Puppet Stage

March 8, 2011

The youth of my church attend a regional competition each year where they are tested on a variety of areas, to include Bible knowledge, website design, singing/song leading, and puppet performances.  For those of you that follow my other site, the kids have been doing puppet performances for a few years now.  I’ve made the puppets over  the years, allowing the students to decorate  them so they can perform their plays.  This year, however, there was a new requirement – the puppet stage.

In the past, there was a puppet stage available for the kids to use.  However, this year there is a requirement for the churches to bring their own.  We received the following diagram and text telling us how the puppet stage should be created:

All measurements are from the top railing.
Puppet stage parts list:
12 pieces of 10ft. 1.5 PVC
18 of 1.5 T-Joints
8 of 1.5 90-degree elbows
6 of 1.5 x 1.5 adapter couplings
6 of 1.5 x 3 adapter couplings
1 box of 0.25 phillips head screws.  Drill a hole at each connection and put in a screw to make connection secure.  Do not glue or tape together.  This will make storage easier.
Heavy poly cotton black fabric (black only) – velcro

That is all I received.  So, putting my engineering and math background to use, I had to calculate the actual lengths of the pipe sections in order to achieve the desired dimensions.  This was easy to achieve once I made some preliminary measurements of the exterior and interior of the various fittings.  It took approximately one week to do the math and make the cuts (working about an hour or two each night after work).  The frame went together as seen below:

Then came the hard part – the fabric walls.  I have to admit, I can channel my inner Betsy Ross when needed, but I am far from proficient when it comes to measuring and cutting fabric (especially when it is constantly shifting).  After a lot of fitting, pinning, and refitting, I was able to get a sense of the size and shape of the pieces of fabric necessary in order to cover the frame.  With one piece being 18-feet wide by 5-feet tall, the measuring and pinning took a long while to complete, and that was before I had to trim, hem, and attach the velcro.  In all, the fabric took about one to two weeks to complete.

Lastly, I had to take the whole project apart and bring it to the church building for the kids to assemble on their own.  One of the requirements is that the group assembles, performs, and disassembles the stage in only 12 minutes.  While I have an issue with that requirement, I came up with a way that can be done.  By having the stage partially assembled (in three sections) off to the side, the can walk in and simply attach four poles to complete the assembly.  That shouldn’t take any more than 2 minutes, especially since the coordinator has decided to use the stage without the one-foot extensions at the base of the poles (lowering it to 6.5 feet tall).

Since the fabric around the front and side of the front-half of the stage is a single piece, the first section would already be draped in fabric and simply need the side arms raised into position to connect to the vertical middle section (the second section).  Lastly, the horizontal pieces that connect the middle to the rear of the stage (the third section) would already have the fabric attached, so all that is needed is a tall person to connect the poles together and the stage is completed.  (We will have to practice this some to coordinate the assembly.)

With the stage completed, it’s time to turn the attention towards the puppets themselves.  More on that to come later.

The Ultimate Christmas Music CD

December 22, 2010

Christmas is quickly approaching.  People are rushing from store to store (or website to website) to find the perfect gift for family and friends.  Travel plans are being made (with a careful eye on the weather forecast).  And radio stations are playing Christmas music 24 hours a day.   It is the last item that got me thinking, “What is the ultimate Christmas music CD?”

As I sit here, listening to songs from the past six decades, I begin to realize just how many different Christmas songs there really are.  Some songs go back well over a century, while others are written just a few years ago.  And let’s not even get into how many times a single song has been performed by various artists – all with their own special twist on the music (see Mannheim Steamroller for example).

In putting together the Ultimate Christmas Music CD, I thought about grabbing key songs from multiple generations and putting together a collection that is both classic as well as upbeat.  If I were in charge, the following is the CD that you would be able to purchase this season (with links to the actual songs):

Leroy Anderson – Sleigh Ride (1948) instrumental
Bing Crosby – Do You Hear What I Hear? (1963)
– (alternate) Linda Eder – Do You Hear What I Hear? (2000)
Ray Conniff – Ring Christmas Bells (1962)
Jose Feliciano – Feliz Navidad (1970)
Percy Faith & His Orchestra – We Need A Little Christmas (1966)
Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas Is You (1994)
Perry Como – It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas (1951)
– (alternate) Johnny Mathis – It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas (1986)
Boney M – Mary’s Boy Child (1978)
Paul Mccartney & Wings – Wonderful Christmastime (1979)
David Foster – Carol Of The Bells (1993)
Percy Faith & His Orchestra – Joy To The World (1954)
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Christmas Eve, Sarajevo (1996)
Ray Conniff – Jolly Old St. Nicholas/Little Drummer Boy (1962)
Josh Groban – O Holy Night (2002)
The Carpenters – Sleigh Ride (1978)
Perry Como – Home for the Holidays (1954)

Like with any good CD, however, there needs to be a bonus disc.  In this case, I have five additional songs that captures the essence of youth for the Season:

Bonus CD
Royal Guardsmen – Snoopy’s Christmas (1967)
Lou Monte – Dominick the Donkey (1960)
Gene Autry – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949)
Gayla Peevey – I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas (1953)
John Mellencamp – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1987)

If there is a song you think that should be included, make a recommendation below.  MERRY CHRISTMAS!

EVE Online

November 11, 2010

Last week, I went out of town on vacation to kick back and try to forget about work for a while.  As usual, I took with me my computer and a stack of computer games that I haven’t had a chance to play in a while.  While flipping through my game collection, I stumbled across my copy of EVE Online.

EVE Online is a multi-player online game that takes place very far in the future.  In your classic rags-to-riches story, you start off with the basics: a few dollars and a tiny little space ship.  As you progress in the game, you improve your skills (real-time based), improve your space ship, and improve your bank account.  You can earn money through selling raw minerals that you mine from asteroid belts, from supplies you steal from competitors, or (if you join a corporation) from selling new space ships to those that can afford them.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is what you do before the game begins.  After creating your username, you get to create your avatar.  In the most advanced platform that I have ever seen, you can create your character to look anyway you like.  You can even control the position of the lighting on your character and the background to give your avatar additional personality.  The graphics quality continues outside of the avatar development stage.  As you travel to different worlds, you will be impressed by the fine-art quality of the environments you find your ship traveling through.  Planets look like they pop right out of your screen, while galaxies glow with their radiant beauty.

When I last played, I teamed up with a few of my coworkers to start our own corporation.  When we weren’t searching for rare raw materials to build our advanced space ships, we were engaging in coordinated attacks on other corporations and syndicates that were trying to infiltrate our territories.  And since the game is ever-changing with new players, the game continues without end.

Loading the game back on my computer, I discovered that they are offering a 14-day free trial for new users.  If you love space, strategy, and/or economic games, I highly recommend you give the game a try.  Once you’re in, do a search for MODU when you move from galaxy to galaxy.  You just might find me taking on some pirates … and I can definitely use your help.

Online Games: Sieger

October 7, 2010

For those of you who love to play online flash games, I have one for you. ” Sieger ” by Armor Games is a demolition game.  The goal is for you to attack a castle with various ammo to destroy the enemy.  You are offered stone projectiles, poison rounds, as well as explosive shells.  In some instances, not only do you have to kill the enemy, but you also have to save the hostages.  This adds an increased level of difficulty.

The pre-made levels are are fairly straight forward, allowing you to win “gold” on each map.  The real challenge comes when you play the custom-made maps by fellow gamers.  With an endless supply of new maps, you can play for hours without playing the same map twice.  And, if you are adventurous, you can build you own!

That is what I did.  Below you will find screen shots and links to my first two maps made for this game.  The first map is a traditional castle with a single hostage.  The second map is a throwback to my history of sailing on commercial ships … an oil tanker.  Yes, it’s a bit primitive, but it is also one of a kind!  Click on the links below to play.  ENJOY!

Map 1:  MODUs First (Click here to play)

Map 2:  MODUs Second – Tanker (Click here to play)

America’s Got Talent finale (Update)

September 16, 2010

The four finalists performed Tuesday night in the final competition for the $1 Million prize.  Prince Poppycock lead the way, with Michael Grimm, Jackie Evancho, and Fighting Gravity following close behind. This is how I rank their performances on Tuesday and how I would rank their potential as a Las Vegas act.

Finale performance

Coming in last on Tuesday was Prince Poppycock. His performance lost most of the entertainment value as he chose to perform a more serious stage act rather than his more lighthearted routine which carried him throughout the competition. In addition to losing the “magic,” his stage show was lacking reason. He started on the steps wearing a headpiece that was taller than him (and might have caused his reoccurring earpiece malfunction), singing towards a woman hanging over the stage in chains. As he walked down to the fog-covered stage, he drew a sword and held it in front of him while standing relatively still. He backed away as the stage doors opened behind him, with two men pulling a white chariot into view … but for what purpose? He never addressed the woman, made no movement towards the chariot, and his sword-handling was nonexistent. In all, it was a fairly dull set.

In third, I would rank Michael Grimm. Channeling his inner Bruce Springsteen, Grimm belted out another raspy soul number on stage. There weren’t many errors, but I find the quality of his tone to be hard to listen to after a while, especially compared to the other singers in the competition.

Fighting Gravity comes in second with their most impressive performance to date. Acting out a “good vs evil” routine on a three-tiered platform, the college guys from Virginia Tech put together a very technical display in just a weeks time. Unfortunately, those few days denied the crew enough time to practice their act, leading up to two obvious errors. The first error was when one of the characters was being pulled through one door on the first level and through a second door just above the first. As one person tugged on the characters feet, the upper half of the body would disappear on the level above/below. However, there was a breakdown in timing, with the whole body of the character flew through the door on the first level while the feet of the same character were still being held on the level above. The other error came when one of the crew members was trying to change clothes quickly on the main level while the black screen was held open.

Coming in first was the little angel Jackie Evancho. Singing a heavenly tune in front of a live band, the little opera singer performed nearly perfectly. She did have a few missed or “nervous” notes, but they were difficult to pick out if you weren’t listening for them.

Las Vegas potential

The least-likely person to have a Vegas act in my view is Michael Grimm.  I think Grimm has a future as a singer, and might even start up a small band, however, I don’t see how he could maintain a Vegas show.  Besides, there might be more money in store for him as a touring performer anyway.

The next least-likely would be Prince Poppycock.  This guy is fantastic and could have a Vegas act, but I think he might find better success on or off Broadway.  With the recent success of shows like the stage adaptation of Monty Pythons’ “Holy Grail,” he could easily land in a show that is both whimsical as well as musically entertaining.

In second, I place Jackie Evancho.  She is a song bird and would definitely be a Vegas draw (especially if she sings as well as she matures).  However, like Poppycock, she might find better opportunities on Broadway.In some ways, she reminds me of Charlotte Church.  Like Charlotte, she could easily cut many albums and become an international sensation.

The most “Vegas” act has to be Fighting Gravity.  Their act is quite unique – a quality sought after on the Vegas circuit.  They could become the new Blue Man Group.  Without having any individual star in the act, they could rotate performers in and out of their rotation without interrupting the act.


4th – Prince Poppycock

3rd – Fighting Gravity

2nd – Jackie Evancho

1st – Michael Grimm

America’s Got Talent finals (UPDATE)

September 9, 2010

After watching the show Tuesday night, this is how I would rank the 10 acts:

1 ) Jackie Evancho
Jackie is a fantastic singer, no matter what her age.

2 ) Prince Poppycock
Poppycock is not only a great singer, he is a complete persona.

3 ) Fighting Gravity
These guys are a riot. My only criticism about their performance last night is that it seemed to be a bit weaker than their earlier acts. Additionally, some of the props were not well hidden when moved behind the cast. However, with just a week to put the whole routine together and practice, these issues can easily be forgiven.

4 ) Anna and Patryk
A fantastic dance duo. Except for the fall by Anna at the start of the routine, their performance was near perfect.

5 ) Studio One Young Beast Society
Second only to Anna and Patryk, these are the best dancers from the whole season. Unique moves mixed with a lot of energy. I could easily see them with a stage act in the future.

6 ) Taylor Matthews
My favorite of the two male singers. Unfortunately, he is still a bit rough around the edges and needs some refinement.

7 ) Michael Grimm
A talented singer, but his voice isn’t the greatest. He reminds me a lot of Bruce Springsteen. Michael will definitely have a career following this show.

8 ) Jeremy VanSchoonhoven
This boy is crazy. The fact that he fell 15 feet, banged himself up and went to the hospital, and then return to compete live shows true grit. However, I have a difficult time seeing him as a solo act with a Vegas show.

9 ) Michael Grasso
Most of the magicians that made it into the Semi-finals were fantastic. Unfortunately for Michael, he lacks a showmanship quality needed for a stage show. Plus, with the coordination issue last night with the clear box getting snagged on the roll-away screen, the quality of the performance was a little weak.

10 ) Christina and Ali
I don’t want to come across as cruel, but I don’t think these two gals show have made it into the Semi-finals, let alone into the finals. They have a very touching story, but they are average singers. I feel more qualified acts lost out on a chance to compete in the finals, but since it was America’s choice, who am I to argue?

Prince Poppycock, Michael Grimm, Jackie Evancho, and Fighting Gravity made it into the final round. I guessed three of the four. Not too bad if I say so myself!

Kappa Alpha Psi short step routine

June 17, 2010

A friend of mine sent me this today, and I think it is really cool. It’s not my usual type of entertainment, but these young men have great rhythm, timing, and attitude. According to the description, this was filmed back in October 2005 and was performed by the Mu Nu Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi at UNC Wilmington. Enjoy!