MT-Blacklist to fight comment spam

By Greg Pak
If you create a blog with open comments, you’ll soon discover that scumbags like to post spam in the comment sections of blogs. So what to do? If you’re using MovableType, you can check and ban the IP addresses through which the spammers are accessing the internet. But that’s pretty ineffective, as spammers tend to use a variety of IP addresses. You can use a plug in which creates an image with a code which anyone posting a comment must reproduce in a form field. But spammers have actually started manually filling in those forms — or they’ve cracked the code to automate the process.
The solution?
I’m very happily using MT-Blacklist, through which you can build a blacklist of website addresses which you cull from spam posts. When you hit “De-Spam,” the software automatically deletes any message which contains the blacklisted URLs. And new comments featuring any blacklisted address can’t be posted. This hits the jerks where they hurt — if they can’t post a link, there’s no point in their posting at all.
If you end up using MT-Blacklist, feel free to get started with the blacklist I’ve built for use with this site. I’d recommend using a smaller list like this rather than the giant list you can download through That list may be pretty comprehensive, but its enormous size seems to bog the software up a bit.
For my email, I’ve started using SpamFire from MatterForm. It’s Mac OS X compatible and is working nicely so far.

Menus for screening on DVD

By Greg Pak
More than once when screening at colleges on DVD, I’ve encountered problems because the remote control for the DVD player was missing. Without a remote, it’s often very hard to navigate menus and submenus. So for DVD screenings at colleges, I’d recommend making DVDs with no submenus and with the simplest main menu possible — so that when you press “play” or “select” on the machine, the video plays.

Tape to film hint: Give your frame some breathing room

By Greg Pak
When shooting for a tape-to-film transfer, be sure to give your frame a bit more breathing room than you might otherwise. A little bit of the edges will be cut off when the tape is transferred to film. And a bit more will be cut off when you transfer from your negative back to video. The upshot is that if you’ve shot too tightly, you might see cut off chins and shaved heads, which can be claustrophobic and unpleasant.

Marlon Brando, In Memoriam

By Greg Pak
Marlon Brando died yesterday at the age of eighty.
There’s a scene in “Streetcar Named Desire” in which a feather from Vivian Leigh’s boa floats past Brando’s line of vision in the middle of one of his lines. He keeps talking, but he bats at the feather it as it passes. It’s a beautiful little moment. Incredibly simple. But I can’t forget it. In that instant, Brando incorporates the world into his character. Nothing could happen — no, anything could happen, and it would fit, because Brando is letting everything in the world be part of his character’s world.
A similar moment comes in “The Godfather,” when Brando’s holding that now legendary little gray kitten. There’s one instant in particular which stands out for me, when the kitten bats at Brando’s hand. And again, he acknowledges it, accepts it, incorporates it seamlessly.
It occurs to me that both of these moments are somehow connected with play. Brando plays with the feather; the kitten plays with Brando. Even more specifically, the moments are about the instinct behind play — the primal impulse we all have to follow moving objects. That’s significant. Because while the profession of acting requires us to suppress a subset of our instincts as we hit our marks and remember our lines and screen out distractions, the scene only comes to life if we follow our instincts within the reality of the scene. So Brando, and all good actors, regularly performs tiny miracles. They screen out the boom overhead, the light in their eyes, the huddled crew, the weird fakeness of the set, the strangeness of their makeup — and they allow in the feather and the kitten.
For anyone interested in learning more about Marlon Brando, I recommend first, seeing his movies, and second, reading Patricia Bosworth’s excellent little biography entitled, shockingly enough, Marlon Brando.

Deck settings for using an AJ-SD930 with FCP

By Greg Pak
I’m working on a short film which we shot using DVCPRO50, which I learned we could edit on my G4 533 MHz dual processor machine, provided I upgraded to OS 10.3 and Final Cut Pro 4.5. Which I did.
The next challenge was getting the footage into the computer. We rented a Panasonic DVCPRO50 deck — the AJ-SD930, which can be connected to a FCP system via Firewire. But for some reason I couldn’t control the deck via the Lo and Capture screen. And I couldn’t see digitized footage through the monitor.
After searching the web, I found a helpful document which provided some settings. Here are the settings I’ve ended up with, which seem to work:
Audio and Video Input are set at SDTI/1394.
Finally, to get digitized footage to play back from the computer, through the deck, and out to the monitor, the video out cable needs to be plugged into Video Out 3 (Super).
I freely admit I don’t understand all of these settings fully — I only know that at this moment in time, they seem to be working for me.

Avoiding and Dealing with FireWire Harddrive Crashes

By Greg Pak

We edited my feature “Robot Stories” using a Macintosh G4 533 MHz dual processor running Final Cut Pro 1.2.5 with eight (count ’em, eight!) external FireWire hard drives. During the six months of post production, we had a number of crises with our FireWire hard drives, including three or four occasions in which drives would crash, giving us an error message saying the drive could not be recognized and asking us if we wanted to reinitialize.
Now when you have five hours of footage on a sixty gig hard drive, you don’t particularly want to want to reinitialize, which would erase the drive and require you to spend a day redigitizing your footage.
At least twice, we did just that, because none of the disk utilities programs (Norton Utilitles and Apple’s Disk First Aid) were able to help us. But I’ve recently been able to save drives which have crashed in this way using my new favorite program, DiskWarrior.

Why drives crash.

In most cases, I have no idea why our drives crashed. At least twice, my editor Stephanie and I watched in horror as images which were playing in Final Cut Pro began to break up. Broken horizontal strips of color would flash across the screen until the images disappeared altogther. Upon restart, we’d discover the computer would no longer recognize the drive on which the media was living. We had no idea why these problems surfaced.
But yesterday I saw these problems crop up while I was in the process of unplugging and replugging the FireWire connection to a camcorder attached to the computer. Now theoretically, messing with the camera shouldn’t affect the drives, since I had the drives plugged into a separate FireWire jack. But I’m pretty sure the events were linked. Perhaps messing with the camera cable sent a static electricity shock into the system? We’ve had incredible static electricity in the office this winter — I suspect that’s somehow to blame.
At any rate, my current thinking is NEVER MESS WITH CABLES OR MOVE DRIVES when your computer is on or when you’re running your programs.

A success story

Yesterday I was messing with the FireWire cable connected to a camera while playing a project on Final Cut Pro. I glanced over and saw the tell-tale breakup of images on my computer monitor. I shut down the computer and on restart, the computer couldn’t read one of my FireWire hard drives and asked if I wanted to reinitialize. It was a 60 gig Maxtor FireWire harddrive which I’d bought in October 2001.
Instead of clicking “Initialize,” I clicked “Eject.” Then I popped in my DiskWarrior CD and tried to run the program. But the program didn’t list the bum drive in its menu. The drive wasn’t mounted and the program couldn’t see it.
It seemed like a Catch 22 — the drive wouldn’t mount because it was damaged. But the program to repair the damage couldn’t work unless the drive was mounted.
I tried using the Maxtor Utilites to get the computer to recognize the drive. No luck. But I was using version 3.2 of the software. I visited the Maxtor website, downloaded and installed Maxtor Utilities version 3.4. Which recognized the bum drive. And then Disk Warrior recognized the drive. So I was ran DiskWarrior, which successfully repaired the drive and saved my data. Woo hoo!
Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t mess with cables when the computer is running.
  2. When in doubt, download the most current software and drivers for the hardware.
  3. DiskWarrior rules.

A sob story

While I was out of the office shooting a short film, a couple of friends were using their FireWire hard drive with one of my computers. The drive mysteriously crashed. On restart, they got a message asking them to eject or reinitialize. Since they’d done little work on the drive, they reinitialized. But they’d screwed up — they’d just crashed MY FireWire drive and reinitialized it. Now if they’d just left things alone, we probably could have used DiskWarrior to bring the drive and its data back to life. But reinitializing the drive has put its repair beyond the ken of mere mortals such as myself. I’m now researching professional data recovery companies — preliminary conversations indicate that it’s very likely they can recover my data, but the names of the files will probably all be lost. And (here’s the kicker) it’ll cost me anywhere from $600 to $2000.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t let people borrow your equipment/computers unless you’re clear about what they’re doing and you’ve taken precautions to safeguard your data.
  2. Never reinitialize unless you’re ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN of what you’re doing. Namely, never reinitialize your drive unless you’re absolutely certain it’s actually your drive.


Writer of over 500 comic books, including PLANET HULK, MECH CADET YU, FIREFLY, and DARTH VADER