Cerebral Flotsam And Jetsam - My Mental Maelstrom

09
Apr
2021
1:55

Reverse Engineering A VLC Media Player Skin

Summary of this post: inane geeky technobabble about reverse engineering a “skin” for VLC media player. Ye have been warned.

I use VLC as my media player. Like most folks, I wanted a dark skin for it (which they have supposedly been working on a default one for years now). There are lots of user created skins you can use. I have a very specific taste in what I want. Dark, minimalist, compact, I want to see the actual volume percentage, and I want the progress bar to display current time/time remaining. Most of the skins, I couldn’t stand. I found one that almost met all my needs though. Darklounge. The only thing was it had a progress bar that displayed current time/total duration.

I looked into how to edit skins. There is an official skin editor that is ancient (as are most skins). I figured changing that one thing should be pretty simple. I downloaded the editor. Oh, it needs Java Runtime Environment. Ew. This is too much trouble for my tiny change. I find lots of other skins to try. Jump through hoops to download them. None fit the bill. I decide to bite the bullet and try and install JRE just to do this and then I’ll uninstall everything. The skin editor still thinks I don’t have JRE. I read somewhere about setting a JAVA_HOME environment variable in Windows settings. I do that. Hey the editor starts now but I can’t for the life of me get it to even open the skin I want to edit. Again I abandon this project and try every possible other skin to see if any are good enough. Nope.

More research. I discover that the skin files (.vlt files) are actually just .zip archives. I change the extension. Windows can normally open those by default, but not this one for some reason. So I fire up 7zip which CAN read the archive. It’s just a bunch of .png files and one .xml file. So what I need HAS to be in the .xml somewhere. I look up the variable that skins use. I find the “$D” variable for “Duration” and change it to “$L” which is the variable for “Time Remaining.” Save the archive, and BAM! Perfect! I finally have my dark, minimal, compact VLC skin with volume percentage and that displays current time/time remaining. I do a highly satisfied victory butt dance in my chair. I’m practically Neo in The Matrix*

*That is sarcasm as, while this wasn’t necessarily “simple,” it’s fairly elementary amateur tech stuff.

08
Apr
2021
1:59

My Journey As A Singer

Tonight in the shower, which is where I seem to have so many important thoughts, I was thinking about my journey as a singer. A lot of the things on my mind were things I detailed in my post summing up my 7 month adventure as a singer on a cruise ship. One particular lesson rose to the top though. To put it very simply, the thought that singing higher isn’t singing better.

I started singing somewhere around age 16, and at first I was timid, shy, and not very good. I still remember my first real public attempt at singing. I was auditioning for a local musical and we needed to bring a piece to sing. I had a little Casio keyboard with these music cards you could slide through a reader and it would play that song, so I picked one (“You Must Take The A Train,” which I was completely unfamiliar with other than the Casio rendition) and practiced it. I brought my keyboard to accompany me and auditioned for the Music Director, Mrs. Kosztolnyik and the director. I was nervous and horrible. I did not get cast.

Eventually I developed my voice, and more importantly, my confidence and became known as a “power tenor” who could belt Journey songs and rock a mean falsetto on “Kiss” by Prince. While I’ve been lucky enough to receive many compliments over the years, I’m fairly positive I’ve received the most by far on being able to sing high and powerfully. The Journey thing really sticks in my mind as that was a very common comment. “Whoa! I can’t believe you sang Journey! You sounded just like the record!” or other similar things. This common feedback trained me like one of Pavlov’s dogs to “value” singing high and powerfully. It conditioned me to think that it set me apart and made me special.

While on my cruise ship adventure, I was singing 6 nights a week, battling cruise ship air and circulating colds and such, and trying my best to be a good vocal athlete and keep my voice in shape, but much to my frustration, I feel like most of my contract was spent performing well, but sub-par to what I knew I could do. Somewhere along that journey (no pun intended) I learned the concept of “Fach,” which, to put in overly simple and possibly not entirely accurate terms, is the sweet spot of your voice. I had noticed that singing so much had really honed my tone and accuracy and there were nights when I would think “Hey, my voice sounds really good in that sweet spot range when I’m not trying to perform amazing spectacles of vocal daring!”

I’ve always appreciated emotion and soul more than anything else, but this was a deeper epiphany than that and it has stayed with me. I still love that feeling of being able to belt out something impressive and sound good doing it, but I can equally appreciate singing something that feels effortless to me just as much for other reasons. There are so many singers I love who don’t necessarily sing anything technically impressive or set any records for sustained high notes. I guess I’ve finally learned that those vocal highs are like those crazy flashy guitar riffs that make someone seem like they’re from another planet. I can appreciate and be very impressed by the technical prowess, but I can be just as moved or more by someone who can play one note in just the right way, in the just the right place and knows just how much silence to leave between it and its neighbors to reach inside you and pull out an emotion like pure magic. I’ve learned that, yes, many times those high notes will get more comments, but that’s ego singing. That doesn’t actually mean anything or impart any more inherent value. Another example I always remember from my days on the ship is that I sang “Take On Me” by A-Ha which has that last really high note in the chorus, but it’s falsetto and for me it is almost completely effortless. In my mind, there is absolutely nothing “impressive” about it as it’s “easy” for me, and yet that note, on multiple occasions on the ship got spontaneous applause from the audience, something that I don’t think has ever happened to me before or since. Smoke and mirrors. Illusions. Show business. I also had some of my worst nights ever on that ship. Fighting to get anything worth a damn to come out of my throat and while feeling absolutely mortified and wanting to curl up and die, yet for the most part, no one else even noticed. “Great show! You were great!” they’d still say.

So I write this mainly to remind myself but also for anyone else who needs to hear it: singing higher is not singing better. As with every area of life, a lesson I learn again and again is that literally everything is made better by getting the ego out of the way. Find your Fach, and revel in it.

01
Apr
2021
14:20

Ravioli Shoes

John Mayer made a TikTok of a short song called “Ravioli Shoes” and I liked it so much that I wrote a verse and added bass, drums, and a harmony.

29
Mar
2021
0:35

Beez McKeever

Sure most people are probably asleep at 6:40am. Some are even getting up or already up. Me, I’m laying in bed trying to sleep but instead getting an idea for a very silly song about having a crush on the Prop/Costume Diva for #MST3K and singing it into a voice memo in bits and pieces so I’ll remember it the next day. Quite probably the most niche song I’ve ever written. And that’s saying something.

I then also decided to record a full studio version and video for that version in all it’s power pop glory!

02
Mar
2021
1:46

My First Colonoscopy!

Colonoscopy done! Good news, everyone! I have a normal, healthy butt. Prep day was not nearly as bad as I’d heard. I had my last solid food on Saturday night. Starting Sunday, it’s all clear liquids, so I had a lemon-lime Jell-o, and a cup of half chicken broth half vegetable broth. The vegetable broth was actually pretty tasty, but he chicken broth was only okay. I had a jug of apple juice ready as well but never ended up drinking any. I was surprised how easy it was to not eat all day. I thought I’d be starving, but I didn’t even really notice. At 4pm I took 3 Dulcolax laxative tablets, then at 5pm, I mixed a full 8.3oz bottle of Miralax with 64oz of Gatorade. I drank 8oz every 15 minutes for 6 doses, then drank the last 16oz at 8pm. I sat in my rom watching Netflix, and went to the bathroom maybe 6-10 times in the course of about 6 hours. Fell asleep about 11pm. Got up for one more bathroom trip at about 2am or so, then eventually got back to sleep until 5am.

My roommate Staci graciously drove to the hospital. Sadly since I could not have ANYTHING, even water, after midnight, I got to experience the lovely combo of morning breath and a mask. I checked in and eventually was taken back to the pre-op area. I changed into just a gown and put all my stuff in a bag. They took my vitals, put some leads on my back, and put an IV in my hand (I’d never had one in my hand before, but she was a pro and it didn’t hurt at all). We were ahead of schedule so they closed the curtains and I just chilled for a bit. It was a weird sensation feeling the cool electrolytes coming in my IV. Eventually, the Anesthesiologist spoke to me and gave me the run down, and then the Doctor checked in with me. The nurses had informed me that he always started about 10 minutes early and was usually ahead of schedule. He asked if I wanted pictures and I said “Sure!” I mean how often do you get pictures of your colon? Sadly I don’t have any yet and I’m hoping they get put into my online chart.

The nurse eventually wheeled me back to the procedure room. This was my first time being wheeled in a hospital bed and it was surreal since I’d seen this so many times in movies and TV. I actually laughed to myself a little watching the ceiling go by. In the room, they hooked up my monitors, had me turn onto my side, put an oxygen mask on me, then started the anesthesia (my first time ever being put under). I think I was out within seconds. Next thing I knew, I was waking up from what felt like a VERY deep sleep, and as I opened my eyes, I was back in recovery and actually took a moment to remember where I was and what had just happened. A nurse had me move to chair and I drank some apple juice. I said “I guess they didn’t find any treasure, huh?” To which he replied that they hadn’t. After a few minutes, he had me get dressed still sitting in the chair while he stood by to watch over me. I called Staci who was already there, they wheeled me out in a chair, and I was homeward bound. I’m now eating delicious food and will probably watch Netflix and nap. Glad to have it over and done with! Still a little hungover from the anesthesia in that way you feel after a CRAZY deep nap!

23
Feb
2021
18:41

Dream Theatre 63

This dream co-starred Dano Colón who I actually co-starred with in “People With Issues.”

I was visiting Dano in his office. His desk faced away from the door and his back was toward the door. The far side of the office from the door was completely open as if that side of the building had collapsed or something. No far wall, the far half of the ceiling, completely gone. Directly across from his desk near the edge of the floor by the opening was a really old, rust streaked toilet. I was standing between the toilet and the desk as you would if you wanted to talk to him at his desk. Up above was a series of chains hanging down on which were big industrial rounded scoops of some kind every 3-4′ down the chains. These chains were lowering the scoops through holes in the floor right at the edge by the opening.

Dano was not amused and seemed very weary at the whole scene. He said “I’ve told my boss these things keep activating on an automated schedule even though they are supposed to have been deactivated.” At this point I realized that the far side of the office hadn’t collapsed. Dano could open it up and he had to do so every time he heard the contraption whirring to life so it didn’t come crashing through the wall and ceiling. The chains starting raising up now, each scoop filled with industrial water from somewhere below and as they clumsily raised and shifted position to the right, a lot of that water would slosh onto the wall, the floor, come dangerously close to us and the desk. Dano just watched, deadpan, completely fed up. We exited the office and I tried to call the elevator but the controls were more complicated than normal elevator controls. I pressed what I thought the “down” button was, but then Dano pressed another switch to the side and a door opened and outdoor part of the floor that was sort of like a rooftop parking lot but there were workers all around doing construction and such.

He led me past some equipment and started talking to me as if he was having to “let me go” from my job. I was confused at first, but then realized this was all just a ruse because obviously someone might be listening and whatever it was I was doing there, no one could know so they needed to think I was just a worker and Dano was taking a walk with me to fire me.

Then I woke up and definitely made note that I needed to remember this exceptionally strange dream.

16
Feb
2021
22:14

Dream Theatre 62

2 separate batches of dreams last night.

In the first, my friend Joanna Garner (who I worked with in real life as an actor on her own original play called 100 Heartbreaks) was helping me produce an original play I’d written, and I had all the stuff needed for opening night (set pieces, props, etc.) loaded up in my 1995 Nissan pickup (the first car I ever actually owned which I sold about 10+ years ago). I went inside the theater for a minute and came back out to find it stolen (I know we would have loaded that stuff in long before but dreams don’t have to make real world sense). There was a group of suspicious teens hanging around in winter clothing like long coats and beanies, sitting on some benches behind a fenced in area and I asked if they’d seen anything. They said they hadn’t but had these smug smirks like they knew something and were flaunting it. They asked if it was a sexy car and I said it was a Prius S and that the S stood for sexy (forgetting for the moment that it was actually the old Nissan and not my current car, a Prius, no “S”). I checked the front lot of the theater even though I knew I’d pulled up in the back.

My ex was in the play as well, but in the dream we were together. I remembered being kind of bummed that she hadn’t texted me or said hello when she arrived at the theater which was odd. I went to find Joanna to tell her what was going on. She was with another producer or someone like that, and was obviously in the middle of being really busy. I went to hug her but she just kind of put her hand on my shoulder and was like “I’m really busy at the moment” and it was all a bit awkward and deflating.

I had about 15 minutes to collect myself before I had to go on. I thought I should study my lines but decided to instead take one last walk to try and find the truck again wanting to believe that I had just forgotten where I parked it. I also remember hoping the police wouldn’t hold it against me that I waited until after the show to file a report because I didn’t have time before the show started to deal with all that.

In the second batch of dreams (I had woke up and then went back to sleep), the first once again featured my ex. Again, in the dream we were together and I was picking her up from something. She got in the car and was a bit teary and obviously had something on her mind. Dreading what was to come, I asked her what was up. She said “I know I broke up with you before,”

“Yes,” I said dreading where this was going.

“I want to breakup again but I want you to do it.”

Naturally I protested and said I didn’t want to and she pleaded her case as to why (I don’t remember the details).

Then in my next dream in this block, my friend Brian Villalobos and I were at the store and he was incensed that the price of jelly had gone up. I figured it was just inflation but he insisted that couldn’t be it because it had been the same price for at least 4 years. Taking a different approach I said “Yes but think about how many times prices on things have gone up in your lifetime.” He considered the thought skeptically.

09
Feb
2021
0:34

Dream Theatre 61

In this dream, my friend Kelsey and I were up to some silly shenanigans that involved dressing up fancy so she had me put on my tux. At some point I said “Jesus Christ” in that way Mr. Slave on South Park says it and that made her laugh and I mentioned how I can’t say “Jesus Christ” any other way (which is true). She said her equivalent was some phrase from the theme song to a kids show called “Kimmie…” something, I can’t remember. I hadn’t heard of it so I looked it up on YouTube.

Next thing I remember is being outside and my friend Sean Dornan-Fish had joined us. He had gotten kind of muddy, so he jumped in this shallow dove forward, completely drenching himself from head to toe. I was a bit shocked as it was freezing outside. Then I noticed that despite my efforts to be careful I had somehow gotten quite muddy as well. I don’t think I was in my tux any more at this point.

Later we were all winding down and were in comfortable lounging around attire (sweats, T-shirts, etc). Inside Kelsey’s fridge there had been some kind of pie incident and there was pumpkin pie filling all over the bottom of the fridge and a few more pieces in individual plastic containers. I remember the inside of the fridge was also huge. like two grown people could probably almost stand in it. She suddenly had another idea for another shenanigan and told me to put my tux back on. The end.