Cucalorus swamps Wilmington

The 17th Cucalorus film festival is nearing the end of its 4-day run in Wilmington. It’s a wide-ranging assortment of mostly small and independent films that brings together a pretty diverse crowd of old and new Wilmington, film students, industry craftspeople and (perhaps best of all) the filmmakers themselves. Like all good festivals, there’s way too much to take in, so you either plan excruciatingly or just kind of stumble into things. We chose the latter, and were richly rewarded.

The one big ticket we’d heard about was We Need to Talk about Kevin, a hit at the Cannes film festival. It’s a disturbingly intense story of a mother who, try as she might to construct a ‘normal’ life for her family, knows in her heart that something is really wrong with her son – and perhaps her. Tilda Swinton’s icy coolness is perfect for the part; the sound and scene design, non-linear story line and terrific acting add up to a kind of suburban horror story — but one that’s not supernatural, which makes it all the more chilling.

The 5 films grouped together as Zaragoza Shorts were a somewhat unexpected treat. I went in thinking that if only one or two of them were any good the evening would be well spent, but each in its own way was memorable. Even better, the filmmakers of 4 of them were present and spoke at a Q&A afterwards. We saw:

  • Jesus was a Commie, based on a magazine piece by, and starring, Matthew Modine. A meditation on non-violent revolution and how far we have gone astray from the teachings of Jesus. Really more of an illustrated essay – but at least intriguingly illustrated, and thoughtful.
  • Gilded Age Gladiator, an animated story of the 19th-century boxer John L. Sullivan. Coming in the week of Joe Paterno’s firing from Penn State, it was a timely story of the symbiotic intersection of money, media and sports.
  • Waiting Room. This film (less than 10 minutes long) is about – well, it’s about a man who waits in a room. Powerful and suspenseful results from a very spare minimalist esthetic. Not one frame, not one sound is wasted, nor more than needed. Here, more would have been less.
  • Manhattan Melody. Holly is a bored, unfulfilled aspiring actress in New York City, whose romantic dreams erupt from interior monologues to song. A chance encounter with potential danger seems to offer an escape. Will it?
  • I’m Coming Over. Perhaps the most off-beat of the night, and the funniest – a sweet postcard to the filmmaker’s adopted home town. Is there something wrong with your life? Is it possible the solution involves lumberjacks and chainsaws? Only, we learn, if you’re not clumsy. And what’s the deal with the typewriters and telephones?

I realized in writing this that it’s been a long time since I posted. I must have been spending a lot of my tech time with Facebook and/or my new smartphone. It’s easy to post to Facebook from the phone. I should try to post to the blog from it.

Blasted hemlocks

Update: more photos from this year’s trip; video on my Facebook page.

This is a hemlock in North Carolina’s Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, blasted to smithereens by the U.S. Forest Service. All along the 2-mile trail, which we hike each year on our trip to Snowbird, are these blasted stumps.

Apparently the Forest Service fears that they might fall on hikers, so they took ’em down. In places it looks like a devastated moonscape. It will likely be years before it recovers. The hemlocks have been blighted by the invasive insect called the woolly adelgid. The lower trail is startingly bare, but the upper loop with the giant hundreds-year-old poplars is in much better shape. Ironically, with so many hemlocks now down, you begin to realize how many of them are still standing – dead, of course.

Wilmington StarNews

We got through Hurricane Irene in pretty good shape, all in all. There was a lot of wind and rain from the storm, which made its closest approach to Wilmington (about 80 miles) in the middle of Friday night/Saturday morning August 26/27. But there was little real damage compared to what was feared.

We went to bed Saturday night with strong winds and rain, and woke to calm blue skies. The photo, from the Wilmington StarNews online, is from an area not too far from both the apartment and the rented house we’ll move to in a couple of weeks.

The biggest problem for most people was probably loss of power. At one point early Saturday Progress Energy was reporting that over 50% of customers in New Hanover County were without power. We were without power at the apartment for something less than 24 hours (I was at WHQR, on the air, for much of that time). But we got power back at about 10 pm Saturday. Cable came back this morning, and Internet service a bit later.

This was my first hurricane. To tell the truth, we’ve seen more problems in Cincinnati with the Hurricane Ike windstorm and some blizzards. But we were lucky — hurricanes are frightening, and many people in Irene’s path weren’t so fortunate.

John enrolled for his Master’s program at Manhattan School of Music today. It’s in a great location, off 120th Street in the Upper West Side, between Riverside Drive and Broadway. We’re very excited for him (and he’s excited already). You can see a slideshow here.

Jenny and I drove him up and spent the night Tuesday night with our friends Janet and Gary at their farm in Bucks County, PA. We were lucky for a move-in day: great weather, some traffic inbound but not bad, and I even managed to find a parking spot about 50 yards from his residence, the International House.

We were not far from the epicenter of the great (?) Virginia earthquake on Tuesday the 23rd, but never felt a thing. On Thursday we head back to Wilmington to see about Hurricane Irene.


Here’s a photo I took on the street in Wilmington. It’s a portable shrimp/fish seller operating out of the back of a pickin’-up truck. In case you can’t read it, the sign inside (spray-painted on plywood) says “We take EBT”, i.e. electronic bank transfers.

Unfortunately this was on a busy street, so I didn’t have time to stop and buy some srimps.


Last day in Cincinnati

Today is our last day in Cincinnati before Jenny joins me in Wilmington, NC. I love Wilmington, but there’s a lot about Cincinnati that I’ll miss.

Starting with our house. I’m sitting on our deck, having breakfast, watching the sun rise over the trees and hearing the birds chirp. The nasty heat and humidity of a few days ago have given way to very pleasant mornings and tolerable twilights. We’ve made so many improvements getting the house ready to sell that it’s a shame we won’t enjoy them.

Yes, new adventures await. But today, I’m thinking about some of the things we’ll miss (in no particular order):

  • Friends in Oxford, especially at Holy Trinity
  • Wyoming, OH, the best place to live in the Cincinnati area
  • The Roebling Bridge
  • The Reds
  • Chili, both Skyline and Camp Washington
  • Saturday lunch at the Wyoming Meat Market
  • Our house

So, today is a day for remembering. Tomorrow we look forward.

Harry Potter in 3D

Yes, I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 at an 11:30 am show today. Curiously, there were only 5 people in the theater. I really debated as to whether I wanted to see it in 3D or not.

The problem with most of the 3D movies I’ve seen is that the technology doesn’t mix well with the type of hyper-fast edits that most movies use today. When each frame moves an object 10 feet or more in front of you, the movement scrambles the brain’s 3D wiring.  Or my brain’s, anyway.

That was certainly true for every single one of the 3D trailers I had to sit through today. I was not impressed. Or maybe it’s just the projection method. U2 3D was terrific in Imax, not so good in standard 3D.

But HPDH2 made very effective, and subtle, use of 3D. Much better than in an earlier film (Half-Blood Prince), where you kept the glasses off for most of the film and put them on at the end. This one is 3D all the way through. Under David Yates’ direction, the cinematography by Eduardo Serra is incredibly rich. For once, the 3D actually helped make me feel as if I was there.

It’s a great ending to a great series, both of books and movies. I was exhilarated.

A few days ago the South Carolina legislature overrode Governor Nikki Haley’s veto of funding for the SCETV Commission — that’s both public TV and radio in SC.

The legislative leadership apparently thought that they had assurances the funding would not be vetoed. For fans of political drama, here’s a remarkable video of the House Majority Leader, Kenny Bingham (R), taking the Governor to task (and getting cheers from the House).

Nice that he expresses compassion for the people who work at SCETV. And as for “There is no educational value in the second kick of a mule” — words to live by.

This week’s roundup:

1) At a local Wendy’s I ordered my usual (baked potato with margarine, small chili, no cheese, medium unsweet tea) and got a bonus. It was 5 cents less than what I’d been used to paying. I realized that on July 1 North Carolina’s sales tax had gone down 1 percent, thanks to the Legislature’s budget for 2011-12 (the Governor’s budget veto, the first in NC history, was overridden).

2) UNC Wilmington announced that it’s losing almost $17 million in state funding, which will result in a loss of 147 staff positions, plus fewer courses and larger class sizes. Overall the UNC system, historically one of the best in the South (and beyond), will lose $414 million, affecting every campus.

3) An item from Radio Sales Today (“Affluent Americans More Optimistic, Within Reason“) quotes Stephen Kraus, VP and chief research and insights officer at Ipsos Mendelsohn. Their new study that shows that this segment (household income over $100,000, about 20% of the U.S. population) is slowly regaining confidence in the economy, after reaching a low point in April 2011. Here’s the quote that caught my eye:

The study also found a big behavioral difference between people making less than and those making more than a quarter million dollars a year. … Kraus says that difference reflects something else about the U.S. economy that has been in process since the middle of the last century: The rich are getting richer and the middle and upper-middle class are disappearing.

Interesting matter-of-fact tone there. Kind of reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s description of seeing a snake and feeling

a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

On the plus side, I saved that nickel.

Another geek alert:

Last time I wrote about digitizing LPs. Here’s my newest techno toy: the Zoom H2 digital recorder. I used this on a recent trip to Virginia for the Wayne Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition.

My sister Jean, a musician and educator who lives near Wayne in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia had invited me and I decided to test the H2 as a field recorder. I was really impressed. I used it for a story I later did for WHQR. You can find the story, and some of my original files, here.

With an 8G card, the H2 can record about 12 hours of stereo in WAV format, which is far less lossy than mp3. Of course, for the web and for many purposes mp3s are just fine; I use a Mac program called Amadeus to convert WAV to mp3. More on Amadeus later.

The H2 actually uses 4 mikes in pairs to record sound. You can direct the sound recording to the front stereo (facing you as you look at the controls), rear stereo (facing away), 2-channel front and rear, and 4-channel surround.

I quickly realized that for audio production I got best results from the 4-channel. In this mode the H2 actually makes simultaneous recordings from the front 2-channel and rear 2-channel. You can choose whichever one you like, or both. The front version takes in a 90-degree stereo field, good for a small group of musicians, for example. The rear setting’s field is 120 degrees, better for a larger group.

For my music recordings, even though I recorded in 4-channel mode, I only used the rear track since I was recording a fairly large group and didn’t need anything from my direction. What really fascinated me, though, was the way it worked for my interview with Erynn Marshall of the Blue Ridge Music Center.

I held the mike about halfway between the 2 of us, so the front channel got my voice and the rear channel got hers. All around us was the ambient noise of people cleaning up after a concert by Doc Watson.

You can see what this looks like in this Amadeus wave file. Originally these were two separate files; I copied and pasted one into the other, after clicking “Add New Stereo Track.” So now there are 2 stereo tracks here. My voice is in the 2 upper channels, hers in the lower 2. You can easily see who speaks when.

What’s remarkable is that the makers of the H2 thought to flip the stereo image between front and back, so the surrounding ambience is correct even though they point 180 degrees opposite each other.

We’re still not at a satisfactory stereo image, though. So I click on the upper track (my voice) and click “Merge With Next Track”. Voila! one single track with nice stereo ambience, and both of our voices in the middle.