical terms, it has no effect. She misses nothing. Her younger half brother Roscoe is our youngest at five. He’s not a rescue in the classical sense as he came from a quality breeder and he is as healthy and stout as a fresh NFL linebacker. He is simply a mismark, which means he doesn’t meet the breed standards for markings. This takes nothing away from his beauty and magnificence of course. Breed standards mean nothing to me. He’s a sweet boy, and a little Aussie crazy. I could explain the commands he responds to, but I promise it would make no sense at all.

So, five dogs, five rescues, and enough shedding fur to sculpt a new one every week. Yep, it’s worth it.

Roscoe’s Usual Attitude

I know that some of you wish I could do nothing but write fiction. There is a major appeal in that for me as well. However, if I had not spent my life doing a whole bunch of things, I’m pretty sure the writing would have less authority and less meat on the bone. Some people look forward to retirement. I can’t even imagine retirement. I’d be happy to keel over with my hands on a keyboard. I have a great many things I want to do, and the only sad part is that I can’t possibly live long enough to do them all. Thanks to a certain reshuffling of life, I am fully engaged in writing again. I’m knocking down at least 20,000 words a week now, but that will never be all I do.

In Western Washington, we have a perfect summer that lasts from July 4th to roughly mid October. I want to spend a great deal of that time producing a documentary about Old Dog Haven. This is an organization that deserves every recognition they can get. It is the creation of a woman named Judith, who is frankly remarkable. She burns the candle at both ends. She’s on her mission 24/7 and has managed to build a rescue organization with virtually no overhead that spends $90,000 per month on old dog medical expenses. My hope is threefold. One is to bring in more support with a film quality documentary about dog rescue in general and ODH in particular. Two is to use the footage to create some pointed fundraising videos for  ODH, and three is to make the entire footage library available to the organization for their communication efforts. There are some follow on goals as well, but first things first.

To that end, I have set up a gofundme campaign. If you want to get involved in something very personal and central to me, you can donate here. On behalf of myself, ODH, and a lot of dogs that need help, I would greatly appreciate your support.