Monthly Archives: December 2006

The Best Albums Of 2006

It’s that time of year again. Time for everyone and their mother to compile their list of what they believe to be the best albums of 2006. Already done by Rolling Stone, The Sound Opinion, Pitchfork, Stylus Magazine, Guardian Unlimited,, prefix magazine, The Telegraph, MOJO, Uncut, Q Magazine, and Metacritic – it’s been done to death. Now it’s my turn.

I obviously don’t have the resources that many of these publications have and I’ve only heard a fraction of what’s been released this year, but here’s my list nonetheless. No excuses. No explanations. Just my favorite albums from the past 12 months:

10. Scissor Sisters – Ta-Dah
9. Emily Haines – Knives Don’t Have Your Back
8. Guster – Ganging Up on the Sun
7. Gomez – How We Operate
6. Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere
5. Muse – Black Holes and Revelations
4. Bob Dylan – Modern Times
3. TV On The Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
2. The Killers – Sam’s Town
1. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not

Honorable mention:
Barenaked Ladies – Barenaked Ladies Are Me
Beck – The Information
Paul Simon – Surprise

Little King Macius

Putting my “flexible timetable” at HP to the test, I told my manager that I would be taking most of the week off last week to pursue a new and creative project. My manager responded with, “OK. You can do what you want.” I love my new job 🙂

About six months ago, one of the dubbing studios I work at called me and asked if I’d be interested in heading a new animated series that they had just signed the contract for. Never one to turn down a challenge (or a chance to work on a cartoon), I accepted. The show is called “Little King Macius” – or, in the original French, “Le Petit Roi Macius”.

Apparently based on a true historical figure, “Little King Macius” is about a little orphan boy who is king of an island nation. Intended for 5 to 8 year olds, the charming show has Macius and his little friends going on adventures and learning valuable life lessons while foiling the evil plans of Macius’ military general who will stop at nothing to steal the crown for himself.

The French animation studio that owns/created Macius had already created an entire first season of episodes using voices from a studio in England. The series was dubbed into a bunch of different languages and sold all over the world. It’s apparently very popular in Poland! Now, for one reason or another, the client was looking to switch recording studios and consequently find all new actors. A studio here in Barcelona won the contract and that’s where I come in. After agreeing to head the project, we started with nothing but the scripts for what was to be the next 26 episodes. I recorded all of the voices of all of the character for all 26 episodes over the course of one week. It was great fun! I got to create the characters and their speech patterns and there wasn’t any animation to inhibit my creativity. Once all the reference audio was recorded, the studio was able to start animating the episodes using my voice as a guide.

While they were busy animating, I invited a bunch of my actor friends to the recording studio to audition for the different characters. Of course they had to try and match the voices that were used in the first season as best as they could. I sent the clients three different options for each character and they made the final casting decision. They even chose me for one of the smaller parts! But since I’m also directing the series (meaning, I’m the boss), I’m bound to voice the majority of the incidental characters – like the sailor shouting from the boat as the kids run past or the old man who warns them of the haunted castle. I much prefer using four or five different voices in every episode for smaller characters than using the same voice for one main character. It gives me a chance to constantly invent new characters and find new voices for them.

So last week we started dubbing the first four episodes. I went into the studio every morning to record with a different actor and then I took the train to HP every afternoon. It was a very busy week! We’ll probably receive a new set of four episodes every few weeks until April. I think the series has already been sold to over 20 countries so look for it on a children’s cable network near you!

It’s Freezing

Unfortunately, I’m not talking about the weather here. I wish I was! The ski slopes – from the Pyranese to the Alps – are as dry as a bone and are currently pushing their hiking tours instead of the ski packages I’m usually looking into around this time of year. No, I’m talking about my computer.

All last week, my little lovely had been acting up: random system crashes that left the screen frozen and forced a hard shutdown or restart. This would happen anywhere from once a day to six times a day! I think she knows that I’ve been entertaining the thought of buying an entire new computer rig for the holidays and is protesting. The thing is, I don’t need one. I just kinda want one. At least I thought I didn’t need one!

I like to think that I’m pretty handy with this whole computer thing. I enjoy opening up the innards and messing around under the hood. I think that may be one of the reasons that I want to buy a new computer: I like picking out the pieces and putting it all together myself a la Frankenstein. And if problems ever pop up (as they inevitably do), I can usually diagnose and fix them without breaking a sweat. Well, system crashes are one of the hardest computer problems to diagnose. Just do a Google search for “computer crash” and you’ll see that they can be caused by anything from software conflicts and viruses to overheating and failing memory chips. Last year, after suffering very similar freezes, I discovered that the onboard fan on my graphics card had stopped spinning and, as a result, the card was slowly melting. A new (and significantly upgraded) graphics card solved all my problems. This time, after a week of putting up with a moody computer and hoping the problem would simply go away on its own, I decided to take action. But where to start?

The good new is that I nailed it on my first guess. I performed a thorough scan on my hard drive and found a few bad sectors on my Windows partition. The bad sectors we reallocated to the end of the volume and everything appeared to be running smoothly again. The bad news is that I have bad sectors on my Windows partition. In other words, my hard drive is slowly dying.

After a few days of enjoying uninterrupted computing, she froze again today. I performed another scan and, sure enough, there were more bad sectors. I have renamed my hard drive The Titanic. My job now is to man all the life boats by backing up all my important files and find another seaworthy vessel. This could easily be in the form of another hard drive inserted into my current tower, but if I’m gonna start buying hardware – I know myself – it’s gonna be hard to stop. So, using Chanukah, Christmas, and Reyes as a worthy excuse, it looks like I’ll be ringing in the New Year with a new computer! Now I have to start researching hardware and prices…

Get A Job

Well, it’s been about three months since I started, so I might as well tell you about my new job.

You: What? You have a job?
Me: Yes.
You: You mean, like, a real job?
Me: Yes.
You: C’mon… Really?
Me: Yes. Really.
You: No way. You?! I don’t believe it!! So, you’re telling me…
Me: Yes! I have a job! Will you just shut up already!!
Me: Oh, hey… Listen, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.
You: Gosh, I was just askin’.
Me: I know. I’m sorry. You just wouldn’t drop it.
You: Well, I was surprised, that’ all. You haven’t had a steady job for a decade now. You didn’t have to snap at me like that.
Me: Look, I already said I was sorry. Can we just carry on with the blog entry?
You: Fine…
Me: C’mon, don’t be like that.
You: Be like what?
Me: Alright. Just forget it.
Me: Baby.

Yes, I have a job! And we’re not talking about flippin’ burgers at no McY D’s, either. You, my friends, are reading the blog of Hewlett Packard’s Designjet Content Manager. Pretty impressive, no? Any questions?

You: So, what prompted this radical change in lifestyle?

I have been getting by just fine for the past eight years. Between my theatre, film, voice-over work, and web design projects, I’ve managed to scrape out a living without ever having to worry about the next month’s rent. But it was always a roller coaster. The life of an artist is an unpredictable one and, with little Emily in the picture now, I felt like it was time to settle down and look for something a little more predictable – and stable.

You: So, how did you stumble into this job?

Remember Val? Of course you do! Valerie is the lovely Irish lass who single-handedly made our wedding possible. Well, before organizing weddings here in Barcelona, Val worked for HP as their Designjet Content Manager (sound familiar?). And thanks to the massive success of our wedding, Val has decided to dedicate 100% of her time to organizing weddings and events by starting her own company here and thus end her four year relationship with HP. Being close friends with Val, I was privy to the job opening and she did what she could to get my CV on to the big boss’ desk. My CV got me an interview and my interview, mad skillz, and charm got me the job.

You: So, what do you?

I have to warn you, it’s not the most exciting job in the world. In a nutshell, my primary responsibility is to create and maintain an online database of technical specifications for HP’s Designjet printers. Break it down even more, you say? OK. HP has this printer series called Designjet. These are printers that are bigger than a sofa. When HP develops a new Designjet product, information has to be gathered about this new product. How many pages does this thing print per minute? How much ink does it use? How much does it weigh? All of this info is needed by the folks who make the packaging for the product in the US, guys making web pages in Japan, advertisers in Argentina, and hundreds of other publishers around the world. And we want everyone to have the same accurate information. That’s where I come in. I communicate with the engineers and developers to collect all of the specs (there are over 400 of them!) and then upload them to a database that is accessible by the worldwide publishers. Then, if anything changes, it’s my job to make sure that this database stays up-to-date. Like I said, not the most interesting job in the world, but I’m a computer geek at heart and I create spreadsheets at home in my free time to decide which brand of toothpaste is best suited for me (and most affordable).

You: So, how’s it going?

Great! I’ll be honest with you: the two things that first attracted me to this job were that I get to make my own hours and that I get paid very well. These are a “must” for a free spirit like myself to voluntarily get tied down to an “office job”. Yup, I’ve got my own cubicle, laptop, and docking station. I’m officially part of the Marketing Department and I couldn’t be happier with the people I work with. Most of the people at HP in Barcelona are Spanish but, since HP is an American “International” company, all official business is conducted in English. I still get to chat in Spanish or Catalan with my workmates, though.

The site itself is great. It takes me exactly one hour to get from my front door to my desk at work. I’ve been happily filling this time by watching tons of TV shows on my Palm pilot. Very much resembling a college campus, the main building at HP Barcelona is like an airplane hangar filled with cubicles. Then there’s the cafeteria which offers surprisingly good fare for very reasonable prices. We’ve got vending machines in the common area and by the deli counter and there’s all the coffee, tea, and chocolate milk you can drink. Oh, and did I mention the fitness room, soccer field, running paths, and basketball, tennis, and volleyball courts? There’s a group of guys who play volleyball outside every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’ve played with them a couple times and the level is surprisingly good. I’d play more often but it’s hard to rationalize taking two hours out of your day to play when you’re getting paid by the hour. Maybe playing once a week will make up for the fact that I’ve had to give up playing volleyball with the team in Vall d’Hebron this year. A guy’s gotta stay in shape!

I was told that I would be working a minimum of 25 hours a week. I did the math and figured that this would be enough money to support the family. Ever since I started, though, I’ve been clocking about 40 hours a week! Good thing I get paid by the hour. We’re on a six month product introduction cycle – one spring intro and one fall intro – and my job is very much concentrated on the start of every cycle. This means that, with any luck, things will settle down a bit after New Year’s. The goal is to get my hours down to around 30 a week and do three days in the office, one day from home, and take one day off. I’m hoping to use that day off to take Emily to our gym once a week for swimming classes starting in January or February 🙂

You: So, can you get me a cheap printer?
Me: No.

Three Months

Happy three month birthday, Emily.

So what has she accomplished this past month? Well, we all know that she discovered the existence of her right fist and could sometimes (with much concentration) insert said fist into her mouth. Now, not only has she realized that her hands come in pairs, but she quickly learned how to clasp these hands in front of her. And twiddle her thumbs. And play “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. Kinda. She has also greatly improved her aim when inserting both hands in her mouth (not at the same time) and now enjoys an 80% success rate. Also, we now have more hand shape options. One month ago today, Emily was only able to take advantage of two-thirds of a Rock Paper Scissor game. It was fairly easy to beat her back then. Well, we now have scissors. And those “scissors” can usually be found in her mouth – accompanied by a loud sucking noise. And along with the scissors has come some genuine scissor action. Yes, Houston, we have grabbing. Grabbing and holding. But nothing heavier than Mr. Hoppity’s ears. Plus, in addition to the winning smile, we have had reports of the occasional giggle.

To celebrate this joyous day, I’ve uploaded a new set of glamor photos to my Photo Page. They highlight Emily’s second and third months of life. I think I’ll upload another album after her sixth month and then some more after her ninth and twelfth. That’s the plan, at least.

Yo ho ho

Home Alone

I’m baby sitting tonight. Jan is off at a dinner/party at her friend Jane’s house and so that leaves Emily and me home alone. At least we’ve got each other. I wish I could do this more often and let Jan escape every once and a while, but my job has been dominating my life for the past few months. That should hopefully change once 2007 rolls around.

Jan has been so amazing with Emily. They’re home together all day everyday. I know that irregular sleep patterns and the occasional bout of cabin fever threaten the very fabric of Jan’s sanity, but Emily really has made life easier than it could have been. She’s not a picky baby or a sicky baby, she hasn’t had any problems feeding or sleeping, and she only cries for a very limited number of reasons – all fairly easily dealt with once diagnosed. We really have been very lucky.

But here I am. We had a great time earlier singing along with my random playlists on the computer. She loves it when I sing to her! (hey, I never said she had taste) Propped up in her car seat beside the computer, Emily giggled and cheered as I sang selected hits from Billy Joel, Guster, and Elton John. She also appreciated my percussion solo to The James Taylor Quartet’s rendition of the theme song from Starsky and Hutch.

And then came feeding time. She’s still demanding her meals about every three hours, but she could go for as long as six hours or as little as an hour and a half. She likes to keep us on our toes. We’ve got enough mommy milk in the freezer to feed a small army – if armies drank mommy milk – so Emily and I were set for the night. My favorite part of feeding Emily is how she stares deep in to my eyes while I hold the bottle for her as she calmly gulps away. My second favorite part is burping her afterwards. I sit her on my lap and support her chest with one hand while I pound the gas out of her with the other hand. Sure, the sweet little eruption is fun, but the vacant zombie-like stare that she assumes during the burping procedure is what keeps me coming back:

The Burp Look