I love photography, and I hate cameras. Either the camera is simple enough to ensure substandard work, or it has more settings than - well, than a camera. If you want anything really good you’d best get one of those gigantic lens that stand out like the eyeballs of a Tex-Avery sex-mad wolf. And if you're serious about getting good shots, you have to take the camera everywhere you go, and you end up as one of those guys people invariably associate with a glass-eyed erection pronging from their sternum. I want a camera implanted in my index finger, with the preview pane in my thumbnail. Literally, thumbnails. Literally, point and shoot.

My first good digital camera was so small you could put it in your pocket and mistake it for a Zippo; it took fine pictures, had a nifty lens cap that automatically snapped back when you turned the camera on. You could imagine Q handing it to Bond. (Classic Q. Classic Bond.)

It broke after two weeks. I took it back. This one broke after three weeks. Goodbye Fuji, hello Canon. This one was bulkier and bigger and less cool, but I'd learned. Cool stuff breaks. You see many DeLoreans on the street? (Side note: I only thought of that analogy because I did, in fact, see a DeLorean on the street today. And it made me wonder if there's an aftermarket vendor who'd install a flux capacitor in the back seat - I mean, how can you own a DeLorean and NOT have a flux capacitor? Does anyone see those cars and not wonder if a VW bus loaded with Libyan terrorists is far behind?) But about six months ago the thumb wheel on Canon stopped clicking into place when I chose various functions. Cue the cliches: ho ho, a loose Canon. I bought an Olympus, and when I hooked it up to the computer it wouldn't Mount! The wheel no longer gives you the requisite tactile feedback to tell you that the function has been changed. Now toggling between functions is a matter of intuition, and I work the knob with the expression of a sonar operator trying to decide if that strange distant sound is a ship or a whale of the last wheezy breaths of an expired one-year service contract.

So photography is low on my list of things to master. (The picture to the left is a crappy original, photoshopped until it's Art.) Video is different - video I want to master. Video is malleable - shoot first, provide answers later. You can set it to music, which gives you a tool for emotional manipulation photography lacks. I’ve been shooting & editing & scoring since Gnat was born, and the result fills 12 DVDs that run from birth to yesterday. But I’d become somewhat frustrated with the limitations of the iMovie program; I wanted precise control over titles and sound, and I wanted to shoot everything in 16:9, the Aspect Ratio of the Future. So I bought Final Cut Express. Goodbye amateur days; hello my new life as a Hobbyist.

The difference between iMovie and FCE is the difference between the popular Milton-Bradley game “Operation” and finding one’s self with a knife in one’s hand in a sterile room, hunched over an etherized stranger while everyone shouts "Hi, Doctor Nick!" The basics are easy - just cut here! - but the details are more difficult. IMovie is easy because it’s like Rick in “Casablanca” - it does the thinking for both of you. FCE demands that you unlearn old stuff while you learn new stuff. Okay; fine. Growing pains, and all that. After a few days of dinking around I realized I needed a shuttle, one of those devices with a wheel that lets you race back and forth across the linear fields. Professionals had shuttles. Hobbyists like to be able to say things like "I have a shuttle" to professionals. So I went to the Apple Store and bought a Contour Pro, which not only had the wheel but 13 buttons.

“Does this work with Final Cut Express?” I asked the tech at the Genius Bar. He said that it did. I took it home. I plugged it in.

It didn’t work with Final Cut Express.

So now I’m in the early stages of Hobbyism, and A) the new program makes me cry, and B) the new tool has adopted the Sgt. Schultz I KNOW NUTTTTING approach. I visit the homepage for the product; it assures me that it supports FCE. Perhaps it means “support” in the sense of British soccer enthusiasts, and it “is a fan of” the product while contributing nothing notable to its success or failure. The device is programmable, so I resign myself to plugging in the commands one by one by one.

In the meantime, I discover that the device works with nearly every other program. Web pages? Oh mama. With one hand I now scroll up and down, go backwards and forwards between pages, bookmark. Word processing? Pinpoint cursor control via the wheel. iTunes? The inner wheel handles volume, the outer wheel runs through the playlist. DVD playback? Volume, fast-forwarding, chapter management. In short, this thing is a super-mouse, an ubertrackball, and it automatically readjusts its buttons to the program I’m in. Very quickly my computer habits change - mouse in right hand, Omniscient Controller in the left. This is very cool. I will soon be a legless sack of protoplasm with a big bald head crisscrossed by pulsing brain vessels.

Thursday night I’m watching some of “Band of Brothers” on the screen, and I want to replay a sequence. I’ve noted that whenever combat is imminent, the pictures wash out and the shots get jerky; you almost expect a character to shout “FILM STOCK AND CAMERA SPEED ARE CHANGING! HEADS UP, PEOPLE!” I scroll back - and the picture stutters, jumps, skitters, stops and runs forward, then resumes. Hmm. I try the volume wheel: now it controls picture direction.

I call up a web page and a word processing doc - same thing. The wheels are shot. They do what they wish. Scroll down on a webpage and the page jerks down one line at a time like a teletype from the Kennedy era.

Two weeks before I had no idea I needed this device. Now it is absolutely essential and I am highly & deeply peeved that it doesn’t work, and really steamed over what it’s going to take to get it working again. First person who tells me to send it to the factory gets a pencil in the eyeball! No, no, no. Relax. Calm down. You calm? Yes. A PENCIL IN THE THIGH, THEN!

I call tech support. Phone menus. You have selected regicide! If you know the name of the king being killed, press one! An answering machine for tech support is never a good sign, so I decide to go back to the Apple Store. Mind you, their policy is iron-clad: ten day exchange policy, original box and receipt required. It’s been 24 days. I threw away the box. I have only an Amex bill. And it’s not an Apple product.

Nevertheless, I go. It’s a lovely Saturday afternoon, sunny and warm. There should be a force field in front of the Mall that expels those foolish enough to waste this precious interval indoors, but alas I slide right through. Manning the Genius Bar is Greg, the laconic tech on whom I unloaded all my iMovie 3 frustrations one day, thereby earning me eternal whackjob status at this particular retail outlet. At best I can hope for “Colorful Customer” status - yeah, iMovieMan was in today - he’s all, like, “I defragged my prefs and reinstalled the internet.”

I explain the problem, and say “most recent drivers, trashed the prefs, uninstalled, reinstalled, repaired permissions, still hosed.” That sentence represents 30 minutes of crap we don’t have to do. I haul out the laptop, demonstrate how it doesn’t work. We hook up the laptop to a model on the showroom floor; it works. Four minutes, case made: it’s hosed. At this point I am on my steed, mounted, fully armored; from my horse’s nostrils hot steam doth pour. I am ready to give someone such a lancing. Greg calls up the webpage, gets the tech support number. I warn him: it’s a recording.

But he gets a person.

He gets the President and CEO of the company, who is answering tech support line on a Saturday afternoon.

I get the gist of his reply: give the guy a new one.

This isn’t company policy, so a manager is brought into the mix. I’ve dealt with the manager before as well; he’s a good guy. He grasps the pith as well: give the guy a new one, says the president of the company.

So: I get a new one.

This is the ideal outcome, and I’m stunned. But happy! That night I return to Final Cut Express, and process all the April video; I note that between the problems I had learning FCE and the other job of editing the war footage, I’d neglected to shoot much footage for the month. As an amateur, I’d have had 25 minutes of tight crisp material for the month, edited and set to music. As a hobbyist, I have six minutes sitting in a program I've yet to learn.

But it’s all widescreen. Amateurs wouldn't touch that format.

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