“Love Never Dies”

I took my mother to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies at the Providence Performing Arts Center last night; the tickets were her Christmas present. The play is a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, taking place ten years after the original. According to the sequel, the Phantom was rescued by Madam and Meg Giri; they made their way to New York, where the Phantom created Phantasma, a Coney Island attraction, but he is still pining for Christine.

In the meantime, Christine has become a world-famous opera singer, married Raoul, and had a son Gustave. Christine has come to New York to open Oscar & Hammerstein’s new opera house. The Phantom outbids Hammerstein to get Christine to sing at Phantama, it’s not immediately obvious to Christine and Raoul who did the outbidding, but the Phantom reveals himself to Christine, meets Gustave, and threatens her family if she does not perform.

Beyond that point, the play spends a fair amount of time asking whether “will she or won’t she” sing for the Phantom. I won’t spoil the ending by going into the plot further than that.

The production was sumptuous, and the sets were gorgeous. For me, like the first time I saw Phantom, it was hard to follow what was going on, because nearly everything is sung, and it’s always hard to understand the lyrics to songs. It helped a little to check Wikipedia during the intermission.

I really enjoyed the music. There were just enough call backs to the Phantom music to tie the two plays together, but most of the music was original. Some of the numbers were really good. I especially liked the piece — weird though it was — where the Phantom shows Gustave and Christine his Aerie in the bowels of Phantasma.

My mother and I both felt that the plot kind of left the rails in the second act. There are a couple of plot twists that just felt really improbable, and that some of the things that were going on were out of character.

That being said, we both enjoyed it, The music was good; the production numbers were excellent. I think I might enjoy it better, if, like the second time I saw Phantom, I’d read the lyrics ahead of time so I knew what the characters were saying. Love Never Dies is touring North America, and it’s headed to Pittsburgh and Cleveland before coming to Boston the end of this month.



This Year’s Tree

2017 Christmas tree

2017 Christmas tree

I got this year’s Christmas tree relatively early. We were expecting rain and snow later in the week, and I figured most of the trees for sale this year had already been cut anyway. So one day in the first week of December, I went over to  the garden center to pick up a tree. I found this one, well shaped and thick, and brought it home, and set it in a pan of water out in the garage for a couple of days. The person at the garden center put a fresh cut on the end.

We put it up the second Friday of December, partly because that’s when my sister was available to join us. I’d picked up an additional string of smaller, brighter LED lights. I’d hoped to replace some of the older LEDs with warmer lights, but ended up just putting more lights on the tree. It looked gorgeous. It was as close as I’d come to the perfect tree in a long time.

After a couple of days, I noticed it wasn’t taking up much water– I’d fill it, and it would only go down an inch or so. It wasn’t until a week or so later, when it was starting to smell dry, that I remembered I’d put a big gash in the bark while attempting to center it in the stand.

By Christmas Eve, it was noticeably wilted. Thankfully, we’re long past the days of big C-9 incandescent lights — all the lights are either LEDs, or the smaller incandescent lights that don’t get very hot. This enabled us to get by for a couple of days past Christmas. Generally, we can keep a tree up until New Years Day, and sometimes a few days beyond,  but this year’s tree came down today. It was just too dry and brittle. Generally when I take a tree out the front door, I leave a bunch of needles behind. This year, I left behind a trail of small branches.

Once I got it outside, I examined the trunk. I saw the gash I’d left initially when I mounted it in the stand, but I also saw a thin cut about a quarter of an inch above that, that I can’t explain. It goes nearly all the way around the trunk, and would have been about half an inch below the water line of a very full stand. No wonder it wasn’t taking up water. I don’t know where the cut came from, but I’ll keep my eyes open next year.



Upgrading my Laptop

When I first bought this laptop three years ago, I really wanted to buy it with a one terabyte Solid State Drive (SSD). It was replacing a laptop with a nearly full 500 GB hard drive. I was buying it in a hurry, because the old laptop died, and I thought long and hard about ordering one with a larger SSD. I finally decided I couldn’t wait to order one custom-built, and I couldn’t afford the nearly $3000 price tag at that time. I’d been out of work for a couple of months in the summer, and it was nearly Christmas. I decided I’d go with a 500GB SSD.

As it turned out, when I migrated my data, I picked up about 50 GB of space, probably from deleting unneeded logs. Still, my photo collection continued to grow, and I offloaded my iTunes library to an external hard drive. This helped for a while, but once again space was getting tight. I’d already removed everything I easily could.

I did a little looking, and found that I could swap out my factory 500 GB SSD for a one terabyte model. I ordered the OWC Aura Pro X Complete SSD from MacSales. There was a video showing the upgrade procedure and it looked straightforward and something I could handle. The kit came with the special pentalobe and  Torx screwdrivers needed to open the laptop case and remove the old SSD, and an enclosure to put the factory SSD into, to make it easy to transfer over my data.

The physical upgrade was the easy part. You have to use the five-pointed pentalobe screwdriver to remove the 10 tiny little screws holding the bottom of the computer in place. Then the battery has to be disconnected, the old SSD removed, and the new one slid into place and screwed down. While I had the computer open, I noticed a thick layer of dust clinging to the fans, and blew them out with some canned air.

The next step was to put the original SSD in the enclosure that came with the kit, so that it could be used as an external drive. Easy-peasy.

Getting the computer back up and running was the hard part. I plugged in the now-external hard drive and started it up, and nothing happened. Fortunately, I had the iPad, and was able to do a re-read the data transfer instructions. The next step was to try to start the computer in Recovery Mode, by starting up while holding down Command (⌘)-R. It connected to the internet, downloaded what it needed, and then showed the OS X Utilities. Unfortunately, neither the new internal SSD or the old external SSD showed up in the disk list. Fortunately, I tried reinstalling the OS, and when it did, it became clear: Recovery Mode was set up for Yosemite, and both SSDs were formatted in the new APFS (Apple File System) format, which Yosemite doesn’t recognize.

Back to the web. I had to figure out how to get the High Sierra version of Recovery Mode. Fortunately I found this support document on Apple’s site. With a computer like mine, that’s been upgraded, macOS Recovery will recover different versions of macOS depending on which keys you hold down when starting up. When you hold down Command (⌘)-R, as I’d done before, you get the version that originally came with the computer. This is why I’d gotten the Yosemite installer. What I wanted was Option-Command-R, which upgrades the computer to the most recent version of the OS available for the computer.

Once I did that, I got the High Sierra version of the macOS Utilities, which recognized both SSDs. I reformatted the new SSD, installed High Sierra on it, and checked permissions. Then I rebooted the computer and ran Migration Assistant on it to transfer the data from the old SSD to the new one. It was interesting to see how much faster Migration Assistant ran this time, copying data between two SSDs rather the Time Capsule and an SSD. When it first started up, it said it would take about an hour and a half to transfer the data, but the estimates quickly dropped. I’m not sure exactly how long it took because I had to go out and get the ice off the driveway.

So far, so good. The process was bumpier than I anticipated, but once I got to the High Sierra installer, I was pretty much able to run through the steps MacSales outlined on their website. It seems to have copied everything successfully, including my Keychain with my stored passwords, and now I don’t need to worry about filling up the computer when I import pictures.

For now.

Making of a Christmas Card, 2017

I’m not exactly sure where the idea for this year’s Christmas card came from. I started mulling it over in late November. Last year’s Snow Globe was easy and successful, but I wanted something more than just a picture of a Christmas decoration. I wasn’t sure if I wanted a scenic, but I couldn’t think of anything in my library that would suit. Finally, I remembered the tradition of leaving a snack out for Santa, and everything fell into place. I’d imply a scene of Santa relaxing, taking off his hat, having a sip of his milk, and taking a bite out of his cookies. The actual scene would be the hat, the milk, and the cookies. Once I had the idea, it simply became a matter of shooting it.

I tried two different approaches. The first was on a small table from the living room, shot in the arch between the dining and living rooms, with the dark living room behind the scene. I chose that spot because I could bounce flash off the white dining room ceiling. The second approach was to use the same table top studio that I used for the snow globe last year.

I placed the table and scene in the arch, and then started shooting without the flash, to just get a sense of how to frame the scene, and place the items in it. Then I put some milk in the glass, added some cookies to the plate, attached the flash, and started shooting. Once I finished, I set up the table top studio, placed the scene inside it, and took some more pictures.  After a few shots, I decided the hat needed to be a little “peakier” and placed a can inside to make it stand up some. After shooting some more scenes, it was time to see what I’d gotten.

They weren’t good.

Truth be told, I actually liked the very first, test shot I took best.

The very first shot

I liked the clean look of this frame, and the “Old Master” feel of the existing light and dark background. In addition, I decided I liked the original placement of the hat best. Unfortunately, this frame was handheld, so there is motion blur, and it’s a test shot, so I hadn’t placed the milk or cookies yet.

I reshot it the next night. This time, I didn’t bother with the flash; instead, I used the tripod. I tried to replicate the look of the hat, used a nicer glass for the milk, (after taking a sip of it) and a more festive plate. This time, I came up with a shot I was happy with:

I then took the picture into Photoshop for some relatively minor modifications. Because of the existing light, the milk and plate were kind of yellowy-green. The inner part of the hat needed to be lightened up. And finally, I noticed that the top of the table had some scratches in it; after all the dust and scratches I’ve retouched out of slides, fixing the table was a piece of cake. Finally, I added a rough, deckle edged mask to the edges of the picture.

I then took the picture into Pages. I made a copy of last year’s card layout, placed the picture into it; and experimented with the placement and font of the text.

For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me before to see if this printer supported two-sided printing, so I’d been in the habit of using two layouts, and running them in batches. This year, the light bulb went off; I checked, and sure enough, the printer supports it. So I changed the card layout to two pages and ran them off two-sided. When I think of all the years I spent feeding card stock sheet by sheet into a balky printer, this was so quick and easy.

2017 Christmas Card

Merry Christmas everyone.