July 9, 2013

Summer Holidays Checklist 2013!

Filed under: Writing — Tags: , — Screenhog @ 10:13 pm

It’s occurred to me that a large number of the visitors to this site are in summer holidays right now, and that some of them are getting bored. Now, I find that crazy, since summer holidays were the absolute best times to get stuff done, but if you’re looking for suggestions of things to do, I present:

Screenhog’s Checklist Of Random Stuff To Do Because You Feel Like It And Doing New Things Is Cool!

  1. Learn to do something with your right hand that you can only do with your left (or vice versa).
  2. Learn to write your name in Chinese.
  3. Go to a park. Pick up 50 pieces of trash.
  4. Find a country that you know almost nothing about, then find a way to say hello to someone from that country.
  5. Learn to draw an optical illusion.
  6. Solve a Rubiks Cube.
  7. Use Lego to build a tower 2 meters high.
  8. Write a short story using Up Goer Five.
  9. Attain a score greater than 10,000 on Geoguessr.
  10. Make a light bulb glow using wires and some kind of battery.
  11. Create a sentence that makes sense, but that you think no one in the history of the world has ever said.
  12. Finish a crossword puzzle.
  13. Pick your favorite movie, and listen to its soundtrack.
  14. Learn a hobby that doesn’t require electricity to do.
  15. Make a comic that’s one page long.
  16. Find a recipe for a dessert, and try to make it.
  17. Mix Diet Coke and Mentos. (Outside, please!)
  18. Read a novel. Yes, the whole thing.
  19. Find a type of bug near your house that you’ve never noticed before.
  20. Learn how long the Hundred Years War was.
  21. Build a sculpture. (Possible materials include sand, clay, dough, and dirty laundry.)
  22. Take a board game that you own, make a completely new set of rules with a friend, and try to play it.
  23. Learn more about what one of your parents does for a living.
  24. Buy someone an ice cream.
  25. Learn a dance.
  26. Forgive someone. Especially if they really hurt you.
  27. Learn a new way to fold a paper airplane.
  28. Get one of your favourite junk foods. Read the ingredients, find out what each one is, and then dare yourself to eat it again.
  29. Draw a seven-legged creature. Bonus: draw it participating in each stage of a triathlon.
  30. Get someone else to do the things on this list, adding a challenge of your own.

 

March 18, 2013

“What’s In The Bible” – video series review

Filed under: Christianity,Reviews,Writing — Screenhog @ 9:41 pm

(The Bible) is the best-selling, most influential book in history. It has been banned, burned, smuggled, fought for, lived for, and even died for, and yet many of us hardly know what’s in it.

- Phil Vischer (creator of What’s in the Bible)

“Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”

- Isaac Asimov, science fiction writer

I’ve been a Christian for most of my life. I’ve been through countless Sunday School classes and Christian summer camps, which means that I’ve seen more than my share of Christian-themed videos. Some depicted Bible stories, others were about Christian morals, and some even managed to squeeze in a Bible verse or two.

However, I’ve seen nothing quite like this series. It all centers around one core idea – take the entire Bible, from beginning to end, explain it as simply and completely as possible for anyone who happens to watch it, and entertain them while doing it. The result is “Buck Denver Asks: What’s In The Bible?”, a 13 DVD series of hour-long videos.

Buck Denver, like most of the characters on the show, is a puppet, which may give you the impression that this is entirely a preschool show. Fortunately, that’s not the case: while it does go through the classic Sunday School stories like David & Goliath or the parting of the Red Sea, it goes through plenty of higher concepts too, such as how the canon of the Bible was decided, or the relevance of old Jewish laws for Christians today. It also doesn’t shy away from asking the difficult questions: why is there so much killing in the Old Testament? Why would a loving God allow sin?

While this kind of subject matter would seem dry or depressing at first glance, the show does a good job of keeping things light through witty characters (brother adventurers Clive and Ian being my personal favourites). And, to keep things on track, the show never fails to mention that the Bible is actually all about a single story: the fall of man from a state of perfection, and God’s rescue plan of redemption.

Admittedly, the show is not without its faults. Some of the humour does fall flat, and the song quality varies greatly. It also lacks a good female presence: while four of the show’s puppet characters are female, only one of them shows up with much frequency. (The lack of a female presence didn’t exactly hurt the popularity of The Muppets, but it is worth mentioning.)

When I read the news, it’s interesting to see both non-Christians and Christians are encouraging people to read the Bible, albeit with different motives. Many non-Christians believe that people only talk about the Bible as “the good book” out of ignorance, and that if they truly read the book, they’d see it for what it really is. On the other hand, many Christians believe that within the Bible are the keys for people to find life’s meaning and true joy, and groups such as the Gideons hand out thousands of Bibles for free just to get the word out.

In the midst of it all, there’s “What’s in the Bible”, doing its best to introduce as many people as possible to what the Bible is and why it matters. And although the series isn’t completely finished yet (as of this writing, DVD 10 was just released), I’m pretty impressed with how well it’s doing it.

July 13, 2012

Caring About the Globe… and Why we Don’t

Filed under: Opinion,Writing — Screenhog @ 9:02 am

Last week, CBC radio – Canada’s national radio station – were discussing a question: why don’t people care more about global climate change? Now, there was a lot of discussion back and forth, much of it from people that were genuinely surprised that there even WERE people who don’t care about it.

It doesn’t surprise me at all.

There was a study done once on how people donate to charity. (I promise this will relate to the climate change thing in a moment.) The study did two tests. In the first test, people were given $5 for performing a survey, but after the survey, they were told about how there were a million people in some African nation who were in desperate need of food, water, and medicine. They were then given the chance to donate some of their $5 towards the charity.

In the second test, other people were still given $5 for performing a survey, but after the survey, they were told about a single child in that nation who was in desperate need of food, water, and medicine, with some details were given about that child’s life and family. The second group was also given the chance to donate some of their $5 towards the charity.

The people who donated towards the million people in Africa gave an average of $1.14. The people who donated to the child gave an average of $2.38.1 That’s more than double. Crazy, but true. See, when people see a challenge that they truly can’t do something about on their own, they’re less likely to even try. A million people? I can’t possibly help that many. One person? Sure, I can help!

So, what does this have to do with climate change?

(click to read the rest of this post…)

  1. Source: “Made To Stick”, written by Chip and Dan Heath, 2007

June 12, 2012

The Wii U – Nintendo knows exactly what it’s doing

Filed under: Opinion,Video Games,Writing — Tags: — Screenhog @ 8:43 pm

I’ve made it no secret in the past that my favorite video game console of all time is the Nintendo Wii. So, I’ve been following the news about the Wii U, Nintendo’s upcoming console, with quite a bit of interest. Many of Nintendo’s fans have been wondering why the Wii’s successor looks the way it does. A tablet with buttons? What was Nintendo thinking? To be honest, I wondered the same thing, until I thought some more and realized that the Wii U is exactly what Nintendo’s next console had to be.

First, some background. When it launched in 2006, the Nintendo Wii caught the world by storm. For over 2 years after that launch, it was difficult to even find the Wii on store shelves. As of May 2012, over 90 million Wiis have been sold. Despite heavy declines in recent years, the system has been huge for Nintendo. However, the Wii also had some faults, some which got worse with age (such as the lack of support for HDTVs). Nintendo knew that it would have to make a new console soon, and that it would need these features:

- Backwards compatibility. When your previous console sold 90 million units, it would be a serious mistake to make those games impossible to play on your brand new console. (I’m looking at you, Playstation)
- High-definition support. HDTVs were relatively uncommon in 2006. Now, not so much.
- Better ways to connect online.

There are others, I’m sure, but I want to focus on the first one, backwards compatibility. To make the new console work with Wii games, it needs to support the Wii Remote, which is a big restriction. But, it also has to have something unique, something that will make the new console truly feel like an upgrade. What to do?

Nintendo’s answer? Turn the next-generation Wii into a gigantic Nintendo DS.

The DS was launched in 2004, and when its various incarnations are included – DS Lite, DSi, and DSi XL – it has sold a combined 150 million units. The newer 3DS, while having a slow start, has become a good-selling console as well, and both the DS and 3DS lines have been remarkably capable in a variety of game genres.

The handheld DS console has two screens, and games are played one screen or the other depending on context. The bottom screen is touch sensitive, the top screen is not. The left side has a D-Pad (directional buttons shaped like a plus sign), while the right side has four circular buttons in a diamond shape. On the top corners of the lower screen, there are two “shoulder buttons” for additional functions.

I have just described the DS. I have also just described the Wii U.

This is the Wii U. It has two screens; your TV, and the Wii U Gamepad, which looks a whole lot like the bottom screen of the DS. The Gamepad has a touch-sensitive screen that can communicate with the main TV screen. The Wii U is a super-sized DS.

I’m not the only one to figure this out, by the way. Scribblenauts, a popular game series for the DS, is making its way to the Wii U, and it appears to play just the same way on the Wii U as it did on the DS.

Bottom line, Nintendo knows what it’s doing with the Wii U.

Now, for some predictions about the Wii U:

- Scribblenauts won’t be the only major DS franchise to come to the Wii U. Other DS titles, like Pokemon and Rhythm Heaven, would be natural fits to move to the console.
- There will be more video games that end in the letter “u” released in the next two years than in the entire history of games combined.
- The Wii U will be less successful than the Wii was. The Wii was a perfect storm of popularity, and expecting Nintendo to beat that is unfair.
- At least a few of the most popular games on the Wii U will be completely new games, not based on any existing Nintendo IP (Mario, Zelda, etc.). The over-reliance on sequels isn’t healthy.
- I will help make a game for the Wii U. (At the moment, this is wishful thinking, but I am hopeful that it will come true.)

September 13, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 14: Humbled by Beethoven

Filed under: Comics,Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

This will be my last “Orchestra of One” post for awhile. It’s been fun, but I only have so much time available to me, and I want to put other things on Screenhog.com (comic updates, for instance, have been pretty sparse lately). However, before I go on my hiatus, I’d like to share a story.

Last year, I attended a concert in which an orchestra was about to perform Beethoven’s Symphony #5. Now, I’d already been composing music commercially for a few years, and I was feeling pretty confident about my own skills as a composer, thinking that I was a pretty awesome composer, if I said so myself.

However, any pride in my own abilities was pretty much crushed as soon as the orchestra started, though. The entire symphony was absolutely beautiful, and I sat in my seat amazed by the skill in what I’d heard. “Beethoven was able to come up with something this beautiful? 200 years ago? Without computers? WHILE DEAF?!?”

Clearly, I still have a lot to learn.

You do too. Beethoven1, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Bach… we will likely never get the point where we’re considered a master like they were. In some ways, that’s kinda depressing.

But on the other hand, we also have advantages that they could never have dreamed about. We have access to instruments that weren’t even invented when they were alive. Every major song created in the last 200 years can be instantly available to us to learn from. Musicians are paid more than they ever have been in history.2 And, most importantly, we have tools at our disposal capable of almost perfectly recreating the sound of an entire orchestra… by ourselves!

There has never been a better time to be a composer. I hope that the articles I’ve written so far have helped to inspire you, and I imagine I’ll be writing more in the future. If there’s a song you want to share, put it online3 and post about it in the comments! I’d love to hear what you’ve made.

Previous: Chapter 13: How to Get Noticed

Footnotes:

  1. It’s difficult for me to think of Beethoven without thinking of Schroeder from the Peanuts comic strip. So, here he is.
  2. Yes, despite the high number of “starving artists” out there. It’s a frequently ignored fact that, throughout most of history, artists didn’t get paid (or if they did, it was in tangible things like room and board, not in money).
  3. Getting a song online is actually pretty easy. There’s a lot of free webhosting out there.

September 6, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 13: How to Get Noticed

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

Since starting this series, I’ve been asked many questions about composing from readers just like you, and the most frequent questions I’ve been asked have been things like “How do I get my music to be noticed by more people?” or “How can I get people to hire me to make music for them?” It’s natural… you’re an artist, which means that a.) you want more people to see the awesome work you do, and b.) you’d probably like to make some money doing it.

Now, honestly, I don’t know how to answer this question for you, specifically. The answer for every artist is different. But I do have some advice, and while it might be a bit boring to read, if you understand it, it should help you. (By the way, unlike my other chapters in this series, this advice can easily apply to all artists.)

There are two keys to long-term success in an art form: what you know and who knows you.
(click to read the rest of this post…)

August 30, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 12: Echo, Echo

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

Audio effects are things which are added to sound with the purpose of warping the sound in some way, and up until this point, I haven’t talked about them very much. This is partially due to the fact that I don’t generally use a lot of audio effects in my recordings, but it’s also because I’m just not very good at using most audio effects properly. However, there’s one category of effects that is vital for a composer to try and understand; the echo.
(click to read the rest of this post…)

August 23, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 11: Lessons from a Shark

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

Jaws was a film made in 1975. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it was the story of a shark that terrorized the ocean, and was arguably the first movie to introduce the world to one of the best composers in the film industry, John Williams.

The soundtrack for Jaws is filled with sweeping orchestral arrangements, original themes for the main characters 1, and a high level of musical craftsmanship. However, when you think of the music in Jaws, what is the only thing you remember about it?

Ba-dum.

You don’t have to know a thing about playing a musical instrument to play the theme to Jaws. Just find a piano, pick a note on the far left-hand side, find the note directly above it, and play those notes alternately, increasing in speed and volume. And yet, it’s one of the most famous movie themes in history. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

But what can we learn from this?
(click to read the rest of this post…)

  1. When a character in a movie or play has a specific theme relating to them, it’s called a “leitmotif”. John Williams uses a lot of these in his movies, and the technique brings a great deal of consistency to his work.

August 16, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 10: Occupational Hazards

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

Composing music is a pretty safe job. We’re not working hundreds of feet above or below the ground, we’re not handling dangerous machinery, and no one will die if we do our job wrong. It is a job with very few hazards… but there are still hazards. Here’s a list of some of them, with some solutions of how to combat them.

Hazard #1: You’ve come up with a great song, but you have no place to record it.

Contrary to what some might think, composers do not just stop composing when they’re away from an instrument. In fact, I come up with some of my best songs when I’m doing pretty random things. Showering, washing dishes, driving, having a picnic… you never know when a great song will strike you, but what do you do when there’s no place to record it?

The solution is to always have some way to record it. Most cell phones have some kind of ability to download applications. I have one myself called “Tape-a-Talk”, which was designed for recording audio like a dictaphone. If I come up with a song, wherever I am, I can take a moment to hum it into my cell phone, recording it for later.

However, a cell phone isn’t the only thing that I’ve used for this purpose. For instance, one day I was walking to a church picnic, when I came up with a great song idea. I didn’t have a cell phone with me, but I did have digital camera that could take short video clips. So, I recorded myself humming into the camera. That melody later became my song Cumulonimbus (which can be heard in the Music Player).
(click to read the rest of this post…)

August 9, 2011

An Orchestra of One – Chapter 9: MIDI Trickery

Filed under: Music,Orchestra of One,Writing — Screenhog @ 1:00 am

For this chapter, I’m assuming that you know the difference between MIDI and wave audio. If you don’t, search online for a refresher of how it works.

MIDI, while quite misunderstood by many, is an extremely powerful tool for recording. Because it only records the data of how an instrument should be played, it’s easy to edit and finetune a recording to your liking. However, you might not realize that certain MIDI tricks can make you a better performer than you actually are.
(click to read the rest of this post…)

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