Archive for May, 2009

Infidelity many possibilities

During our love-making process tonight.

JBQ: Do you love me?
Eugenia: My love is as big as the clouds, the sea, the sky, the galaxy, the universe!
JBQ: 🙂
Eugenia: Then again… there might be parallel universes that you don’t know about.
JBQ: 😮

The pain of a home theater entertainment

Today, we had to upgrade to TwonkyMedia Server 5.x, because its 4.x versions were not serving .mp4 files to our XBOX360. There was a tip online to rename the .mp4 files to .m4v in order to fool the XBoX360, but apparently version 4.4.11 had a bug about .m4v files too. Only renaming them to .mov would force Xbox360 to play them but if I was to do that, then our Sony PS3 wouldn’t play these files.

So the upgrade to v5, fixed most of our problems. The XBoX360 now plays all my .mp4 files, .m4v (that it didn’t before), plus all the other formats that it was able to before (e.g. WMV). It also supports the .mov container, the MPEG4-SP (the kind of .mp4 found on cellphones), something that the PS3 doesn’t (although the PS3 supports AVCHD and HDV files, that the Xbox360 can’t). Both consoles can playback XViD/DiVX AVI files with the same success (so-so, that is). The XBoX360 can playback more kinds of WMV and WMA than the PS3 can (e.g. I had a WMV video here that its WMA audio wouldn’t work with the PS3, but it did with the XBoX360). The XBoX360 also supports streaming .mp4 videos (e.g. Youtube HD rips), and non-PSP .MP4 containers (e.g. the kinds of MP4 that Adobe CS4 exports by default) — the PS3 doesn’t support any of these kinds of MP4s (it only supports the ones that their container has some “PSP” extensions, usually it is the default exporting format on video editors, except for Adobe’s).

For the rest of the formats out there, e.g. Sorenson, MJPEG etc, I would need an AppleTV. Plus, the AppleTV would behave best with .mp3/aac audio files, something that the PS3 only does so-so (it seems to confuse album art), while the XBoX360’s AAC and mp3 compatibility was terrible (non-DRM AAC from iTunes wouldn’t work at all, even after installing the AAC plugin, while one of my mp3s was playing in slow-motion)!

There was also a specific .mp4 file that TwonkyMedia would think it was audio and would only serve it as audio (even if it’s video). Renaming that to .mov made it visible in the list while using the v4 server. But after upgrading to version 5, while version 5 fixed everything else, the file wouldn’t be visible again because it now seems that TwonkyMedia v5 looks inside the format rather than figuring out what’s what from the extension. But that’s just one file, and besides, TwonkyMedia is *the best* UPnP/DLNA server out there anyway. If they can’t get it right, probably no other piece of software can (everything else I have tried is buggy as hell).

In other words, if you don’t want to be setting up Linux PC media centers that will piss you off one way or another while configuring them, to play A/V files on your TV without having to transcode each time to the device’s supported formats, you need all three devices (with their firmwares upgraded): PS3, XBoX360 and AppleTV. And that doesn’t even give you OGG, Theora or MKV by default (which are only semi-working via third party addons on the AppleTV).

Maestro

Maestro is a nice short movie, shot with a Canon HV20 and a Twoneil’s 35mm adapter. The plot: a young musician stifled by the modern day schooling system tries to find his way to make his mark. HD version & download here.

Malbec, live

I had a great time at Cafe du Nord tonight, watching the Malbec live giving a great show. A very energetic band with melodic songs. I chickened out at the Cafe’s rules to not use a real camera but only cellphones, so I had to use JBQ’s Android phone to capture the following pictures and video. It was great meeting for real and talking to Mark, Malbec’s drummer — and also a great HV20/HVX200 filmmaker. Download Malbec’s latest EPs for free.



View official music video for this song

The Malbec were great, so were the local Loquat. Their singer sure can sing loud. I was positively surprised to see Loquat using two HV20 videos (downloaded from Vimeo) through a projector. Nice to see that our little community’s hobby proves useful to some people out there. I won’t say whose videos they used, I’ll keep that a secret.

The future of entertainment

There are those who say that by 2011, all music will be free, and the labels will offer artists 360 contracts in order to survive (meaning, putting the artists under more financial pressure than they are now). There are those who say that RIAA/MPAA will eventually win, and convince world governments to draconian laws about piracy. And there are those who say that indie/CC art will eventually take over and make RIAA/MPAA irrelevant.

I think that the truth lies somewhere in between all this. There will be 360 contracts, some of the major-label music will be free (but not all), some music will be streamed for very cheap/free in exchange for ads, more laws will take place, indies will become more mainstream via the internet, advertisement will be more evident in art projects, and piracy will continue to exist.

Today, making music is cheap. Mixing isn’t as expensive as it was even just 10 years ago. Making an indie movie is also cheap. When costs go down, more people jump into the bandwagon for the opportunity, over-saturating the market. Currently, the indie music scene is super-saturated with wannabes (and only about 5-10% of all that music is actually good). There are so many indie bands in the Bay Area alone that is not even funny. I stopped counting at around 600. And I personally like only about 20 of them. Don’t even let me start at the thousands of albums released every week on sites like eMusic.

Put all that together, and you will see that all these happenings will weaken the industry. I believe that the last super-star is already being born, and the last Box-Office movie (meaning, $100 mil or more of sales) will be out in less than 15 years from now.

Maybe I am wrong. But maybe I am right. It’s inconceivable for us to think that there won’t be any new super-stars to gossip about, or a new super-expensive movie. But like with any other profession, they all have their time limit, as the circumstances change (in this case, the digital age). For example, being a clock maker back in the 17th Century was something! Being a clock maker today doesn’t even get you laid.

Basically, what I am trying to do with this blog post is to answer to all these other blog posts and analysis articles found on the web that the future of music/movies will be with this or that. In my opinion, the future will be a mix of all these things, which will eventually weaken these professions, and downgrade them to just normal jobs.

This doesn’t mean that music and movies will be dead. That kind of art will never be dead. But they won’t be multi-million products anymore, but smaller projects from smaller groups. It’s not that the digital age killed the industry. It’s just that it put it back in its place. Before the digital age, Hollywood over-capitalized on the whole thing — because they could. Now that they can’t anymore, they will crumble under their own weight. They will still exist, but their golden days will be over. And this is true for the indies too.

Now, some will say, “does this mean that we will never see again an artistic masterpiece?”. And the answer is “we will”. There are many masterpieces in our history written by people who don’t have 10 assistants and millions of dollars in the bank. I am looking forward for these kinds of masterpieces again. All these thousands of wannabe artists will go back to flip burgers at MacDonalds, and the ones who really can deliver will stay alive in the (now crumbled) industry and make a basic salary. But don’t expect super-stars anymore.

That’s my take on the thing, and I am good with such an outcome. The same thing I believe about my old profession btw: developers. The good developers will continue making some good money, but I don’t expect super-stars anymore (e.g. Havoc, Linus, Miguel etc). The vast majority of the programmers of the future will just “write C# for food”.

Google Wave: The Twitter Killer

I just read the article over at TechCrunch about Google’s Wave platform. It looks very impressive, and it seems to be a Twitter killer, and maybe even a Facebook killer (since it brings people together in a more interactive & instant way than Facebook does). However, that doesn’t mean that the idea will catch on, since many good ideas never made good products. But this one might. My real question is, how this will integrate with GTalk and Gmail. Because if it won’t integrate well, it just might not catch on.

Update: How ironic. Twitter is “over capacity” again. These guys remind me of Vimeo: they never managed to optimize their platform.

Canon 5D Mark-II: 50% there

Canon announced today it will release a firmware update for the EOS 5D Mark II allowing users to manually control exposure when shooting video. The firmware update will include the following manual controls when shooting video:

* Full aperture selection
* ISO speed: Auto, 100 – 6400 and H1
* Shutter speed: 1/30th – 1/4000th second

This, in addition to its exposure compensation, exposure locking abilities, and gamma/color/picture settings that can be modified via templates generated with Canon’s PC/Mac accompanied 5D application.

This new firmware makes the 5D MII the best video camera out there for DV Rebels, and by far the best DSLR video camera out there. Of course, there are a slew of video-specific hardware features missing (e.g. XLRs), but in terms of actual visual quality obtained with its 38 mbps h.264 files, and with its new basic control options, it beats anything in that price range. Especially if you have some good lenses for it.

The only other feature that matters for us DV Rebels and that’s _really_ missing is frame rate support. 24p (=23.976) is still not there, and its 30p is 30.00 fps instead of 29.97. Additionally, 720p at 60p would have been nice too (for slow-motion usage). If Canon fix these two small problems (easy to implement), it has a real winner in its hands. There was a rumor a few weeks ago where someone said that Canon doesn’t want to implement 24p in its 5D in order to not cannibalize its prosumer cameras, but truth is, people are asking for it — a lot. They will have to comply.

In our home, we are 60% ready to buy the new 5D. Before today’s announcement, we were 10% ready. So we are close. But still not there. Add some frame rates that make sense, and then we will buy it with closed eyes. Promise.

Battery expectations

Some people are whining online that their smartphone doesn’t last for more than 1-2 days without recharging, while their 5 year old phone could last over 5-6 days before need any recharging. This is a fallacy. The new phones have better battery life than the older ones.

Consider this: Phones like a Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Symbian, etc. come with many media and internet-heavy applications. It’s now customary to check for email, to check Twitter, to check the internet-updated Weather app, to check stocks, sync between the phone and various online accounts many times a day, to check some RSS or web pages, to use Y! or Google maps. And on the side, play some music, quickly visit youtube, and maybe even watch a small TV episode while waiting on the bus.

All these things are features that you couldn’t do 5 years ago. At least not in a way that would be pleasurable. 5 years ago, you would check your voicemail, your SMS messages, and just do voice. And that was about it. No wonder you could do over 5 days in battery life.

What changed is HOW we use these phones. We now use these phones as mini-laptops. And yet, we expect them to have the same battery life as they had when they were dumb bricks. I am sorry to say that battery technology doesn’t move as fast as software tech does!

And then there’s the other thing. On platforms that allow background apps, the third party application designers only care about their little app and not the whole device. As long as they can invoke a network ping or connection when you are not looking to sync something, they are happy. Very seldom these app developers think what would happen if there are 5 (or 10) background apps installed and doing their own thing whenever they damn want. The user will see a big drop in battery life, and will place the fault at the phone manufacturer instead.

In conclusion, be objective when you are damning a manufacturer of bad battery life. Maybe there’s something you can do to better the experience (short of inventing a new kind of battery altogether).

Regarding the new Star Trek

So we finally watched the new Star Trek movie (on a digital screen). It was extremely entertaining, the CGI were perfect, the subtle references to all things Trek were very nice. The new Spock was fantastic too. The new Star Trek movie was not about the normal social commentary stuff found on many Star Trek episodes, but for a franchise reboot, it needed the action and visual awesomeness to attract the young generation. I am willing to give Abrams the benefit of the doubt this one time.

Where I do find myself in disagreement with JJ Abrams’ vision is in the alternative timeline route he took. To make a franchise or show believable, it should not have prop errors, it has to be consistent, and it has to be true to its timeline. Without these, you lose in believability (like “Lost” lost points this season too). Sure, there have been many alternative timeline and mirror universe episodes over the years on the various Star Trek incarnations, but well, I never liked any of them. Especially when it comes to such an important movie that’s supposed to re-launch Star Trek.

Let me be clear: altering the timeline to have Spock and Uhura together, Kirk & Spock’s father and mother respectively dying, and Pike becoming an admiral is one thing. But destroying a whole planet, Vulcan no less, is a whole another thing. Vulcan is a constant in the Star Trek universe, it’s inspirational. Removing it from the new Star Trek is like removing Yoda from Star Wars. It doesn’t work. At least not for us older Trekkies, who have spent 30+ years in that universe. The destruction of Romulus was equally unneeded.

I don’t believe at all that JJ Abrams needed this alternative timeline thing to tell his story. He could have fit a similarly impressive story within the realm of the existing timeline. Undoing 45 years of Star Trek history was just disrespectful of the franchise and the fans.

Pay attention: I wouldn’t mind at all if he had rebooted the Star Trek franchise completely. Meaning, rebooting it in the same way Moore did for Battlestar Galactica, which he “re-imagined” it. This way, we the fans, would know that the director is going clean slate and he re-starts the franchise from the beginning. Re-designing and re-architecting the whole Trek universe! And that would be fine. That would be honest. But not doing exactly that, is like toying with everybody feelings and expectations. Believe it or not Mr Abrams, we, the older Trekkies, are not dead yet.

To me, it felt like someone taking my left-over pizza, removing my toppings, adding new ones, and re-heating it, instead of simply either re-heating it as is, or redoing the pizza from scratch (including a new dough). Therefore, I felt that this movie was a cheat.

The sad part is that Paramount will continue having my money for the upcoming Star Trek movies, because as I said above, that was some good sci-fi. And it was a good Star Trek in its absolute value. But it wasn’t the Star Trek I wanted. Star Trek is much more than a 2-hour movie. It’s a universe with a grand history. You either delete the history and re-write it from scratch (if you have the chops), or you play within it. But you don’t mess with it like a child messes up his vegetables during dinner. You don’t do dat.

Two more blog posts by others, saying the same thing as I do here.

What I look for in a camera

When I look to buy a cheap digicam/digirecorder (NOT a camcorder) these are the video features I first look at, in this specific order:

1. Does it have exposure compensation?
2. Does it have exposure locking?
3. Does it have shutter speed control?
4. Does it have color/gamma settings? (low saturation/contrast/sharpness)?
5. Does it have manual white balance?
6. Does it have focus locking?

The first two are the most important video features one should be looking for. Without them, you can ruin your shots no matter how careful you are. For example, the Flip/Kodak digicam/digirecorders don’t have any of these features. The Panasonic ones only have #1 and #5. The new Canon ones have #1, #2, #4, #5, #6 making them a better buy overall (missing only shutter speed). Of course, a choice between 24, 25 and 30 fps would have been nice too.

Notice that I don’t list gain or aperture control. If I was looking for a still picture camera, aperture control would have been much higher up in the list, but for video, shutter speed is more important — at least for the kind of videos I am shooting. Needless to say that for all of my HV20 videos, none was shot in aperture mode. They were all shot either in shutter speed mode, or Cinemode.

Update: JBQ wrote a similar blog post too, about still cameras.