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  1. Nov 11 2006, 09:32 PM Today, I was having an e-mail conversation with a lady who works at one of the radio stations where I occasionally do some work. She was encouraging me to stick it out and be persistent with regard to my Primerica endeavours. The events of today were another disappointment. When I returned home, I wrote the following reply: The challenge is getting an audience with that first family. So far, in cold calling, I get a few lukewarm responses, but they don’t show up at the career overviews when scheduled. I had three prospects that were supposed to come to our CO this morning and not one showed up, even though I did reminder calls the night before. I’m the only one in the entire office that is having this problem. Everyone else knows people, and got right down to business. My wife’s friend, met this other Filipino lady at a dance and she got talking about marriage and husbands and the other lady mentioned that she married a doctor, so Helen, my wife’s friend said, “oh, you must be set for life” and the woman said their finances were a disaster. They earn $150K year, but their life insurance policy was costing them over $4000/year for $1.5M coverage on her husband and $500K on her and they had massive credit card debt at 36% interest because they were late 3 times. So Helen talked to them, and as it turned out her husband was undergoing medical treatment and would not qualify for a new policy at this time, but the wife wanted $1.5 million on herself, once Helen showed them that Primerica could give them three times the coverage for a little less. Those people had annual renewable term insurance and the premiums were going up. Over a 20 year period, Helen calculated that they would pay $888,060 in premiums. We got that down to $134,000 by replacing it with our level term policy, which is the best in the industry. But you see, the thing is that people like Helen are able to get in front of people because she knows people and has a very friendly, approachable way. Filipinos in general have many friends and relatives. The other ethnic group that is exploding with business activity are the Hispanics. I have gained a new-found respect for those people, because I see their progress report every week and they are out there consolidating debts, saving people hundreds of dollars a month, saving them from retirement disaster by making their clients aware of the danger of not having a retirement plan, and helping them to put college funds together for their children. Our portfolios average better than 12% gains over 10 year averages, and people have done quite well with our securities products. But for me, it’s like the proverbial carrot dangling just out of reach. I see people getting checks with four figures handed to them every week at the conclusion of training meetings, and I know they’ve got a large contingent of people that they have been doing business with, starting with family and friends. Some have recruited people into the business, which usually happens when our Financial Needs Analysis reveals a shortcoming in a family’s income, when compared with their financial goals. (We encourage people to set goals, then we look at their debts, life insurance (if any), savings, retirement funds and if they have kids, whether they are saving anything for them. Once we return on a second visit with the plan worked out (it’s like a prescription for healing their financial ailment), we encourage them to implement and stick to it. Typically, we’ll replace overpriced, undercoverage Whole Life with our Term product with about 10X the coverage at ¾ the premium and advise them to invest the difference in one of our investment plans, usually Mutual Funds that are divided over 130 top performing companies. These typically return 12% or better on a 10 year average. We also encourage them to start a college fund for the kids and we calculate, based on their goals, with inflation accounted for, how much they need to start saving. If they earn too little money to reach those goals, we offer them an opportunity to come into the business and earn an extra income in their spare time, doing what we’re doing. It’s a grass roots, referrals only system. We don’t advertise. In fact, an independent survey found that the average Primerica policy cost has only $0.62 in advertising in it, whereas the average policy from competing insurance companies has $388 in advertising costs built into the premiums. No wonder we come in at lower cost and offer a better product. And I learned today in class that there is no “war clause” –many insurance companies, when 9/11 happened, and Bush declared it an act of war, chose not to pay out the death benefits on those people killed in the WTC disaster. Primerica was one of the few companies that paid out the death benefits to the surviving spouses. That’s what kind of company it is, and why I chose to work with them. My only problem is a personal problem with not having developed the circle of friends and not having living relatives left to network with. I’m literally out in the cold. I called over 90 people in the last two weeks, mostly small businesses. Had three who didn’t blow me off and sounded interested, even if mildly, one sounded quite interested and even wanted to know if he could move his union-funded annuity to a private retirement account. I told him about the 1035 Exchange and that we could do it for him. However, come today, not one person showed up for the set appointment. This happened last week with another batch of people. It’s really frustrating and I am having a difficult time maintaining a positive mental attitude. I know that I must do so, because of the “Law of Attraction” which states that you can have what you want, you just have to visualize it as reality and ask for it. Ie., belief that one’s goals are attainable. Well, I’m giving this three years, or until the town sends the sheriff with the notice to vacate our tax-delinquent property. Anyway, I’ve written far more than I intended.
  2. Nov 2 2006, 08:07 PM Some of the readers of this blog know that I’m at the “end of life” in my radio engineering career, which largely replaced my graphic design career, which I started after retiring from the corporate 9-5 world in the 1980s. With property tax debts piling up and an income that was more business expenses than income, the time was right for a change. Last spring, I was in the middle of a huge emergency with renovating the worst part of the roof of our home. Water damage, carpenter ants and maybe termites had been busy for at least the last 20 years (after the Chlordane treatment probably wore off) and the water was coming in everywhere, in a new place every time it rained. Something had to be done and this was the year to embark on it. While I was in the midst of the worst of this renovation, racing against time, because I knew I’d taken on a 365-day project and had only about four to five months of suitable season to do it and as such, in a big hurry, a former co-worker called me about an opportunity in Primerica. It couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time in my life, given the tremendous scope of the burden I had taken on. To take on such a project alone, I had to psych myself up by planning, making drawings, determining if it was even feasible for me to do the work by myself. I had to overcome a lot of mental obstacles to get to the point where I had little doubt that I could renovate the superstructure of the house and protect the inside from the weather, without a roof for up to two months. So the wife and I decided to attend the nearby “Career Overview” that my former co-worker invited us to. My first reaction was “MLM, it’s another MLM… let’s get out of here now!” But as I sat and listened to a presentation that provided real meat in the form of factual information, I decided not to get up and leave. This company looked different. Instead of another health drink, or another soap product, they were helping a lot of families steer clear of future financial disaster, though intelligent financial planning, debt consolidation, investments and income protection. I began to like what I was seeing and hearing about. I also learned some useful information, which was something I never got out of an AmWay or a Shacklee presentation. So, despite my dire emergency, I signed on and began my training as a rep with Primerica. I wasn’t able to really participate in the business right away, due to the massive demands of my renovation and repair project, but I attended the meetings regularly and went to school to earn my life insurance producer’s license in the meantime, so that I’d be ready to hit the pavement running, just as soon as the house was secured for winter. Last month was pretty much the last of the weather in which I could do any roof work. Asphalt roof coatings just turn to solid muck when the temperature goes below 55ºF. The best days to do the roofing turned out to be those 105º days in August. So I got things closed up as best as possible and started focusing on Primerica and building my business. Due to the fact that I have been a misanthropic xenophobe for the majority of my life (being Objectivist put me at odds with so many people that I had few friends who could tolerate my philosophical thinking) I had few friends to contact as my “warm market”. Since Primerica’s concept of not using high-dollar salesmen and expensive offices to keep costs down so that they could offer their insurance products at very low costs to the consumer meant that using a “grass roots” system of getting the word out about the products and services was proven to be effective—given normal people’s social relationships. Normal people have at least ten friends that they have a good relationship and credibility with. I have two or three good friends, but even with them, my sense of credibility is not all that stellar. Maybe it was my history of getting involved in MLMs in the past. Or maybe it was my continous and ever-worsening state of poverty that caused them to think that any new endeavor that I would undertake would be simply more of the same. Whatever the reason, I knew from the start that this was going to be very hard for me. Even reading Art William’s book, “COACH”, on page 65 he mentions that if a person doesn’t have at least ten friends, then he’s probably not going to make a good representative in the business. Oh boy, I’m in trouble now. But there’s also the other side of the situation: all my friends think this is a scam. The people on another forum that I frequent a lot think it’s a scam (enough to censor the name of the company from every post) and my ego wants to prove them all wrong. I did call the few friends that I had, and set up “15-minute interviews” in which my trainer would accompany me and we’d go over the company and interview the prospect, all in the name of “practice” for me. Well, my few friends are like this: one of them is already wealthy beyond crazy—he owns a large number of FM radio stations throughout New England, another is a successful self-employed software engineer who works for big money on a contract basis, and the last one is a gentleman who’s about to retire and very much steeped in the “work til 65 and then you die” attitude of many worker-slaves. After I exhausted all my friends, I went on to neighbors. Well, the one’s that aren’t explicitly trying to get our home condemned and bulldozed, that is. Which left one, good, neighbor whom I trust. As it turns out, he was quietly a financial genius, having financed the purchase of an inn and restaurant on Lake Ontario last year and will plan to have it paid off in seven years. I talked to him about several aspects of our company and he has all the bases covered. He needed nothing and he had no time to pursue the business opportunity, between his own job and running back and forth to Canada to operate the inn. And my other two neighbors? One earns about a million a year as a day trader on Wall Street. The other is a big land developer, owns the biggest marina in the region and is a politician on top of that. No opportunity there. Given that due to my age, I have no living relatives, and my younger cousin just passed away last February, so that puts me right in the cold market. In the beginning of October, my trainer and I spent an afternoon at a busy gas station in New York, “surveying” as many customers as possible about four economic questions: 1. Do you feel that people aren’t being adequately paid for their jobs/work? 2. How long have you been with your current employer? 3. Do you feel that you pay too much in taxes? 4. If I could show you a way to earn an extra $1000-2000 per month, would you be interested in more info? We were out there for hours. Many people did not want to do the survey while they pumped their gas at all. A few did, but weren't interested in the opportunity. A surprising number of people answered yes to #1 and no to #3—that’s right—quite a few New Yorkers did not feel that they paid too much tax! (That was a real eye-opener for me.) Out of an entire afternoon, we had four people who said they were “interested” and gave us contact phone numbers. Upon following up on those in the next three days, only one phone number was correct (the others were wrong numbers) and that person, when invited to the career overview, never showed up and never called to say that she couldn’t make it. Then on October 21st, working from the back page of the local newspaper classifieds, I called 30 small business owners and did my best to interest them in a part-time opportunity where they could earn some extra money. Toward the end of the month, I was picking up business cards off public bulletin boards posted in stores and other public locations. I made more phonecalls. Initially, I had maybe three that expressed some interest, but wanted me to call them back at another time. I’ve returned those calls and left messages to answering machines. I’ve had a few that were downright not interested and annoyed that I had even called them. I had one that had already been served by a Primerica rep from the same office that I work out of (they were very pleased with the company and what was being done for them). There were a couple that said to send them a business card in the mail and gave me a street or PO box address. And there were several answering machines. My policy is if I get the answering machine three times, I leave a short, direct message on the third try. I figure that if they have any interest at all, they’d call me back. After another afternoon of calling, I have the possibility of perhaps one person showing up at our November 4th career overview. I can’t tally the score for this month until then, but I can say that I have been working against some very difficult odds. As scary as it seems, the next step is to take out the local telephone book and start calling people at random, until I find someone who’s motivated, has the right frame of mind, and believes he/she has a moral right to want to make more money than the poor slob who goes to a dead end job all of his life for annual 2% capped raises that don’t even keep up with the cost of living, while living with increasing abuse from bosses who know they have them by the balls, and the ever-present threat of layoffs and outsourcing. It won’t be easy, but I’m not giving up. There is a couple who came here from Ecuador who, in the first three years in Primerica, didn’t get much results. They made maybe $30,000 in their third year. Not terribly exciting. That was eleven years ago. They made the top income earner’s list in July, having earned a personal income of $115,000 for the month of June. Whenever I have trouble with the slowness to success, I just remind myself of that couple, who, had they given up because the money was not really coming in during the first year, would not be enjoying over $100K/month of regular income today. The way I look at it, I have to reinvent myself. I have to forget about the abuse and the taunting I received when I was a boy, the psychological problems that such a rough childhood carried with me into adulthood, putting a choker on any potential I had for being as success. Now that I’m married and we, after waiting years and years and years to have enough money to have a child, decided to have one anyway because the biological clock was about to run out, I have to build up real wealth so my wife and daughter can have a good life after I’m gone. Therefore, I have to become the person who will attract ten friends, stop making enemies and learn to care about people, even if they are religious or have Socialist ideas. That means I have to stop arguing with people and telling them that their premises are totally wrong, instead, ignoring that aspect of relationships with people and focusing on family matters and financial security for those people. Since I can’t find another country where we can all be free of taxation on people with no ability to pay taxes, I have to deal with improving the supply side of the equation, so that it won’t hurt me to write out a check for $26,000 to the town every year, and more.
  3. Oct 28 2006, 11:43 AM This is an incredulous story that I’m about to relate. I’ll get to the background and then the shocking part: I’ve been a member of a mostly techie web site called, also known as for about five years now. I’ve been a member in good standing, never spammed the discussion forums and, while often held a contrary view on property taxes and was somewhat notorious for that, never got into a clash with the board’s management because of my views on taxation. Same goes for religion. I was able to express some pretty “radical” views without censorship. Then one day, I responded to a thread about some Wal-Mart employees who walked off the job because they didn’t like some new policy that the management had implemented. One person lamented that Wal-Mart was the only job in town and that those people had nowhere else to find a job. I chimed in that perhaps those displaced employees would be better off if they all went to work for Primerica, a business opportunity where one works in business for themselves. Well, to my surprise, the software that runs the forum has “Primerica” in its list of keywords to censor the entire post, delay it and mark it for moderation. I was rather angry about that and wrote the moderators to tell them how I felt, as a longtime BBR member in good standing, suddenly being treated as if they had discovered me to be a Nazi party member. Furthermore, the replies given were full of patently false accusations, stating that Primerica was a scam, that I was just a loser and a low man on the totem pole, etc. All my attempts to respond publicly in that thread with facts from the government regulatory agencies that refute these lies, were censored and blocked/deleted. My response included the statement that if they wanted to know the truth about Primerica, they should visit the NASD and Better Business Bureau sites, as well as A.M. Best, Standard & Poors, Moody, etc., for the accurate facts. Primerica has a lot of enemies in the traditional Whole/Universal Life insurance industry. There are several web sites that are produced by a man from the competing insurance industry, and he makes a bunch of half-true statements, and provides no facts to substantiate the claims made. The other ‘enemies’ are the many people who dipped their toes in the Primerica waters, didn’t have the discipline or the initiative to do what it takes (statistic: only 19% of people who join Primerica ever get their life insurance license) to be successful in the business who go on public forums and whine about how it’s “a pyramid scheme,” “a ripoff,” “taking advantage of poor people,” etc., ad nauseum. The whole matter is, any idiot can put up a web site. The information can be totally false, and since the web is largely unregulated, there’s very little that can be done about it. Getting back to the site putting me on watch (they hate spammers with a passion and I don’t blame them) as a regular contributor to their forums who has never spammed their forums, I found the action to be knee-jerk and extremely unfair. But then, it’s their site. For now. I’ve resolved that one of the things I will do when I start to make the really big money is that I will buy or takeover the stocks, if the site’s management company is publicly-traded by then, or the web site, and put up the truth about Primerica in prominent places all over the site. It will remain as it was, but I will take that former liar of a site whose bias and lack of integrity suggests ulterior motives and alignments with unfavorable parties and sweep out the lies, disinformation and innuendos and place the truth prominently on the front page. Before I got involved with this company, I investigated it to a deeper level than most people do. I was a person who had been burned by MLMs before. I’d been in Amway, and later, some 3D camera outfit. Talk about pyramid schemes! When I found Primerica, I learned that it’s a blue-chip company, part of the CitiGroup Financial companies, which include a lot of prestigious firms, such as Smith-Barney. The company has over a trillion dollars in assets. Somehow that doesn’t come across as a scam company. They’re highly rated with numerous independent financial institution ratings firms, and I verified that by doing my own research. The compensation structure is really clever. It motivates representatives to build the business, and rewards them handsomely for doing so. The structure is similar to real estate and even the competing insurance industry. We get paid by the companies we place business with. Not from the people we hire. Every check comes from the corporation. We do get overrides from the business that people we hire do, but that’s our payment for training those people and bringing them on board. It’s perfectly legitimate and honest. And it’s a great income once you’ve built up your team. There is direct income plus residual income from the business your team does. So the larger the team, the more leverage you have for earning money. The thing that really brought me on board was the education I received on life insurance. The more I learned about how the various policies work, and seeing how Primerica only offers Term insurance, the more I understood how the Whole Life/Universal Life policies were such a huge ripoff. Conventional insurance policies like Whole Life have a savings vehicle built into the policy. The insurance companies make a lot of commission money off these policies because although the company gets a 12% return on the investments, they keep about three-quarters of that money and pay the client about 2-3% on the interest. Another thing is that no interest is earned for the first two years. And when the client borrows his own money, he has to pay interest to the insurance company! But the thing that made me want to throw a book at the wall was this: when the insured person dies, the cash value saved up in that policy goes back to the insurance company! Only the death benefit is paid. And as an adjunct, if some of the cash value is out on “loan”, the beneficiary receives the death benefit minus the loan amount and interest due! What a ripoff! There are so many things wrong with the traditional insurance industry that it could fill a book or two. I was reading an article on one of my radio journals about Nikola Tesla versus Thomas Edison. Their rivalry was fierce—when Tesla demonstrated his superior AC power generating system, Edision staged electrocution of live animals in front of the public, in an attempt to discredit Tesla’s AC theory. Clearly, Tesla’s work was superior, and eventually became the standard for power distribution around the world. But Edison even stole credit for that! Now I liken Primerica to the rest of the industry in the same manner. The industry is like Edison—established, had the whole racket to themselves and were making excessive profits by nefarious sales practices and hidden disclosures, while ripping the clients off. When A.L. Williams founded Primerica in 1977, he started a new revolution of “Buy term and invest the difference”. It took off, and took a lot of business away from the fatcat insurance industry. And that’s where the smear campaign began. The insurance industry is guilty of Ayn Rand’s “biggest sin”:: hating the good for being the good. Hating the efficatious for their achievement. I feel pretty good about this business. For me, it’s not easy. I have many personal obstacles to overcome, but the reality I see around me is that people are getting big checks every day. I was at a Filipino market last night and bumped into a young lady from my office and she told me that she had just sold a $1,000,000 life insurance policy to a doctor, saved him a lot of money over his old Universal Life policy and earned a $13,000 commission. Not bad for an hour’s work! I’m drooling over the smorgasbord of profit centers in Primerica. The more licenses I acquire, the more types of business I can transact. Securities is a big income earner. The biggest commissions are there. Right now, I can write mortgages and loans and produce life insurance policies. I have yet to study for and take the test for the securities licenses. But that is my intent. For now, I am learning the business and to improve myself, because to make it in this business, you can’ t be a misanthropic xenophobe, like I was for so many years. I’m learning to change myself, so that I can open new opportunities for myself. Primerica has been a learning experience and a self-improvement program with a real incentive to succeed. And now that there are so many people who call me a fool for joining that company, I am angry and motivated to succeed, so my ego-driven desire to show them by example is one of my strongest motivators now. I can’t wait until the day when I buy their web site and reverse all the lies and remove the Primerica censorship. That will be a sweet day.
  4. Oct 3 2006, 10:48 PM Friday, September 29th marked the first real step toward my launching my new business as a representative of Primerica Financial Services. I passed my Life Insurance Producer pre-licensing test. I took the test in Wallingford, CT. It was a strictly-controlled computer-based test (they even make you remove all personal items from your pockets and put them in lockers before you enter the testing room). There is no score given, only pass or fail. I passed! I did 5 hours of review the night before, just to make sure I’d get a good score. I knew most of the questions, although there were some worded in unusual ways that I had not seen on the practice exam or in class and home study materials, but they were few in number. There were 60 general questions and 40 state law questions on this test. The next thing I did was to forward the results to my parent company. I still need to fill out the license application and mail the $75 fee to the CT Treasurer. Only something like 19% of people who join Primerica pass their Life exam. So that puts me in the minority now. I’ll also have my mortgage license in a few weeks, so I’ll be ready to do real, commission-earning business in October! Yeah!!! Had I had my license last month, I could have split a $2800 commission with an out of state agent seeking to write a mortgage in CT, even though I did no work to sell that client. There is nothing like the satisfaction of earning thousands of dollars in commissions on just an hour’s worth of paperwork filing a mortgage application. And that is but one small part of the business that I am entering. I’ll be selling life insurance, mortgages and, later on with additional licensing, securities. I am anxious to get on board this money train and run hard with it!
  5. Feb 12 2006, 11:29 PM This is the story of a small dream that came true. For years, I'd been authoring web pages and uploading them to some server across the country, for a yearly hosting fee. My cable company broadband forbids running servers and blocks all the common server ports. I'd been with them about four years. All of this would change after the wind storm of January the 18, 2006... We had two back-to-back outages in which the cable was out for a week or more before they would send a repair truck. That was it. Then I got notice of a cable rate increase. The last straw. I ordered DSL service. By Feb 1st, the line was provisioned. By the 2nd of February, I had my complex two-tier network configuration set up. I made things more complicated because I wanted to have two tiers--a router behind a router. The DSL service supplied a Gateway, containing the modem, a router and a wireless access point. On this router, I placed my content server. And my existing router's WAN port connected here too. Behind my existing router are my workstations. Protected from Tier 1, where the content servers are. It sounds simple, but setting it all up and getting access to PCs on either side of a router is no trivial task! I struggled for two days, configuring, researching and changing settings on both router and gateway. I finally got the router behind the gateway to see the internet and learned of a method by which to see the servers as a LAN connection. Slowly, I got everything configured exactly as I had hoped would be possible. The next step was to advance beyond my music streaming audio, to a full-blown web server and ftp server. I did some research, and ended up installing Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS). It was already part of the OS that my server runs (Windows XP Pro) and supported FrontPage extentions, a very important feature for me. I went about setting it up and I made the discovery that moving the content folders from C: drive to D: drive broke the FP extentions, as I lost the ability to publish. It took a while, but I finally decided to remove and reinstall FP extentions. That fixed things. Next, was to publish a test page. I was able to see it. So I began configuring the gateway firewall to forward the ports required for these services. Then I accessed my test page through the public internet. Success! I had a hunch that I could support multiple web sites by hosting them in virtual subdirectories and pointing the URLs to the IP address and subfolder, so I created a sub-web and published my content to it. The amazing thing about publishing to your own server is the speed! A site that would take hours of uploading to a commercial host was transferred in less than a minute! Updates take just a few seconds. And the content was immediately available to the world. Great! My next step was to migrate some of my other sites to my server, so I added more sub-webs and published to them. It was so easy. Finally, I decided to experiment with pointing a domain name to my server IP\foldername. It worked! I contacted some friends and associates and asked them to try the domain and see if they got the new modified web page on the server. They connected easily. That being done, I decided it was time to give my sound system's web page (Bass Pig) it's own domain name. So I registered and pointed it to the appropriate folder at the IP address of the server. The domain registrar must be using a new way to propagate domains, because instead of the usual 48-hour delay, the domain worked immediately. Not just on my computer, but on a friend's as well. So now that I have three of my web sites hosted locally, I am starting to update content and play with capabilities I could not access on commercial servers. I may soon be running a discussion forum on my site as a result. There are still some loose ends to tie up. The DSL connection is a dynamic IP, but it has not changed since I powered up the modem, and will probably remain unchanged until it is power cycled. However, I am looking into dynamic DNS services that keep track of a changing IP and update a special URL that I can point my other URLs to. There are some options for implementing this, and I am beginning to experiment with them. I still have to back up the server and make an image of the hard drive contents for disaster recovery, and tighten up IIS security here and there, but I have the basics down and the server is working very well. The whole sense of freedom and a new, wider vista of capabilities is very attractive. Okay, so why did I do this? The answer is that I look at it as both a chance to educate myself on server administration and an opportunity to both cut hosting costs and gain more control over my content and ability to rapidly update it. I continue to be amazed a the sheer amount of features packed into Windows XP. There's a LOT of functionality crammed into what most people use for an OS just to send e-mail or write letters. The bottom line gain? I cut my internet connection services costs in half, open the potential to save hundreds on hosting and enjoy faster upstreams than I had with my cable provider, and the big one: no restrictions on how I utilize my connection.
  6. Aug 10 2005, 11:25 PM We shot our first wedding with the VX2000 (and my wife shot stills with a new Olympus E300—what a camera!!) last Sunday, August 7th. The wedding video was planned back in March. We had decided to use three cameras, our two VX2000s and our TRV900. I had arranged to have a relative who is going to school for commercial graphics apprentice as a camera operator. She had done a reasonable job at an event we taped last summer, so I decided to offer this job to her. The morning of the wedding started off smoothly… we dropped our 15-month-old daughter at the baby sitter’s and arrived at the client’s home 5 minutes ahead of stated time. We started out with taping the bride and her brides maids getting their hair done. We videotaped the dress, as it was arranged on a bed, and all the related items. My wife and I also took turns taking still photos with our Oly E300 dSLR. I used a zoom lens to get some fantastic portrait shots, achieving nice differential focus effects. Two of those portraits can be seen here and here . Things got more hectic as we started to pack up and move to the wedding location. My wife dropped a tripod and a handle/knowb broke off of it. I spent a minute or so trying to fix it, but the party was starting to leave, and we had a ton of equipment to pack and haul back out to our truck. So it became very rushed from there. We drove like a maniac to catch up to the wedding procession of cars and followed them to the West Haven city where the Savin Rock Conference Center is. This is a nice spot next to Long Island Sound. Beaches, oceanfront view, boardwalk that goes for miles. Nice place. I had arranged for the driver of the car that the bride was riding in to do a go around after I got my camera ready, but somewhere along the line, something got lost in the translation I guess. Anyway, we taped the bride exiting the car. Then we started unpacking our gear. I got most of the gear out to the hall and went back to fix the tripod. We have three: One older one that my wife broke two years ago. The one she broke today, and a new and very expensive Manfrotto that I’ve had for a year. I was able to take the knob off the oldest broken tripod and make one good tripod, so now we had two with pan bars that work and one with a broken knob for the pan bar. That last one would be used to support the TRV900, unmanned. After we got into the venue with all our gear, I noted that it was 10:50 am. For some reason, I thought the wedding ceremony started at 11:30. But my apprentice camera operator was nowhere to be found, so I called her. When she answered, she gave a lame excuse that she was sick that morning, but that she could be at the job site in 45 minutes. I went around to some people to ask when the ceremony would actually begin. Turned out that was to be 11:00 am! I told the apprentice to forget about coming today, as we don’t need a third camera operator after the ceremony is over and hung up. The ceremony was outside, in front of a gazebo, in the broiling hot sun. And boy, it was bright that day! Sun reflecting off the ocean is quite awesome. The next 10 minutes were a blur. I raced to unpack all three cameras, set up tripods and unravel mic cords, set up mic stand, insert mics, plug things in…. Cam 3 (TRV900) was to get the back shot facing the justice of the peace. Cam 2 was to get the lavelier mic audio. Cam 1 was to get the audio from a stereo pair of cardioide condensers set up at the edge of the local where the B&G and justice of the peace were located. In the frantic rush, I was unable to hear any audio on Cam 2, despite putting batteries in the laveliers. It later turned out that the Line/Mic switch on the camera had been set to Line somehow overnight. So we went without lavelier audio. The ceremony began. One of the Filipino friends gave an invocation. It was during that invocation that Cam 1 powered off suddenly… about five minutes after turning it on… more on that later… I powered Cam 1 back on and began taping again. The rest started to come together, but my wife was still taking still photos and no one was manning Cam 2. After a while, she did finally operate Cam 2, but only briefly, until the ceremony ended and the procession left the gazebo. Then she went back to taking stills. I was tethered to the mic cables, and couldn’t move from the tripod, and had assumed that my wife was taping from the front of the procession. I later found out that was not the case… Back to Cam 1’s shutdown… long after the event was over, it dawned on me that I never pressed the RECORD button. That was why the camera shut off. It had timed five minutes and powered down. It was a ‘gotcha’ that got me during a taping of two former orchestra members at the Danbury Symphony concert I taped in June… the confusion stems from being a driver. You see, to me, green means GO, Proceed, A-OK, etc. and red means Stop, trouble, bad things… and mentally, in the hot sun where I could not hardly make out a thing on the LCD, which was over my head, on a tall tripod over 7’ in the air, I somehow equated the green STANDBY indicator with tape rolling. It didn’t occur to me that the red REC indicator was what I really wanted to see. Oh well. Chalk another one up to ‘be more vigilant next time.’ None of this would have likely happened if I didn’t have zero setup time. I mean, they were coming down the isle, literally, as I was putting cameras on tripods! Lacking my assistant to help carry the gear out there (a long walk to the parking lot) we took much longer, making five trips to the truck to get everything. And no help setting up. So with a panic state of mind, I didn’t have a moment to calm down and think about why the lav mics weren’t working into Cam 2. And perhaps if I was not so rushed, I would have remembered to press the REC button on Cam 1. I did remember to REC on Cam 3. The ceremony began. It was one of those justice of the peace guys who does hundreds of weddings a month and doesn’t bother to find out the correct pronunciations. Needless to say he mangled the pronunciation of the bride’s first and last name so badly that I was really wondering whether her parents were her original parents! That was, until some of the guests spoke up to correct him. I taped the rest of the ceremony with that terrible sinking feeling that we had missed part of the core presentation. (As it would later turn out in post review, we didn’t do so badly—we had good footage on at least 1-2 other cameras and audio from the TRV900 in a pinch. I will have to do a phenomenal job in editing to put this all together seamlessly and fill in the missing audio across cameras.) The ceremony over, all moved to the building where the reception was held. Here was a different kind of nightmare—the large wall of windows facing the –you guessed it—blinding oceans reflecting the sunlight. I had to plan my shots so that the windows of this hexagonal room were mostly behind me. A difficult task, considering that the dynamic range was probably at least 15 f-stops between outside and inside and that some windows were always in the shot. But I managed on manual iris and forced the background to blow out serverely in order to get a decent pickup of the people in the room. For close to four hours, we had Cam 1 taping all the background activities at the B&G’s table, again from their backs because of the windows, and Cam 2 was the roving eye. We arranged for various key guests to give their wishes for the B&G on tape, so one by one, we asked and escorted them to a seating location in another room away from the DJ and crowd noise and got their thoughts recorded. Back in the main hall, we taped quite a bit of the major events, the dancing, the garter toss, etc. It was a little crazy because nothing was clearly planned as to when it would happen. It just happened and we did the best to be alert to each important event. At the end, we arranged to have the B&G walk along the beach as we taped it. We also had them pose for still shots. I got out my 40-150mm lens and the E300 and took some fifty or so portrait shots. It was hot, and the B&G were squinting, so I changed positions to avoid them looking into the sun so we could get better shots. But it was really hot and bright that day. Several shots came out just dazzling. Finally, we taped them getting into their car and leaving for the honeymoon. Packed up slowly and trekked out to the truck, taking inventory and rechecking that all was packed. And we made the drive home, arriving just in time for me to produce a 2-hour show for my weekly radio broadcast and then to drive up and do the program live. What a long, greuling day! After I returned home from broadcasting, my wife and I reviewed all six tapes that we shot that day. Things were not nearly as bad as I had feared. We’re going to be able to cover our few mistakes. Such as not having a video cam on the aisle for the procession… we might use the stills my wife took and do slow zooms and dissolves from one still to the next and make it into an artistic effect. Sometimes when you’re forced by unfortunate mistake to do something creative, it can work out with desirable effects. We hope that is the case with this project. Lessons learned? Next time, I will call my hired help an hour or more before the show and make sure they are on-schedule. And I will make it clear to my wife that if we are down one videographer, that she becomes the #2 camera operator and to forget the stills, as we are being paid for video, not stills. Old Man Murphy was definitely on the guest list at this wedding! But I think it will turn out fine.
  7. Jul 19 2005, 05:15 AM The third week of June was a most interesting period for me, as I was enjoying a rare opportunity to achieve one of my dreams: recording a symphony orchestra. The opportunity arose because of a longtime client of mine, the general manager of a classical/fine arts radio station, who also happens to be the son of a famous American composer and a conductor as well. In late May, he approached me about a recording session, mainly to be for his self-promotion. I was to make a video and sound recording of a local symphony orchestra, comprised of non-union volunteers, playing mostly public domain music. The concert was to be a "retro pops" format, reliving some of the classic old television show themes and commercial jingles. Wanting this badly enough, I worked out a very aggressive discount, as this would be MY resume as well, and I made sure that the client knew that I was willing to work with him because of a mutual benefit. We made a deal, and I was to record two rehearsal sessions and one concert. I figured out how to fit three television cameras, an 8-channel recording system, laptop computer, three tripods, cables, 6 microphones, and a myriad of miscellaneous other items onto one handtruck. It must have weighed more than 140lbs. But I figured out how to back it up to the tailgate of my SUV, tip it and roll it up onto the back of the SUV cargo bay. Woohoo! Was I proud of myself for figuring that little challenge out! The rehearsals went well. We had a few challenges, mainly the air conditioners were noisy. The bass drum player was afraid to be heard, the second French Horn player was flatting his notes... so on the second rehearsal, I got them to turn off the a/c for the first 56 minutes and got a pristine recording that I was able to be proud of. With most recordings, there's only so much range between electronic noise and distortion. During silence or a very quiet passage, if one turns the volume control way up, hiss is heard. I found that with the equipment I use now, the noise floor is so low that during the quiet between songs, one can turn up the volume and hear clothing rustling and pages turning on the music stands, but no hiss. And the music sounded splendid--or as good as possible for that orchestra. So I made it through two rehearsals. They went well. And the next night was the concert, an outdoor affair put on by the city center. I arrived early, about 4pm for a 7:30 concert. Talked to the stage manager and then hauled my equipment over and started unpacking. The client arrived an hour later and I assisted him with some of the setup of his stuff (projector and a small mixer/amplifier) and got it all connected to the speaker columns that the city provided. I finished getting all my stuff setup, and made some final concessions with the conductor, ending up hoisting my micropone "tree" up another 2 feet, so that his line of vision to each orchestra member was not obstructed. After setup, I fielded some advanced preparations for interviewing some people about the concert, for videotaping during intermission. Then I waited for it to begin. And on time, it did. Got the cameras rolling and started the audio recording software on the laptop, which controlled the 8-channel audio interface, recording in glorious 24-bits at 96KHz sampling rate to the hard drive in the laptop. The concert went smoothly, though I could tell that the conductor was sometimes a bit nervous and I could see in the closeups in my viewfinder as his lips moved silently trying to remember a song title or a composer's name in the brief pause before he stated them. But the performance was about as good as could be expected from an orchestra comprised of volunteers (even though the concertmaster and first violinist is a student at Juilliard) and had it's high points and its low points. The second half of the concert was taking place in darkness. Although the bandshell had lighting, they were not as effective, nor were they consistent. The front of the orchestra was in total darkness, while the interior members were bathed in orange and blue light. The appearance in my LCD viewfinder had me concerned, but as it turned out in post production, the images looked okay on a regular CRT monitor. I recorded the whole concert and an interview without incident. (Well, except for the interview--I was recording audio the whole time, but I realized 5 minutes into the interview, that my camera was on standby, not record!) I fixed that in post by making two cuts to the interview and arranging the sound-only portion in the middle and using rehearsal video footage instead, with their voices as narration. It worked out pretty nicely. After the concert, I packed up systematically and managed to locate all cables and equipment in the dark. The client and his wife thanked me for doing the recording and we had a brief chat about the content of the promotional clip that was to be produced in addition to the DVD. Three weeks have passed since the concert and I have produced two revisions of the DVD for evaluation purposes. The raw recordings generated over 300 gigabytes of sound and video data! A significant amount of time was involved with downsampling the audio to DVD format specification. What I normally do is capture all the assets to the production workstation, then import them to the timeline and synch the audio tracks with the camera audio/video. The project had six high fidelity sound tracks and six more lo-fi camera audio tracks, so there was a LOT of audio to work with. I synched most of the camera audio then unlinked it and discarded it once its usefulness was over. After the gruntwork of synchronizing all those tracks, the next step was cutting big swaths of wasted "dead time" from the program. That bought about 10 minutes. Then came the A/B/C camera cuts. And finally the transitions (dissolves from one camera to the next, depending on music tempo) were added, and then titles. As it turned out, we did have one other minor problem: I had recorded a stereo feed from their mixer, the intent being to have clean vocal tracks and MIDI piano tracks to mix in the project. As it turned out, there was something wrong with their mixer and they had changed out some equipment after I did my level check. The result was a weak and distorted feed to my equipment. I had not bothered to re-check the feed. So I ended up using the low fi camera A audio in snippets where vocals came in. And I got the slide presentation audio on CD from the client and dubbed that in later. As well as the slides of various logos, commercial products from the 1950s-70s that were shown on the projection screen during the concert. I integrated these items into the final video. I finally got to write the first DVD last week, and watch it on the big screen. And boy, did it look and sound great! In the early stages of the cuts-only portion of the editing, I put up some excerpts on my web site at the following tiny URLs: They are unfinished, but one can hear the 5.1 channel audio and get a feel for the early stages of editing as well as the look and feel of the concert. I'm very close to done, and I hope the client is very pleased and becomes a big proponent of mine. At the moment, I wait on his reaction, while I contemplate my proposal to record the Austin Organ at a cathedral in Hartford, CT this fall.
  8. Jul 15 2005, 02:26 AM I just got back from the Cathedral in Hartford, CT where I heard the Austin organ demonstrated for me by the assistant music director. This is one of the larger cathedrals in the eastern US. We talked about numerous recording possibilities, including orchestrating unconventional renditions and adapting them to the organ (ie, a piece normally played by an orchestra, adapted to organ). I also spoke to the organist, who lit up when I mentioned the great Bavo Organ in the Netherlands, and my experience with it by proxy of having bought the Post Organ Toolkit samples for my Kurzweil. The organist at this church has played the Bavo organ! He's been around the world and all over Europe, performing. He gave me a copy of a recording that someone had made for the fortieth year dedication of the church (it was built in 1962) and I am listening to Widor's Symphonie V. He is darned good! He's got the sense of passion in his performance, so I have no issues with the performance or the cathedral acoustics. The issues that the assistant music director raised were that, depending on the season, the stained glass windows rattle when the 32' stops are played. I noted this too during the demonstration. His solution to mask this was to add some 16' and 8' mix to enrich the harmonic overtones and cover some of the rattling. It was not too bad, actually. My overall impression is that the organ wasn't as loud as I had expected. The 32' pedals, even full out, didn't cause my heart to stop, or cause difficulty breathing, the way I would listen to organ on my own custom sound system. So I have some rethinking to do about how I adjust my playback system for organ music. Perhaps fourteen 18" woofers is way overkill for reproducing 16Hz. At any rate, the assistant music director explained to me that this organ is not so much suited to Baroque as to modern and French impressionist music, because of the way the voicing works. He explained that in contrast to a mechanical organ of Bach's era, this Austin, built in 1962, uses electro magnetic switching (solenoids) to actuate the valves that let air into the pipes. The mechanical organs could actually, through the way the organist presses the keys, vary the flow of air and affect the way each pipe 'speaks'. The more modern electro-actuated organs have no such controlability, and are more like a MIDI keyboard that has no velocity sensing. The tone of the organ is quite nice though a bit darker than most that I've heard. I think it's possibly due to the immense size of this cathedral (108' ceiling, 298' length of the gallery) that the higher frequencies are being absorbed. After the demo, we talked about the prospect of a commercial release. He liked the idea. And he invited me to come again when they have a full symphony orchestra and a 300-person choir performing. The Altar is large enough to encompass a full symphonic orchestra. And we talked about the prospect of expanding beyond just making organ recordings, to doing other types of music involving orchestral performances. The possibilities make me feel giddy! Everyone was friendly and seemed delighted that someone was taking an interest in making a serious recording. I did have my expectations rather high, especially after he told me that the 32' pedal is loud enough to overload the Neumann U-87s that they have flown from the gallery. My experience with it was that at floor level the 32' stops were quite tame. Perhaps I have to get my mics way up there to get the sound. Working a venue this size with 8 mics is going to involve a mammoth amount of cable! Especially if I get fancy and decide to mount some extra mics up in the catwalk at the 108' level! Just getting around this cathedral requires a degree of physical agility--many flights of stairs just to get to the choir loft where the organ controls are. They asked to see examples of my work, and fortunately, I have just completed a symphony concert 3 weeks ago, and pressed the rough evaluation DVD for the client. With the client's permission, I will forward a copy to the Church for review. This is looking very promising. Great cathedral, great organist, and a top-notch organ to record. It sounds rather like the one in Toulouse, France, but darker in tone. If I can figure out where the 32' tones reinforce, I'll have a winning combination. The recording they made 3 years ago seems to dominate around 60hz and there is barely any 16hz fundamental to be found on it. I hope that I can do better. Perhaps I'll bring an oscilloscope and attach it to the output of my MotU 896 and have the organist play the lowest of the 32' pedals while I move a mic around and look for the highest ratio of fundamental. I know that all acoustic spaces have areas where they reinforce the lowest notes. What remains to be done is to prepare a repetoire and contracts and decide what the object of the recording session is to be. One thing is evident: this is going to be exciting and enjoyable!
  9. Mar 1 2006, 08:34 PM A couple of years ago, I received a Plaxo invitation from a trusted friend (or was it Plaxo, impersonating him?), so I figured I'd try it, since, well, if he is using it, then it must be safe. So on my system, it's been for two years running. And in the back of my mind, I'm wondering some things that this particular writer, whose article is linked below, is wondering: Things really came to a head when I decided to troubleshoot, in earnest, a strange problem with Outlook e-mails getting copied to the Windows clipboard without my doing so. I got a new clipboard utility in FrontPage 2003, which holds 24 clipboard items and reports from the taskbar. Well, I was really alarmed when, as I scrolled through my Inbox in Outlook, the number of items on the clipboard was increasing! Of course, this was not the first time I discovered this. It was a few months ago, while pasting for sale items to a newsgroup, and clicking on Inbox to let the news server do its thing and clear a logjam, I noticed that the very next thing I pasted was not the for sale item text, but the first e-mail in Inbox! Today I decided to get to the bottom of it. After numerous virus scans turning up nothing, I realized that Plaxo was the only odd thing here. So I took it out today. So what happened? The clipboard behavior stopped. No longer are my inbox messages being auto-copied to clipboard. Now this makes me wonder, if that was happening because of Plaxo, could it be that Plaxo is collecting a lot more than address info? Could every e-mail I've clicked on be copied to some computer in the Plaxo corporate building? Enquiring minds want to know! So I am putting out the word that Plaxo does some strange things to your Outlook software and that data privacy MIGHT be compromised.
  10. Mar 22 2006, 03:54 AM I've been making a concerted effort to find work in my area of talent and experience, relating to computer technology this year, and I'm coming back from it all, very frustrated. For example, job postings on are attracting very low--ridiculously-low--bids. And the companies that post these projects have absurdly-small budgets. Who the hell can produce a 36-page 4C catalogue for $236?? Other jobs involve fairly advanced 3D graphics modeling and animation, again, paying just a few hundred dollars! It seems that the only jobs that are budgeting close to $1,000 are the ones where you must build an entire e-commerce site, including setting up the database, front end, PHP/MySQL scripting--the works. Basically, any of these jobs would have me working at a couple of dollars an hour if I could bid on them (to do that, I must take out the credit card and sign up for a monthly fee just to get the bare minimum privilages to bid on the few jobs that might both be within my grasp and earn enough money that I'd be earning more than the gas station attendant. Back in the late 1980s through the early '90s, graphic design work paid well. It was hard to get, but the jobs I did get paid well. For example, $5,000 to lay out a VHS cassette sleeve and 4C/1C sell sheet. Later, that project price offering was reduced to $1500 for the same work and later, $1350. I still did well, and the multiple VHS jobs paid $3,000 and took me just a few hours to complete. With the cost of film, 4C seps, 3M color proofs considered, I was earning $128/hr back in those days. My last good jobs was designing faceplates for a kiosk marketing firm that positioned coupon printing kiosks at stores like Caldor's, Bradlee's and K-Mart. I averaged about $100/hr producing full color ads and B&W coupon layouts for each product offering, and often cranked out 8-10 ads a day. The firm that hired me also had an in-house staff of five designers, who, collectively, produced about 12-15 ads per day total output. I streamlined my work, used state of the art hardware to maximize efficiency and was able to produce excellent faceplates that passed their quality control inspections every time. And I was earning thousands a week. Unfortunately, that firm went bankrupt in the middle of my subcontracting with them and left me with $6400 in unpaid invoices. But the money was great while it lasted and I worked my tail off, pacing myself and always trying to surpass my earlier benchmarks of performance and quality of work. After 1995, all I got were scraps and it's been downhill since. In 1997, I reluctantly went into broadcast radio engineering as a constract service provider, risking my life climbing towers and working around high voltages in all kinds of weather. Suddenly, I was racking up 800+ miles/week on the car, and earning only $25/hr. After meeting up with a former FCC inspector one afternoon, whom I'd subcontracted to do a specific task for a client, he convinced me to increase my rates, seeing I was driving a 17 year old clunker for transportation and after having a frank conversation about rates. He was charging $75/hr in the MN area and $150/hr for consulting he did that involved flying to distant locations. Over the next 4 years, I gradually raised my rate to $50/hr. I lost some clients in the process, the Hispanic stations refused to pay that rate, but I was working fewer hours for better quality clients and earning more money. For about 2 years, that was paying the bills pretty well. Then the radio market started to dive in 2003 and owners could no longer afford maintenance, so my hours of employment dipped. The wife took a manufacturing job just to help make ends meet and because she wanted some nice things that her friends have, like furniture, a better car, etc. So now, with skyrocketing electricity and fuel costs wiping out what was left of a retirement account that was already wiped out by four years of five-figure property tax bills after some recent revaluations tripled the taxes, our comfort of life is all but gone. Radio is just not cutting it, and I don't love the commutes at all. I'm getting on in years and need to find work that is less physically-demanding. So I'm revisiting computer graphics, my passion, along with sound & multimedia. But I'm discovering that it's no longer paying a living wage. These companies, and the people that bid on the jobs, must be living in a bubble. Who would bid on a job at $236 that involves at least 30-35 hours of work? It's unrealistic. There must be a lot of kids out there who are providing the cheap labor. Back in the days when I was actively involved, and you needed a $15,000 Mac Quadra 950 to do anything respectable, you got paid real money. I was heavily invested in software and hardware, spending as much as $4995 for a graphics card alone, $15,000 for animation software, thousands more for photo and page layout applications, etc. And I was able to make a profit and pay off the loans. Today, I couldn't pay a property tax bill on the income I'm expected to make with referral jobs from places like Elance. This can't be real! I must be missing something somewhere. Surely there are REAL graphics/multimedia projects that pay in the thousands, where it's possible to earn $60 or more an hour after expenses are considered, but where?? It seems that the people who are well off have a lot of investment real estate, own radio stations and live off the ad revenue, or are Wall Street day traders, like my neighbor. Everyone else is slogging along working two menial jobs and popping pills just to stay awake on the job. I have another neighbor who's in the latter unfortunate situation, and they look haggard and worn out way too early for their years. So where are all the good jobs? Where is the money at these days? Is there some top-secret society of graphics people that get to choose from an elite pool of clients that I don't know about? Or are all the great animations and graphics we see on television being done by poor fools earning less than $7/hour? I'm under a lot of pressure to increase my income, as it seems that local government is tightening its grip around the necks of it's victims taxpayers. I need a steady $60/hr income to keep the wolves at bay, but I'm not finding it online these days. Spammers easily surpass that. I'm sure too that the scammers and credit card thieves are enjoying a lifestyle I'll never achieve again. But where is the money for honest, hard-working designers, multimedia enthusiasts and video/sound professionals? The local market has been a series of closed doors. It seems the industrial door to door sales is dead. Why am I finding myself selling off all my precious items on ebay just to come up with bill money each month? My income is shifting away from real work and more toward coming from PayPal deposits. But I have a finite number of items to sell off and when they are gone, that income stops. Before that happens, I had hoped that some of these referral services were the solution to the income problem. But from what I've seen perusing the rather paltry selection of projects up for bid, and the pathetic price range of these bids, I am feeling an impending sense of financial doom. Fifty years ago, a man could work a simple wage job, have a decent home, a wife at home that cooked and cleaned and raised the kids and gave them proper love and attention, and life was good. Today, we both have to work, and there still isn't enough money to pay the bills and the taxes both. And the wages for both full-time jobs as well as consulting 'job shop' work have tanked. My wife's company's new CEO is withholding this year's raises indefinately. The whole situation leaves me pronostacating that the proverbial excrement is about to collide with the rotating propeller.