Sunday, December 13, 2009

World Premier of Spot and Peanut in Lost at Sea!

World Premier of Spot and Peanut in Lost at Sea!

About six weeks ago, Kym is away on a business trip for the weekend. Son, Taylor, now eight, asks if he can fill up the Jacuzzi tub in the master bedroom. In his hands is a "boat" - several pieces of wood from my workshop hot-glued together. Turns out, he wants to make a movie starring his guinea pigs, Spot and Peanut (aka, "the gigs"). He's written a story about them going on an adventure.

Now, you have to understand, Taylor has clearly inherited the wild imagination gene from his dad. He already has more ideas than he'll ever be able to actually execute on. So I end up both working to encourage his creativity and manage his expectations about what we can pull off. (A few weeks before this episode, he told me he wanted his own website so he could create games and post pictures of his inventions. We settled on a blog:

So when I see what he's up to, I didn't want to say, "No, T, you can't put your guinea pigs on a boat in the tub to make a movie." Instead, we talked about how we might make a movie in a way that was safer for the gigs using some movie magic - green screen. We spent the entire weekend in pre-production - working on the story, deciding on a budget, planning, etc. Over breakfast out, we talked about all the different movies we liked and what made Pixar so good at making amazing movies (it's all about the story). Taylor drew up storyboards for each scene. A few days later, I come home and he's typed out most of the script on our Mac.

Throughout the process, I've been very impressed that Taylor has finally come to understand that the idea is just the beginning of the process. He really got into learning how to use the editing tools and saw the value of working hard to make little changes to make things funnier or move along.

Our goal has been to get this project finished by Christmas so we can share it with the family. We got enough done this weekend, though, to post a cliffhanger of a first episode. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as we did making it. We still have a lot to learn about technique, but it's been great fun!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Les Paul

Les Paul and the Night Before the World Changed

Les Paul will be forever linked in my mind with life before the world changed. My friend Peter Frishauf invited me to see Les Paul perform with his trio at one of his weekly gigs at the Iridium. I had to go uptown from 42nd street and got caught in an flash downpour that made every cab in Manhattan vanish, leaving me to walk about 10 blocks. My umbrella was no match. But it gave me an excuse to trade my sopping wet dress shirt for a Les Paul t-shirt.

The show was remarkable in so many ways - Les' obviously arthritic hands couldn't play some of the furious riffs of his former years, but his gift for music was still undeniable. Even more, the field of musical gravity that pulled talent from the furthest reaches into his orbit. More than one famous rocker was in the audience that night, there to pay him homage, which he repaid by handing over his guitar and letting them sit in. Suddenly this big, bearded rock star turns into a little boy who has just been handed Superman's cape by the Man of Steel himself and told to try it on for size. I thought he might cry. Instead, he played it like the little drummer boy - repaying a gift he had been given with every ounce of his being.

It was a magical night. It was September 10th, 2001. One last evening of innocence before nothing would ever be the same.

Thank you, Les. I hold onto that memory like a priceless treasure.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

HITECH: An Interoperetta in Three Acts

The American College of Medical Informatimusicology is pleased to bring you an original work written and performed by ACMI's founding member, Dr. Ross D. Martin, MD, MHA, FACMI:

An Interoperetta in Three Acts

Who knew you could learn so much about the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act in under four minutes?

The Story Behind the Song

I had been thinking about writing a song for HITSP, CCHIT and AHIC for a couple of years, figuring it was time to tie a bow around the four other standards songs I've written - for NCPDP ("The Legend of Bob the DERF" - country & western tune about the standards-setting gunslingers of old), HL7 ("The Patient is Waiting" - a rock ballad), MedBiquitous ("The MedBiq Song" - a la Gilbert and Sullivan) and X12 ("The X12 Song" - R&B pop tune). All these songs are available on my MP3 page.
The inspiration for structure of the song, though, is actually about 20 years old. A classmate from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Dr. John Weigand, did a brilliant skit at our annual student talent show, sung by "The Weigand Trio," about his med school experience. It was three songs in one, just like this one; John used cassette recorders to "perform" the three parts at once. It was hysterical. So when it came time to write a song about three components of harmonizing standards, his idea seemed the perfect vehicle. I hadn't spoken to John since med school, so I looked him up on Google, emailed to make sure this was his original idea (it was) and make sure he was okay with me borrowing it (he was).
I wrote HITECH during a quick family vacation in Florida - mostly on the plane rides - back in March. Kym and Taylor are quite happy it's done so they don't have to listen to me running through the same 35-second song over and over again.This was probably one of the most complex songs I've ever written. Each verse had to layer on top of the other, syllable by syllable. Usually, I write lyrics in a little notebook, scratching out lines and words until it's just right. This one was just too difficult to write a verse at a time, so I had to literally do it on a spreadsheet so I could get it all to line up properly. I snapped a picture of it:

Writing the song turned out to be the easy part. The recording was done on a Zoom H2 (what a great little multi-track recorder!). Since HITECH at Deloitte is keeping me busy more than full time in "real life" work, I did most of the recording, videotaping and editing in the wee hours (just like I'm writing this blog post - after 1am). I did the audio editing using Audacity, the elegant and simple open source multi-track software tool, and the video editing with PowerDirector, the software that came with my JVC Everio, a good-enough camcorder. It was the editing that took forever - getting the timing just right, adding the scrolling captions, editing the audio so everything was balanced and the "sound effects" came out reasonably believable.
In the end, there were a dozen things I would want to do better - especially on the vocals front, but I just didn't want to spend any more time than I absolutely had to to get a decent result. So it is what it is and I hope you enjoy the video. Please let me know what you think - either by posting a comment here or on YouTube or by sending me an email. And if you need some real, serious work done around HITECH, my colleagues and I at Deloitte Consulting would be happy to help. Just send the Deloitte HITECH Response Team an email.

Who links to my website?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Working with YouTube

Working with YouTube

This is a test video so I can learn how to post.

That was the video. How does it look?

That was ridiculously easy!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Stories of My Father

Stories from My Father

Joseph Gordon Martin
September 1st, 1930 - January 29th, 2009

Yesterday, we celebrated the life and mourned the passing of Joseph Gordon Martin - otherwise known as "Joe Gordon" to his kin back in Big Stone Gap, VA, "Captain Martin" to his Air Force colleagues, "Your old uncle Joe" to the people he called up on the phone during his long career in real estate, and just plain "Joe" to most of the people who grew to know and love him throughout his life. For me, he was "Dad."

His memorial service, held in the multi-purpose room of the Fairborn St. Luke United Methodist Church (it wouldn't fit in the sanctuary) was not your typical, somber affair. It did begin with a moving presentation of an American flag to my mother by an Air Force color guard in honor of Dad's service to the country he loved. The standing room only crowd (we're thinking around 300 attended) was perfectly silent as taps played.

Then things got to hopping! We sang "How Great Thou Art" with gusto - one of my dad's favorites. Dr. Stuart McDowell, Chair of the Wright State University Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures, introduced a group of students to sing selections from their recent production of Smokey Joe's Cafe. Mom and Dad have been long-time supporters of the theatre department and helped fund a student scholarship there. I had asked Stuart if they might come and sing, hoping for two to agree. Instead, eight singers and a pianist entertained us with powerful versions of "Loving You" and "Stand By Me," the latter song bringing claps and cheers as their joyous vocals filled the room.

We then had a time of sharing tributes by friends and family. I started by asking folks to raise their hand if they had ever:
  • Had a real estate dealing with "your Old Uncle Joe"
  • Attended church with Joe
  • Seen Joe in the Fairborn 4th of July parade
  • Been publicly embarrassed by my father

For each question, hundreds of hands shot up. To me, these questions really summarized the public face of my Dad. Always with a smile and a story or something funny to say.

There was one question I didn't ask - how many of you have ever benefited from my father's generosity? I learned only in the last year or so as he began disclosing some of his financial dealings with me, that he had made so many personal loans to folks when they couldn't get credit or were going through a particularly difficult time. He shared this information with me with some pangs of regret as the current economic hardships have made more than a few of his debtors default. He was watching the nest egg he had put aside for his "first wife" Sonia (as he called her for their entire 52 years of marriage) suffer along with everyone else's and worried that he hadn't been prudent enough. I reassured Dad that Mom would have more than enough to live comfortably for many years and still have some leftover for his kids and for the charities he cared about.

During my sister's beautiful comments, she mentioned his quiet generosity and live-within-your-means style, saying that the world wouldn't be in its current economic state if we all behaved in this way. He gave us a wonderful example to follow - one that I hope I can live up to and that my own son will grow to appreciate.

I wrapped up my own comments with a poem by John Updike, who passed away the same week as Dad:

Perfection Wasted

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.

That's my dad.

Many others shared stories of his humor, community service and love of life. I'm sure as the service was closing, had my father been standing in the back, he would have been shaking his wristwatch and putting it up to his ear - playfully signaling the preacher that it was time to stop.

Lest anyone imagine him a perfect man, let me assure you I do not. Nor was he a perfect father. I know that there have been at least three reasons I haven't shed tears with his passing. One is that his death was a blessed release from the pain and suffering we were all experiencing as cancer ate away at him. Another is that it is very hard to have a conversation with someone who knew my father without laughing about one of his stories or something he said or did to make a perfect moment - and he would love to know that this is so. We are all so grateful that he took the time to put some of his best stories in a book, The Life and Times of Joe Gordon (to the best of my recollection), more about which is available here.

But there is a third reason I haven't really mourned his passing. My relationship with my father was pretty much the same as everyone else's. He was (mostly) kind and supportive; I never doubted that he loved me or that he was proud of me; if I got into a bind, he would loan me money (with interest); we took family vacations to interesting places. But there was no real connection of the father-son kind. I have a solitary memory of throwing a ball with him when I was about four. No camping trips or father-son outings, though a couple of times he did take my sister, Melissa, and me to Rainbow Lakes - a theoretically stocked mudhole of a lake outside of Fairborn that, in retrospect, seemed more like an abandoned minefield than a place to actually catch fish.

As I've read about Ronald Reagan and the relationships he had with his children, I strongly resonate with those experiences. What you saw was what he was, with no ulterior motives or hidden resentments. But he was not a man with whom his children had much of a personal relationship. Like Reagan, my father was a product of his generation and didn't seem to have much of a capacity to explore his inner self or connect with others at a deeper level.

Helping him write and publish his book was the closest I came to having heart-to-heart conversations as he grew nearer to death and acknowledged some of his fears about what happens next. So in a very real and somewhat sad way, I haven't lost my father at all because the man I knew and the relationship I had with him are pretty much encapsulated in his book. For me, he was his stories. I was rarely, if ever, a character in them, and then played only a bystander role. So if I'm mourning any loss, it is that I know that this is the full extent of my ever knowing and having a father.

If this sounds like a judgment against my dad, it is not. I can think of many, many examples of fathers that make me so very grateful for the one that I have had. Joe Martin was a very good man, one I am exceedingly proud to say was my father, and one who lived a full, no-regrets sort of life that I would be happy to be able to say that I emulated when my own life story comes to a close.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Taylor's 2009 New Year's Card

Taylor's 2009 New Year's Card

Oh-Eight is a wrap -- and I say Good Riddance!
Dad's 401(k) is now worth a mere pittance
The stock market's tanking; our future looks dark
Our country's transmission seems locked up in Park
I'm feeling most pensive and now as I ponder
The future, I see all the warnings and wonder
If my generation will be the last one
To have childhoods loaded with laughter and fun

But then I remember -- a New Dawn is near
It heralds the triumph of Hope over Fear
Our nation decided to Change its direction
By checking "Obama" in last year's election
Even before he's been sworn in, it's clear
We're returning to principles we once held dear
We now have the green light to lead many nations
From a place of True Strength that eschews isolation

But enough with political pontificating
The New Year is here and it's worth celebrating!
Forget the bad news -- things will turn out just fine
And I have Big Plans for Two Thousand and Nine
Like making more movies on Daddy's old Mac
And adding new lines to our Christmas train track
I'm building inventions with solder and saw
And working toward earning my black belt -- Hai-YAH!

My folks are both making their own big plans too
Dad's joining Deloitte on their consulting crew
Mom the "Nutritioner" makes meals a treat
And counsels her clients on good foods to eat
They're P90X-ing and getting real buff
And love ballroom dancing and other fun stuff
There's much more to tell you before this poem ends
But it's done -- HAPPY NEW YEAR
Dear Loved Ones and Friends!

Click the links for Taylor's New Year's reflections of yore: