Gila Monster

My first Final Cut Express video project.

After spending three days going through a tutorial to learn Final Cut Express HD, I was ready to create my first video project. I’m sharing it with blog readers so you can see how much effort a person can expend on 25 seconds of video.

About the Project

This particular project features a Gila Monster (pronounced “heela monster”), which is a rather large lizard that can be found in the Arizona desert. If I’m lucky, I see one or two of these in a year, so they’re not exactly common. They are, like so many things in the desert, poisonous, so you don’t want to get too close. But since they’re not exactly fast and they’re definitely not aggressive, you can get photos of them in action if you have equipment with you.

On a backroad trip with Mike and some friends, we happened to come upon one croassing the road. I had my video camera with me and whipped it out to capture some pretty decent footage. This Final Cut Express project cuts out the boring shaky bits, replaces our silly comments with music, and adds opening and closing titles. This is the first in a series of short videos I hope to add to, so make the site more interesting to visitors.

But this is also an experiment to check out video formats and Final Cut Express’s export feature. I had great success when exporting to QuickTime movie format, for iPod, and for Apple TV. But the Windows Media Player export didn’t work right at all and the AVI format was extremely poor quality, despite the file size, so I’m not going to distribute them. I just spent another few minutes using the iPod version of the file to create an e-mail version using QuickTime’s Share command. That worked best of all for the Web view of the file. Only 3.3 MB (which is smaller than the iPod version, and it looks pretty good.

Getting it Online

XHTML purists will tell you that the EMBED tag is a no-no in Web development. I think it has something to do with Internet Explorer which, for some reason, can’t interpret XHTML and CSS like the rest of the Web browsers on this planet.

So this project is also an experiment to see if the QuickTime Embed plugin for WordPress will work. If you’re reading this article shortly after I put it online and there’s no QuickTime movie below (or if the whole site is messed up), it’s because I’m trying this out and debugging. (Check in again in about 30 minutes.)

That said, here’s the movie with a Poster movie. I think I’l leave the iPod file for distribution.

Apple Collectibles

1996 Annual Report, Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, and more.

Today, while filing away some old investment papers, I stumbled upon a copy of Apple’s 1996 Annual Report and accompanying Report to Shareholders. Still in near perfect condition, I did what any self-respecting computer geek would do: I put it on eBay:

1996 was not a good year for Apple Computer. Gil Amelio was Chairman of the Board and CEO. The company reported a net loss of $816 million. And the company was trying hard to maintain its ever-dwindling market share.

The 1996 Apple Annual Report offers a “darkest hour” snapshot of the now-thriving company with a solid reputation for creating innovative, easy-to-use products. 36 pages in near perfect condition, with the original 6-color Apple logo on the back cover.

Also in the package is the oversized booklet titled “Looking Forward: A Report to Shareholders.” This promotional document was Apple’s attempt to keep existing shareholders by painting a rosy picture of the company’s future. The booklet’s cover features a child holding an eMate 300, which is also illlustrated in the booklet’s centerfold. Other products featured in the document include the MessagePad 2000, PowerBok 1400, Performa 6400, and original Power Macintosh.

Do you collect Apple memorabilia? If so, don’t miss this chance to own a piece of Apple’s financial past.

After listing this item, I decided to see what else was listed in Vintage Apple/Macintosh > Other Vintage Apple category. A lot of old stuff. Very old stuff. Like Apple IIe disk drives and Prometheus modems and more than a few Apple Newton eMates (featured in my annual report!).

Twentieth Anniversary MacintoshThis got me thinking about my own Apple antique: a Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Yes, I bought one of those. No, I didn’t pay $8,000 for it. (That was the original selling price.) I got it for about $2,000 using a hardware discount I used to get as an Apple consultant.

The computer has been sitting on a sofa table in my living room for the past eight years. It’s really an amazing piece of work. It has a LCD monitor — a big deal in those days — CD-ROM drive, floppy drive, FM radio receiver, television tuner (really!), and removable trackpad. Oh, yeah — and a Bose sound system.

It has a PowerPC 603e processor and came with System 7.6 (if you want to get a real idea of dates here) but I think I have Mac OS 8 running on it. (Read more specs.) I used to use it to play music when I was working around the kitchen. I have since taught it how to display photos and play music from my iPod. The screen is small, but the sound system really is good.

For at least the past year, I thought it was broken. It wouldn’t go on when I pushed the power button. I had a sneaking suspicion that someone had spilled water into the subwoofer, which also houses the power supply. I never thought to check all the connections.

Until today. And that’s when I discovered that the surge suppressor it’s attached to is dead. Remove the suppressor, plug the darn thing right into a wall outlet, and it works! Woo-hoo!

No, I’m not going to put it on eBay.

But I do have a bunch of other old Apple stuff that will make its way to eBay soon:

  • There’s a strawberry iMac (a G3) that I need to restore to its original hardware and pack up. I don’t expect to get much for it, despite the fact that it works perfectly fine.
  • There are about 20 never-worn Apple-related T-shirts carefully packed in plastic in my clothes closet. Shirts from Apple’s heydays, when Macworld Expo was one party after another. (I remember seeing Jefferson Starship playing at one party while Chris Issacs was playing at another across San Francisco.)
  • There are Apple Marketing CDs, full of documents to help retailers sell Macs.
  • And then there’s my prized collectible: Two versions of the Mac OS 8 demo CD, released about a year apart. The first version had a lot of weird/cool/funky features that never made it into Mac OS 8. It’s amazing to compare the two.
  • And in my safe: a 50-share stock certificate for Apple Computer, Inc. stock, representing my initial investment in the company. It has the original Apple logo on it, too.

What brings all this up? I’m just so tickled that the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh still works! I couldn’t imagine where I might get the darn thing fixed if it didn’t.

The Ups and Downs of Ups and Downs

There’s always one in the crowd.

My company, Flying M Air, did helicopter rides at an airport event in Buckeye, AZ last weekend. I believe it’s called the Buckeye Airport Open House.

The Event

The folks at Buckeye really know how to put on a safe and fun family event. They had a D.J. playing music, classic and experimental aircraft on display and flying by, flight schools, an Army recruiter, fire trucks, a medevac helicopter, a crop-dusting helicopter, and parachute jumpers. They also had a bunch of food vendors and a train to take little kids on rides around the airport.

It was an annual event and this was our third year participating. Although attendance was down a bit this year from last year, we still managed to give about 50 rides, five of which were freebies awarded as raffle prizes.

The Airport staff had set me up on a ramp that connected the main parking area with the taxiway. This was an excellent location because it gave us plenty of space on pavement to operate and made it very easy for us to secure the landing zone. Best of all, it was within view of all attendees, so everyone got a chance to watch me take off and land. (Funny how normal helicopter operations can make their own “air show” for folks who don’t usually get to see helicopters operate.)

They were supposed to have a B-25 parked behind me, but the plane had some engine problems and couldn’t attend. I had mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I was glad that we wouldn’t have to worry about people behind my landing zone. On the other hand, I was disappointed for the attendees, because I knew they’d like to see the plane.

Just Say No to Long Lines

In the past, we’ve always been the busiest “vendor” at the event. During the past two years, I’d continued flying at least an hour after all the other vendors had closed up and gone home, just to work off the line that had formed. I clearly remember flying in at the end of a ride to see eight or ten people waiting in the shade under the wings of a parked aircraft on the ramp. They were waiting for me.

This year, we decided to keep the price the same but shorten up the rides a bit to prevent hour-long lines from forming. Our prices continue to rise — 100LL fuel is now more than $4/gallon at most airports — but we figured that with shorter rides, we’d still come out okay. I liked keeping the price affordable — $35/person — so people could afford to fly and to take their kids. (I always fly a lot of kids at this event.) So I aimed for the low end of our usual 8 to 10 minute flight range. Although actual ride length varied depending on the wind and maneuvers I needed to perform to avoid skydivers and other aircraft, most rides probably came in right around 8 minutes.

It’s important to note here that we never advertised the ride length. It did not appear on any sign. When asked, my ground crew — Mike, Darlene, and Dave — would tell passengers that the ride went out toward the town of Buckeye and came back on a different route. When pressed, Darlene gave out the usual 8 to 10 minute range. None of them were actually timing me. I’d timed the first few rides to make sure I had a suitable route and then stopped timing. I have better things to do when I fly than to watch the chronometer — like making sure the skydivers weren’t going to miss the mark and land on the taxiway in front of me as I approached. The passengers, on the other hand, could easily see how long the rides were by timing them as they waited.

The Route

The flight was a good mix of farmland, new development, and empty desert. I took off, following the taxiway parallel to Runway 17, then headed east toward downtown Phoenix. Early in the morning, it was hazy and the buildings in the distance were impossible to see, but as the sun moved across the sky and the air cleared a bit, details emerged.

We flew over some freshly sown farmland that was being irrigated. In this area, they use gravity to siphon water from a narrow irrigation canal through short lengths of tube that run from the canal to the beginning of deeply cut irrigation rows between rows of crops. The water flows down the rows and, as you fly over it, the sun reflects off its moving surface.

Beyond that, in another field, farm workers were cutting alfalfa. A cutting machine would drive up and down the field, neatly cutting the crop. Then another machine would gather the cuttings into narrow piles of the stuff. A third machine, paired up with a big open-backed truck, would come down the rows, scoop up the cut alfalfa, and dump it into the back of the truck. I found the process fascinating and watched its progress all day. To the south of that, beyond our flight path but still visible, plows worked on another field, sending up clouds of dust that blew back toward the airport in the strong breeze.

Next came a former farm field that had been prepared for a housing development. You could clearly see where the roads and sidewalks and homes would go. But construction had never begun and weeds were growing tall in many areas. Beyond that was a brand new housing development that hadn’t been there the year before. Probably about 200 homes, a school, and a park.

This is where we made our turn to the left, crossing I-10, rounding the east end of a tall hill, and following what I was told was McDowell Road heading west. Now we were over empty desert. Well, empty if you don’t consider the people illegally shooting at makeshift shooting ranges and the incredible amounts of trash dumped out there. We crossed this area with a tailwind, following a fenceline. Ahead of us, in the distance, we could clearly see the Palo Verde nuclear power plant. Below us were a few homes, then more, then more. About two miles from the airport, I’d make my radio call and start scanning the skies for jumpers. I’d turn final for the taxiway parallel to runway 17 and land at the ramp where I was set up for operations.

A Busy Day…and a Crazy Lady

I flew pretty much nonstop from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM. Then I took a break to use the bathroom and have the helicopter refueled. Buckeye has a 100LL fuel truck, which really takes all the hassles out of refueling. (The first year we did the event, we had to refuel by carrying 5 gallon fuel cans back and forth to the helicopter. What a drag!) I also had a bite to eat. Mike and my ground crew had already sold my next three flights, so I didn’t get a long rest. After 30 minutes out of the helicopter, I was back in my seat, spinning up, getting ready to go.

The event ended at 2 PM and that’s about the same time the other vendors were packed up and gone. I finished flying at about 2:30. We packed up the helicopter, topped off the tanks — I paid for the fuel by check and got an excellent price — and headed home.

That’s when Mike mentioned the “crazy lady” who kept shouting that the rides were only 7 minutes long. I don’t hear anything in the helicopter unless it comes over the radio or intercom, so I had no idea that anyone was giving my ground crew grief. Evidently, her husband and grandson (or maybe son?) had gone on a ride and she’d timed it. According to her, it was only 7 minutes. She claimed that we’d advertised 10 minute rides.

I told Mike that we hadn’t advertised any length for the ride. I asked if she’d bothered anyone else and he said no, she hadn’t. I asked him if anyone else had complained. He told me that everyone else was very happy. And then we just forgot about her. There’s always one malcontent in the crowd and I wasn’t about to let it ruin our day.

The Crazy Lady Makes Herself a Nuisance

I was in Austin yesterday when I checked my voicemail messages from the day before. A Mrs. Smith (not her real name) had called and wanted a call back. She didn’t say what it was about. I called her back and, within a few minutes, realized that I was speaking to the crazy 7-minute lady.

She immediately accused me of ripping off all of my passengers by 1/3 of what they had paid for. Not the best way to start a conversation with me — especially when she was dead wrong.

I told her that the rides were not advertised as 10 minutes and that no one had said they were 10 minutes long. She insisted that that’s the way they had been advertised in the newspaper. I told her that we hadn’t placed any newspaper ads.

She continued along the same vein, repeatedly accusing me of cheating my passengers by three minutes of flight time. She wasn’t interested in the truth. She had this 10 minutes locked in her brain and I couldn’t shake it loose. And the conversation was going nowhere fast.

At one point, she claimed that she had other people to complain to about this but that she thought she’d give me an opportunity to respond first. That sounded like a threat to me. I don’t like threats.

Finally, I said: “What is it that you want from me?”

“Well, you didn’t give your passengers one third of what they paid for –”

More of the same. I cut her off. “I can’t believe you’re wasting your time and mine with this nonsense,” I said. And I hung up the phone.

I don’t know what she wanted from me. Maybe she expected me to give her a refund to keep her quiet. I hadn’t done anything wrong and I wasn’t about to refund money I’d earned. And if she wanted her money back, why hadn’t she asked for it? Did she expect me to offer it? Why would I do that if I’d earned it?

Keep in mind that I’m originally from the New York metro area, where it’s not unusual for people to complain about something in an effort to get it for free. Her threat was a line a New Yorker would use. I wonder how many other times she’d used it successfully on unsuspecting Arizona merchants and vendors who just gave her the money back to shut her up.

Maybe she didn’t realize that she was playing games with the wrong person.

Interview Does Not Equal Advertisement

I was curious about where she’d gotten the 10 minute time from, so I called my contact at Buckeye airport. I told her about the crazy lady and asked if the airport folks had advertised a ride time in the newspaper.

“I didn’t know how long the rides would be,” my contact told me. “So we didn’t put anything specific in the paper. Just helicopter rides.”

“So where did she get this idea?”

“Let me look in the paper.” I heard pages rustling over the phone. Then she came back on. “There’s an article about the event in this week’s paper.”

And she proceeded to read me a section of the article where a couple who had just come off the helicopter was interviewed by the reporter — possibly the same reporter I’d taken for a flight. They used phrases like “once in a lifetime opportunity” and “ten-minute ride” and “highlight of the event.” They were very happy with the ride. (I’ve never had an unhappy passenger.) And I guess that since they didn’t have stopwatches going during their ride, they thought they were in the air for 10 minutes. (Maybe they were. I didn’t time all the rides.) But a report with an interview after the event is a far cry from advertised information.

“Don’t worry about it,” my contact concluded. “There’s always one nut in the crowd.”

We talked about the event and the turnout and how I’d done. “I’d like to come back next year,” I said meekly.

“We want you back,” my contact assured me. “We want you there every year.”

Now I’m wondering what the crazy lady will do next. Because if there’s one thing I know: people crazy enough to make such a fuss over nothing obviously don’t have anything better to do with their time.

The Who, In Concert

Not too old to rock and roll.

Mike and I were lucky enough to have seats on the floor at Wednesday night’s Who concert at US Airways Center (formerly America West Arena) in downtown Phoenix. It was an amazing experience.

First of all, the last time we saw The Who, John Entwistle was still alive. We saw the concert at Shea Stadium (I think; you’d think I’d remember something like that), which is a huge venue. Most of the rock concerts I’ve been to have been in big venues: Madison Square Garden (where I always managed to be in the Yellow “nose-bleed” section) for Elton John and led Zeppelin (in the 1970s) , Nassau Coliseum (for Styx and Yes), Shea Stadium (for the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Elton John and Eric Clapton (together, in the 1990s)), and Giants Stadium (for Pink Floyd, Division Bell tour, 1990s). US Airways Center is smaller than Nassau Coliseum (I think), so seeing these legends of rock and roll in such a “tiny” place was a real treat.

Second of all, I was among the youngest people in the place. The average age of concert-goers was approaching 50. Lots of balding heads and beer bellies and overweight women. Mike and I fit right in. There were exceptions, of course. One guy apparently had his son (or perhaps grandson?) with him. And there were a half dozen geeky 20-year-olds who became somewhat of an annoyance by bouncing along with the music past the floor sections, only to be pushed back repeatedly by security. (I would have kicked them out after the second incursion.)

Our seats were 20-30 rows back from the stage. Very nice seats. There was an aisle in front of the row in front of us, so it wasn’t as if we had to look over a sea of heads. Mike did good.

We arrived just in time for the opening act, The Tragically Hip. I can understand how the word “tragic” got into this band’s name. It was a tragedy for us to arrive in time to hear them. It was also a tragedy that they played 5 or 6 songs, all of which sounded pretty much the same to me. And the lyrics:

You’re not the ocean.

You’re not even close.


The lead singer had some kind of weird dance move that isn’t exactly original — Cab Calloway was doing the same thing back in the 1930s a hell of a lot better. And I guess he didn’t understand that the thing he was shouting into was a live microphone, because he found it necessary to scream most of the lyrics.

You’re not the ocean.

You’re not even close.

Yeah. Whatever.

The Tragically Hip exited the stage amidst applause. The roadies came out and started working on the stage. The people who had been watching the opening act, went out to get beer and nachos. (Yes, nachos; very strange for an east coast girl.) The smart people who knew that the opening act would suck started filing in. The place filled up. They were playing recorded music over the loudspeakers. They were in the middle of Led Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks when the music died out, the hall went dark, and Daltrey and Townshend took the stage with their band (drummer Zak Starkey, keyboardist John Bundrick, guitarist Simon Townshend, and bassist Pino Palladrino).

Endless WireEveryone was immediately on their feet. And we stayed there for the next two hours, sitting only when the band played a track from their new CD. We were all there to hear the old stuff and they didn’t disappoint.

They opened with I Can’t Explain. And for guys in their 60s, they looked pretty damn good. Daltrey is in excellent shape — he looks like he works out. Even Townshend, who never stuck me as the kind of guy overly interested in appearance, looked good. The show was great, full of energy and the “trademarked” moves Who fans have come to expect: Daltrey’s swinging of the mike (he’s probably the only performer who still needs a mike with a wire) and Townshend’s “windmill.”

The concert lasted about two hours, including a 20-minute encore. They played Teenage Wasteland, Pinball Wizard (leading off a Tommy medley), My Generation, Behind Blue Eyes, and more than my addled brain can remember. (If you were at the concert, please use the Comments link to fill in my memory gaps. You can also read a review here.)

The show was great and kept my attention for the entire time — which is something unusual (I think I suffer from ADD symptoms sometimes). I was energized, dancing and singing at the top of my lungs. (Don’t worry; no one heard me above the sound of the band.)

But the thing I came away with from the experience is this: I’m not too old to rock and roll — and neither are the two surviving members of The Who.

Telephone Support for the Price of a Book?

Not likely.

I was driving down to the Phoenix area yesterday — my first time driving down there in months. It was a beautiful day, sunny with temperatures in the 70s. I was driving my little Honda with the top down and my iPod, connected to the stereo, blasting some classic rock. I had a 30-mile drive ahead of me on Route 60 (Grand Avenue) to get to the nearest PetSmart (or is it PetCo?), where I planned to buy some tropical fish for my aquarium. Route 60 isn’t the most pleasant road to drive on, but it’s nothing to complain about in the stretch I was driving.

I was having a good time.

My cell phone rang. The only reason I heard it is because it’s on vibrate mode and my ears were not necessary. I hit the mute button on the stereo and answered the phone.

The woman on the other end was difficult to hear at 65 mph in a convertible, so I pulled over. After all, she could be a customer for Flying M Air and I needed to hear what she wanted and to give her my full attention.

The words started coming through: QuickBooks. Book. Non-profit. How do I print checks?

It took all my patience not to explode. Apparently, this woman thought that since I’d written a book about Quicken for Windows and another book about QuickBooks for Macintosh, I could help her figure out how to print checks from the non-profit version of QuickBooks for Windows, which I had never even used, let alone written about. I don’t know where she got my phone number — it’s no longer on this site because of calls like hers — and I don’t know where she got the idea that the author of a book about a software product would be her free, technical support hotline.

I set her straight, hung up, and got back on the road. I was fuming for a short while, but the music and wind and great weather soon soothed me.

Here’s what people don’t seem to understand:

  • A book’s content is determined, in part, by the book’s project editor and page count. So an author cannot include coverage of every single nuance of a software program. The least used features are left out to make sure there’s room for the most used features.
  • An author cannot write a book about a topic unless the publisher feels that there’s enough of a market for the book to sell. That’s probably why this person could not find a book covering the not-for-profit version of QuickBooks for Windows. It’s also why I did not update my QuickBooks for Macintosh book to cover QuickBooks 2007 or my Quicken for Macintosh book for any version after 2003 (I think).
  • An author receives, on average, less than $1 per book sold. I don’t know where anyone can get one-on-one, completely personalized technical support by telephone for $1. (Even the folks in India use a script.) My point: buying one of my books does not entitle the reader to interrupt my day by telephone to ask questions about the book’s content or topics not covered in the book at all.
  • An author certainly cannot be expected to provide support for another author’s book. True story: I once got a question in my old FAQ system from someone who told me he’d bought a book by [insert author name here] and was having trouble understanding it. Could I help him? He wasn’t joking. Neither was I when I told him to contact the author of that book, not me.

This might seem like a hard line to take, but I don’t think so. I do a lot to support my work and provide content above and beyond what’s between a book’s covers. The Book Support categories you see listed near the top of the navigation bar are just an example — each one provides additional articles somehow related to a specific book. My Q & A system is also set up to receive questions that I can answer in a place where all readers can benefit from them.

That should be enough.