Monday, June 29, 2009

Through the Opera Glasses - 21 - Merlin

I've just started watching a new series that debuted in Canada and the US on June 21st, but which aired originally on BBC One on Sept. 20th of last year.

When I saw previews of this show, I had the wild hope of falling for it, even as I prepared myself for the worst.

You see, I'm a massive King Arthur fan. That often doesn't bode well for Arthur adaptations, because a very clear Arthur and the whole cast of characters live inside of me.

I'm more in the Arthur-in-Dark-Age-Britain camp. I like it when the story is set during the changeover from Roman rule to the various tribes of Britain duking it out amongst themselves before the Saxons invade.

But if we're going to go for medieval, shooting the series on location at a real French castle is fantastic.

In a previous rant here at Through the Opera Glasses, I bemoaned the pain of sitting through productions with sucky costumes.

Can you hear me sigh the sigh of delight with these lovelies? Just look at King Uther, played by Anthony Head.

The Arthur who lives inside my mind has dark hair, but I won't quibble with Bradley James. I like pretty much everything about him.

The show's creators have taken all the normal relationships between the characters and reset them so that Arthur and Merlin can be contemporaries. I actually like all the dynamics that have evolved so far, believe it or not.

And what do you mean, you don't have an Arthur who lives inside your mind...?

Merlin arrives in Camelot to find that magic is outlawed by King Uther, and is punishable by death. He must keep his magical abilities a secret as he is chosen to serve Prince Arthur.

Merlin is played by Colin Morgan, also very likeable.

The traditional Merlin-the-wise-man figure is given to Gaius, Camelot's court physician played by Richard Wilson. He becomes Merlin's mentor, especially as he discovers Merlin's secret.

The dynamic between Arthur and Merlin really sets the tone for the whole series. If their relationship hadn't worked, there really wouldn't be a series.

But there is a perfect blend of youthful competition, respect for one another as they learn what the other is made of, and fierce loyalty that grows between them.

The character of Morgana - usually a sinister figure bent on destroying Arthur - appears here as King Uther's ward, a sister of sorts to Arthur and so far a caring and very likeable woman. Morgana is played by Katie McGrath.

She is served by Gwen, another twist on the legend. Here Gwen comes from the lower town, and seems to have a crush on Merlin.

As always happens in medieval stories - and why I like them so much - living in royal circles is a tightrope act of staying out of life-or-death trouble. Here Gwen discovers how easy it is to have the tables turned on her.

Gwen is played by Angel Coulby.

Did I mention there's great sword fighting? If there's anything I love as much as ballet, it's sword fighting. And with these beauties - not so much rapiers. I need that ringing sound of real blades knocking together.

You can check out the series sites at BBC's Merlin or NBC's Merlin.

Here's the trailer for the series. Enjoy!

Ms Snarky Pants says I hadn't even heard about this series! Some Arthur fangurl I am!

Ailurophile says I'm a huge King Arthur fan too. Thanks for this very interesting review.

Thomma Lyn Grindstaff says Wow, that looks like a fascinating series. One of my favorite books ever is The Mists of Avalon.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 107 - Squandered

Continuing on with my year of found poetry, this is a short piece of prose fiction that I wrote as an exercise when I belonged to a writer's group in Yarmouth. I've reworked it here as a poem.

Ride the Poetry Train!


Terry glanced down
At the worn felt
Yellow, purple, blue monster sitting
On his right hand
Tusks bent for lack of stuffing

Terry had a sudden
Stabbing memory
An especially windy street performance
Wonky torn from his hand and Bill
Had actually chased the puppet
Into traffic
Nearly getting crushed
In the process
He returned with a
Drippy Wonky

Terry had felt
A ridiculous urge to
Hug Bill
For his heroism

Thank God
Bill would have thought
It was just
Terry's creative personality
Effusing over
Normal social boundaries

Terry had often
How he'd ever been
With such a
Conservative straight arrow like

Or how Bill managed
To religiously meet with Terry
For workshop sessions
Bill the editor
To Terry's throw-another-one-out-there style

He supposed
Those afternoons
Were Bill's only forum for

He tried to take it
From the top

One more time

The old routines
Were not
What he was
Looking for

It was hard
To shake himself up
To natter to thin air
How was he to
Bounce things
Off himself?

He supposed he'd have to learn how

Bill was gone

Bill was dead

All he had left
Was a schizophrenic puppet
Who had holes for an identity

Wonky was trying his best
Wasn't he?
But all his ideas
Were duds

- Julia Smith - June 28, 2009 - original text 2001

Anthony North says This can be slightly disturbing in places.

Shelley Munro says I always enjoy your poems, Julia.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Summer Stock Sunday - 5 / Blog Improvement Project 9 - 10 - 11 - 12

How would you like to be mowing your front lawn, when this walks up the driveway?

It happened to me today. Of course, we have a shared driveway with our neighbours, Mack and Freda.

And this is Mack.

I'd never seen him in his dress uniform, though. I said, "Hey! Can I take your picture?" He of course thought I was kidding.

But I would never kid about a thing like that. So here, for Summer Stock Sunday, I give you Master Seaman Eric MacDonald, known to one and all as Mack. He was all spiffed up for a big ceremony over in Halifax:

"The Consecration and Presentation of the Queen’s Colour

For Canadian naval officers and sailors, this is a once in a career experience.

Photo by Mike Dembeck

More than a flag, The Queen’s Colour is a symbol of respect to military service, representing heroism and honour. Having been proudly displayed for thirty years, the current Queen’s Colour is ready to be retired and replaced by a successor.

Over 100 members of the massed band of the Navy comprising members from the renowned Stadacona, Naden and Naval Reserve bands will provide the musical backdrop as 400 sailors and officers from across the country march in a display of precision drill and pageantry. A 21-gun Vice Regal Salute will be fired from the ramparts of the Citadel, while a low fly past of maritime aviation will provide an air element to the event.

The formal parade will be presided over by Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada."
- Dave Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen

For more Summer Stock Sunday, visit Robin at Around the Island.

As you can see, it's been awhile since I've written a post for the 2009 Blog Improvement Project. So let's catch up, shall we?

For Week 9, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness - she runs the challenge - asked us to partner up with another blogger and give feedback on each other's blogs.

I was paired up with Suey at It's All About Books. We contacted each other through email, asked questions and gave feedback. This was a good exercise, I thought, especially since neither of us had been to each other's blog prior to this exercise. Totally fresh eyes for this one.

Week 10 concentrated on Anchor Text, which is the word or group of words used to create a link to another post/article/site on the Internet. I discovered the importance of anchor text and how it relates to Search Engine Optimization when I read Ian Lurie's For Dummies book on Web Marketing.

Search engines use the linked words to drive traffic to your blog, so using Click here - as I've often done! - isn't the world's best idea. I've been very aware of my anchor text since Week 10. Thanks, Kim!

Week 11 was an analytical exercise comparing bloggers' book reviews to those of professionals. My computer tower was in the shop for that one, so I have yet to do it, but I'll post the results once I get it done.

Some interesting trends Kim discovered when she reviewed the results were:

"Most professional reviews don’t include a rating system, but a lot of blogger reviews do.

The biggest difference between blogger reviews and professional reviews was something we already sort of knew — bloggers use a lot more personal references. From these reviews, bloggers averaged about 9.75 personal references per review. Professional reviews had only about .25.

One thing I noticed is that professional reviews are a lot more varied — some are just a paragraph, some are basically full-length articles. Blogger reviews tend to be a little more consistent — similar lengths, etc."
- Kim

Week 12 is the current challenge. Kim wants a Mid-Year Review.

Find your original BIP goals post and take a look at what your goals were.

My very first goal - in starting my blog in the first place - was to design my day around sitting in front of the computer on a daily basis and writing. I figured that the habit of daily writing would eventually lead me to finishing my five in-progress manuscripts.

Check. I'm closing in on my gardener story and plan to type The End by the end of the summer.

I had to define what my blog was for, and this is what I came up with:

A Piece of My Mind is a blog that celebrates the arts, encourages the creative, cheers the artist on and revels in the wonder of life.

My new goal was to showcase art work in my sidebar. I've had a new art show every month for the past six months and have really enjoyed putting them together. I love the fresh update it gives to my blog on a monthly basis.


I set myself onto this challenge knowing I'd be pushing myself out of my comfort zones.

Sometimes reading the new challenge makes me realize I will have to stre-e-t-ch in order to do it. Writing posts with different sorts of content than I normally do was a bit difficult. The Blog Basics was harder than I expected, as I really enjoyed having a piece of art work at the top of my sidebar, but switched that for a picture of myself along with the About Me section. I realized that I personally enjoy 'meeting' a blogger by having that info at the top of the layout, so I moved the art work down a bit.

The Social Media Carnival got me a Twitter account, and I enjoyed Twittering. That really pushed me out of my comfort zone! I don't tweet very much, but what I do enjoy about having my tweets automatically linked to my blog is the added spiciness of short bursts of new material for the blog. I actually found a few new bloggers through Twitter, so it's all good.

Look at the ProBlogger list of 69 questions to review your blog.

This will make a post all its own.

Reset your goals. Get rid of goals you’ve accomplished, and add new ones that make sense.

After I look over those ProBlogger questions, I will do just that.

Answer the following questions:

1. What BIP task have you liked most? Least (including ones you have skipped)?

To be honest, the very first one where I had to take a look in the mirror and define what my blog was for gave me the most pleasure. It lead me to my monthly art show, to creating my new Through the Opera Glasses arts feature which appears on Tuesdays, and to inserting my word counts for each of my works in progress into my sidebar. A daily reminder for me - to get cracking.

Least - I haven't had a least favorite. I have skipped the analytical book review one, but only until a later date.

2. Which tasks have been the most helpful? Least helpful?

Most helpful was the Blog Basics one. Having to rethink my sidebar set-up and my blog intro was really good for me. Least helpful? Hmm. Perhaps the Leaving Good Comments one, as I already quite enjoy commenting on other blogs.

3. What are the top three things you still would like to work on this year?

I'm not much of a techie. Things which come easily to some leave me all adrift. Like widgets that measure visitors, for example. I don't have any way of tracking my blog traffic at the moment.

Increasing my commenters and increasing my traffic in general appeals to me, strangely. I know, I know - write great content, and they will come...

It would be kind of cool if my book reviews gained some cache. How awesome that would be.

4. Are there any blogging-related topics you feel like you know a lot about and would be willing to write a BIP guest task on?

Hmm. I'll have to get back to Kim on that.

5. Any other comments about the BIP?

My biggest comment is a huge THANK YOU to Kim for coming up with this idea in the first place. And for putting in the time to run this year-long challenge.


Ms Snarky Pants says I use google analytics for tracking my blog traffic. I can get kinda obsessive with it. LOL

Heather says Very interesting about The Queen's colour. As for the 2009 Blog improvement project. Good for you for continuing the challenge.

Robin says What an honor that he gets to be part of such an important ceremony.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 112 - 13 of My Favorite Classical Pieces

1 - Bach's Air on a G String

2 - Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1

3 - Chopin's Prelude in D Flat Major, Op. 28, No. 15 - The Raindrop

4 - Tchaikovsky's Grand Pas de Deux from The Nutcracker

5 - Prokofiev's The Arrival at the Ball from Cinderella

CLICK HERE for the clip

6 - Tchaikovsky's Finale from Swan Lake

7 - Prokofiev's Tomb Scene from Romeo and Juliet

9 - Puccini's E lucevan le stelle from Tosca

10 - Mozart's Rex Tremendae Majestatis from his Requiem

11 - Orff's O Fortuna from Carmina Burana

12 - Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War from The Planets

13 - Wagner's Siegfried funeral march from Götterdämmerung

Janet says My nana would've LOVED this post!

Leah Braemel says I own every single one of them.

Anthony North says It certainly brings out the emotions.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nearly Wordless Wednesday - 105

Thomma Lyn Grindstaff says I'm glad to hear that the acupuncture is helping! And Happy Birthday, Jacquie! :)

Shelley Munro says Ouch, Julia. That sounds painful.

Brooke says My friend SWEARS that not only is acupuncture relaxing but that it has done wonders for her pains and medicial issues.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Through the Opera Glasses - 20 - The Rise of Green Screen Technology

Did you ever wonder why blue screens seem to have turned into green screens for film effects?

The reason is the simple march of time - and technology.

Blue screen continues to be used in film, as we can see in these composite shots from 300.

"Until the the 1990s most blue screen for films was done optically, and all television composites were done using analog real time hardware." - Bob Kertesz

Optical effects are expensive, exacting and have to be done in post-production, which is the time used by the production after the principal photography is completed. This is the time when music is recorded for the soundtrack, dialogue is replaced through looping, and sound and visual effects are created.

Before the advance of digital technology, the only way to get a realistic-looking visual effect was through blue screen optical matting, which replaced a background component - the blue screen - with a second visual component - usually a risky location such as a cliff.

The process of traditional travelling matte optics is time consuming. Each frame of the actor has to be made into a negative. The blue background is replaced by the new location footage, then photographed again with the negative of the actor superimposed, then the images photographed once again replacing the negative of the actor with the actual actor.

Graphic by Tech On

The television industry has always opted for green screen technology, due to the way TV cameras work to a basic three-color spectrum: Blue, Green and Red. Often the superimposed images are created on the spot in the studio at the mixing console by the video switcher.

"Chroma-Key is a television process only, based on the luminance key. Video cameras are usually most sensitive in the green channel, and often have the best resolution and detail in that channel. Green paint has greater reflectance than blue paint, which can make matting easier." - Bob Kertesz

Because cameras have gradually moved over to digital, even for full-length motion pictures, the effects have moved with them. The green background works best in digital format and has the added benefit of not interfering with actors' blue eyes or blue clothing.

The trick with green screen is knowing how your other colors will behave when you shoot them. Notice how on-set for Sin City, Marv's bandages are red, but in the finished effect shot, the red becomes white. Also notice how a slight blue tinge on Marv's white T-shirt turns the shirt into a truer white in the effect shot.

Actors today can be assured of having to act in front of either a blue or a green screen at some point in their careers. A major challenge for them, but green screen has changed the way film and television is shot. I personally love this technology, especially when it brings me back through time to ancient Rome or to Middle Earth.

Graphic from Make Movies or Die

Akelamalu says WOW I didn't know any of that Julia.

Travis says That was fascinating.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Poetry Train Monday - 106 - I'm Ready

Last Thursday I posted thirteen songs that I picked from my various YouTube playlists. For today's found poetry, I've taken several lines from each song that I posted and have reworked those lines into a poem.

Ride the Poetry Train!

I'm Ready

The line I shoot will never miss
Now I'm ready to close my eyes
I'm telling you it's not a trick
And I feel awkward, as I should

And now I'm ready to feel your hand
Strike me down
Give me everything you've got
You should see my scars

So what if you can see the darkest side of me
Sometimes I scare myself - I just can't let it go
Erase and rewind
You're on your own now

And when do you think it will all become clear?
Sometimes, the first thing you want never comes
Change your heart
It will astound you

I'll be everything I'm not
You're liable to get licked
I'm still caged inside
Do I really want this?

I can't escape this hell
I said it's fine before
Hey baby can you bleed like me?
Your rescue squad is too exhausted

It’s been shitty
And if you complain once more
You'll meet an army of me
Everybody's gotta learn sometime

Pieces are falling I can't seem to make them stay
Help me believe it's not the real me
Lose my heart on the burning sands
The way I make love to 'em

Pay attention, don't be thick
They can't resist
C'mon baby can you bleed like me
This club has got to be the most pretentious thing

Sometimes, the last thing you want comes in first
I'm tearing away
Yes, I said it's fine before
'Cuz I'm being taken over by the Fear

I know, the waiting is all you can do
And now I'm ready to close my mind
Strike me down

Change your heart
I've changed my mind
Just try to comprehend that which you'll never comprehend
We won't save you

Everything happens for reasons I just don't know
Can you believe it?
But I don't think so no more
I take it back

Look around you
So many
I've tried

Original text by:

Lily Allen / Bjork / Bo Diddley / Drowning Pool / Finger Eleven / Serge Gainsbourg / Garbage / Adam Gontier / Matthew Hales / The Korgis / April March / Nina Persson / Sneaker Pimps / Barry Stock / The Stooges / Peter Svensson

Richard Wells says This is an interesting experiment. One of the founders of Dada was almost lynched for composing a poem out of random words from a newspaper. Those were the days when people cared...

Gautami Tripathy says I liked how it flowed. I know it isn't easy but you do it seamlessly.

Fledgling Poet says This all came together so seamlessly... Loved it!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Summer Stock Sunday - 4

For Summer Stock Sunday, I've got my lovely peonies which I transported from their original home in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia when we moved to Cole Harbour eight years ago.

This is the greatest amount of blooms we've had so far. There are five in total. The parent plant, which had been planted by my grandfather at my grandparents' home in Yarmouth over 40 years ago, had quite a few blooms when my husband and I lived there from 1999 to 2001.

This is their house on Nova Scotia's southwest tip. My husband and I moved in with my grandmother to help look after her. My grandfather had passed away eight years before we arrived. He was a lifelong gardener, and when I moved in I felt the lure of his garden beckoning to me. I'd never gardened before arriving in Yarmouth, and a grand love affair started that summer of 1999 that continues today.

As you walked around the side of the house, there was a sheltered side garden away from the constant wind from the ocean, which you can see in the distance.

My grandpa installed the weather-beaten white fence above the stone wall in order to give that wind protection. Tucked behind the orange lilies were the peonies.

As we packed up the house to move to Cole Harbour, I dug up the new forsythia bush, the American pillar rose bush I'd started from cuttings, and made sure to take cuttings from Gram's heritage quince bush on the opposite side of the house.

As we made one final walk-around to make sure we had everything, I looked at the garden to make my goodbye - and realized I hadn't dug up the peony plant.

I grabbed a broken, jagged broom handle from the trash and started digging madly for the peony bulbs. I plunged my hands into the earth and felt around until I could grasp the tubers. I yanked as hard as I could until a few broke free and came to the surface. I threw them in a box with some dirt and we slipped them onto the back of the truck.

We moved in October, so once we had unloaded the truck here in Cole Harbour, one of the first things I did was find a spot for the peonies, dig a hole and put them back in the ground before the winter came.

Their new home is in front of the stone wall my mom and I installed from all the rocks our neighbors dug up next door, when they put in a new deck two years ago. We had to snake it in and around the plants we already had growing in the front.

The yellow forsythia is the same tiny plant I'd bought at the Yarmouth Garden Society plant sale, dug up and transported here. And the peonies are hard to see, but they're to the left of the forsythia, and to the left of the rose bush. The peonies are also to the right of the tulips, in front of the stone wall.

For more Summer Stock Sunday, visit Robin at Around the Island.

Kaye says Your peonies are lovely and I have always wanted to visit Novia Scotia.

Robin says I can't grow plastic flowers without killing them.

Jessica the Rock Chick says Last year I planted a whole bunch of different plants without realizing how large they would become in future years. It appears I have grown a small jungle near my front porch!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Celebrating My Step Mom on Her Birthday

Just got back from celebrating with Doris, my step mom. We all met at Montana's at Dartmouth Crossing for dinner to start things off. So of course my step sister Rhonda got to work right away with the crayons on the paper tablecloth.

This is Doris with her great-granddaughter Ava on her lap, and her best-friend-for-40-years Mona.

This is Tasha with her grandma, Doris.

Tasha impresses her daughter Ava with her party horn playing, while her Aunt Rhonda checks out the menu.

Doris can't escape the Montana birthday moose cap.

Or the birthday hat back at her apartment. My sister Michelle gives her a bit of encouragement.

Oh - who's that hanging out at Doris' table? Is it my mom? Of course. Doesn't everyone hang out with their late husband's first wife?

Rhonda brings out the cake while we all break out into song.

Ava sits across from me telling me baby-gibberish stories about the stuffed snowbaby that my dad bought for Doris. They were fascinating stories. Have I ever mentioned that I have baby-hypnotism powers? Ava talked and talked to me. No real words but she knew I understood her, anyway. My husband said, "You child charmer, you."

Doris gets up close and personal with her soon-to-be grandson-in-law, Matt (Ava's dad.) He also works at the pharmacy were I get my prescriptions. Small world!

And here's our family:

That's Doris and me in front.

L to R:

Doris' daughter Rhonda, my mom Paulette, my sister Michelle, Matt, baby Ava, Doris' granddaughter Tasha, Tasha's other grandmother, and my husband Brad

Thanks for coming to the party. Hope your Friday was fun!

Thomma Lyn Grindstaff says Family of the heart. That's awesome! :-D

Akelamalu says Doris lookes very sprightly. :)

Toni says 'Doesn't everyone hang out with their late husband's first wife?' * ROFL!