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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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waving our arms under the white sky
december 1, 2009

We finally bought a digital camcorder.

We've had an analog camcorder since 1987. We were living in Maine at the time, and bought it at a local J.C. Penney's in Portland in anticipation of moving again soon.

Our first video film was inadvertent. It's actually extreme close-ups of our faces as we stare down into the lens, ceiling of our then-apartment floating above the annoyed looks on our giant faces. The audio is something along the lines of, "Why isn't it working?" "Jesus, for this amount of money, you'd think…"

That JVC camcorder, about the size and weight of one of the rapid-fire machine guns used in Aliens, recorded a long lot of years of our life together. We did about twenty hours of videos traveling from Maine down to Florida, across to California, up through Canada to Alaska, then back down through Canada to Dallas, where we wound up. After that, we used a two-hour videotape to record throughout each year the events in our lives. Finding a job, getting our cats, trying new recipes, buying our home, creating our garden. Each New Year's Day, we'd get in bed and watch the prior year's video. The memories were always great. (And while we were still in Maine we also made a two hour comedy together, just the two of us appearing in it, called The Rob and Mary Show, consisting of a dozen different comedy skits. It took us about a hundred hours to make, what with all the rehearsals and props.)

So we have a long shelf of our videotaped lives together.

But somewhere around 2000, we stopped making videos. Part of it was because the JVC, by then, was "old technology", so it was hard to find a new rechargeable battery when our original one, the length and half the width of a black brick, finally gave out. Part of it too, frankly, is that as you get older, I think you tend to take fewer photographs and videos of yourself and your life. Whereas before, if we got a freak snowstorm in Dallas, Mary and I would take turns filming it, waving our arms under the white sky, now we're much more likely to simply enjoy the happy event, drinking our coffee inside, without documenting it.

But an idea we had been kicking around for a while was recording a lot of the stories Joe, Mary's dad, has told over the years. He's lived a fascinating life, growing up through prohibition and the Great Depression, serving in World War Two, becoming a rocket scientist, traveling around the world. He even saw Frank Sinatra perform once, back in Sinatra's skinny, radio idol days. And he is a natural story teller. So we thought, why not get the story of his life on film, then edit it into a two hour documentary we can share with his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and future generations?

I went on the Internet, looking for a digital camcorder.

The thing about the Internet, as we all know, is that there is an information overload. I'd Google "best digital camcorder", and dozens of review sites would come up. Which is great. But because you're not talking to an expert, you're talking to a crowd, any assessment of a camcorder is all over the place. I go on Amazon, where they have user reviews. Quite a few people give a particular camcorder a five-star rating, explaining why, but then there are all the one-star reviews from people who have had serious problems. From a five-star review: "Easy to use, superb product." From a one-star review: "Not at all intuitive, the program crashes every time I try to load it."

So who do you believe?

We finally wound up buying a Flip camcorder. It cost $160, far lower than we expected to spend. We knew it was "compact", but when we unpacked it from the white Styrofoam and protective plastic, we were surprised at just how small it was-about the size of a pack of cigarettes.

But it does take great video.

Flip comes with its own movie-editing software, but it is rudimentary. What I wanted to do with the documentary, as well as with some short films I wanted to shoot, required more editing options.

Fortunately, these days it's possible to download a free 30-day trial of almost any software out there.

I tried quite a few.

Cyberlink's Power Director, Corel's Video Studio, and Magix' Movie Edit Pro all had impressive work screens and features, but I found it very difficult to figure out how to perform some of the most basic functions of editing, such as deleting frames from within a clip, rearranging the order of clips, or synchronizing the video track with a supplemental track (such as background music). The manuals that came with the software were useless. And I say this as someone who knows Flash, and immediately recognized the similarities the softwares shared with Flash (a library, timeline, etc.) Technical writers should never write technical writing. Technical writing should be written by poets.

So I tried Adobe's Premiere Elements.

Adobe, to me, is the perfect example of what a software company should be. If software was furniture, Adobe's would be a solid, unbreakable table, built by a master German craftsman, that could take a direct atomic bomb hit with you and your family underneath eating ice cream (as opposed, say, to Microsoft, whose table would be constructed out of three playing cards.) (In an email recently to Joe, where we were both grousing about Microsoft troubles we were having, I made the point that we should be grateful Microsoft chose the software business. Imagine for a moment if Bill Gates had decided to spend his life building skyscrapers, or bridges, or elevators. Can you imagine the carnage?)

Adobe Acrobat is a powerful document management tool. Adobe Photoshop is used by most professional photographers.

But Adobe's Premiere Elements?

I looked at some Amazon users' reviews, and was really surprised they were almost all extremely negative.

I tried downloading the 30-day trial anyway. It took an hour (the file is over a gigabyte in size.) Once it was downloaded, I kept getting an error message every time I tried to open it.

So I have no idea if Premiere Elements is as bad as some users have said it is, but I don't want to waste any more of my life trying to download a gigabyte software program.

What was I to do?

In this darkest moment of heart-rending despair (not really) I decided to try Sony's Vegas Movie Studio Platinum.

And it worked. And it made sense. And I could actually edit clips using it.

Sony's manual is only a little better than the other companies' manuals, but what Sony has going for it is an incredibly helpful feature built into the software itself called, "How Do I?"

I select, for example, How Do I Edit a Clip?

And that opens up an interactive feature that explains, step by step, how to edit a clip. I mean, REALLY explains how to edit a clip. One box highlights the section of the screen you need to use. An adjacent box gives a plain-language explanation of what to do in that highlighted section. If there's a tab you need to press at one point, a flashing hand points at that tab.

I can't recommend it enough.

Joe will be arriving soon for his annual stay with us over the holidays, during which we'll film the raw footage for the documentary (we're figuring twelve to fourteen hours.)

Each year I post the meals we'll be eating, the movies we'll see. Here's this year's list:

Sunday, December 20

Romano's Macaroni Grill Shrimp and Artichoke Dish

Monday, December 21

Eggs Benedict
Mary's Sea Scallops in Fresh Basil and Cream Sauce
Where the Heart Is

Tuesday, December 22

Sausage and Eggs
Manicotti alla Romano

Wednesday, December 23

Monkey Bread
Trip to Central Market
Steamed Lobster
Swing Vote

Thursday, December 24

Bagels with Cream Cheese and Olives
Raw Oysters, Steamed Clams and Deep Fried Shrimp

Friday, December 25

Christmas Mass
Joan's Christmas Bread
Prime Rib Roast
Under the Yum Yum Tree

Saturday, December 26

Classic Diner Breakfast
Chicken Enchiladas in Poblano and Spinach Sauce
The Unforgiven

Sunday, December 27

Mary McMuffins
Hot Cheese Chicken
The Edge

Monday, December 28

Chicken-Fried Steak
Julie and Juila

Tuesday, December 29

Bacon and Eggs
Salisbury Steak, Macaroni and Cheese and Spinach Soufflé
The Great Buck Howard

Wednesday, December 30

Selected Breads and Butters
Trip to Local Markets
Lobster Thermidor
The Taking of Pelham 123

Thursday, December 31

Sausage and Eggs
Gone, Baby, Gone
Spaghetti Carbonara
The Proposal

Friday, January 1

New Year's Day Mass
Classic Diner Breakfast
Shrimp Etouffee
A Perfect Murder

Saturday, January 2

Mary McMuffins
Short Ribs Braised in Burgundy
Jagged Edge

Sunday, January 3

Huevos Rancheros
Beef and Cheese Enchiladas

Monday, January 4

Ham and Mushroom Omelets
Chicken and Dumplings

Tuesday, January 5

Eggs Benedict

My 11,000 word story, Nobody I Knew, is in the latest issue of Midnight Street (number 13).

This will be the final print edition of the magazine.

Next year, editor-publisher Trevor Denyer will be going to an online PDF version, although he will also launch an annual print anthology.

During its print run, Midnight Street has been one of the higher-profile magazines in speculative fiction. Many of its stories have received Honorable Mentions from Ellen Datlow in her The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies, my short story The Machine of a Religious Man (first printed in Midnight Street) was reprinted in one of the anthologies, and Midnight Street has been short-listed more than once by the British Fantasy Society.

I'm sorry to see the print edition go, but excited to find out what Trevor has planned for us next.