Archive for February, 2010

The AppleTV as a headless audio server

It’s been months now that we use the AppleTV exclusively as our audio server, so I wanted to report again on the topic, based on that long term usage. All I can say is this: it beats the hell out of any other system.

We have it hooked in our TV via HDMI, but we never turn ON the TV (the AppleTV must be connected to a video cable, otherwise it wont’ start up). We simply use our iPod Touch to control the Apple TV, via the “Remote Control” application, and it works a treat. Only things missing in the Remote Control application is the ability to rate new songs (but ratings already on songs are perfectly usable in smart playlists), and turning the AppleTV OFF (which can still be done blindly using the AppleTV remote control: hit twice the “menu” button, and then long press on the “play” button). A few more gripes remain, but they are not that important really.

Overall, we have found that this is the most enjoyable way to listen to music in our case, and our 85 GB of music. And given that an AppleTV costs a little over $200 these days, and most people in the our area already have either an iPhone or an iPod Touch, it makes it — by far — the best solution for music listening in the digital age.

This is a highly recommended setup.

FCC Disclaimer: Apple is not paying or asking me to write the above. It’s my own personal experience with the setup.

UPDATE: I wrote an article, comparing the Apple TV music experience to MPD’s.

Greece in shameful protests

Greece saw lots of protests and strikes in the past few years, as part of the social unrest that governs the country lately. However, the country is now in ruins financially, and yet, Greek people STILL don’t fucking get it. They want their cake, and eat it too. They somehow think that “the government should bail the country out”, without realizing that it’s the CITIZENS who should give up some of their benefits in order for that to happen. The government doesn’t have a hen with golden eggs, unfortunately.

The people who mostly strike are the civil servants. I have written about them before here. Professionally, civil servants in Greece equate with a king or queen in another country. They have so many benefits, they get so much more money than freelancers, and they can’t get fired (they have their jobs for life). Civil servants are the people who CAN give away some of their benefits in order to fix Greece back. “…many government workers enjoy preferential tax rates, can retire at the age of 54 (in some cases earlier) and enjoy 14 months of pay for 12 months worked“, writes CNN. Think of that for a moment!

All the new government is trying to do is bring some balance between how civil servants are treated in the EU and US, in order to help the country save money and pay its dues. Who else is going to pay for that 30 years of European Union cheating? The freelance unskilled workers who have to also compete with the Albanians’ ultra-low wages? Won’t happen! The only major social cast that does have enough money to give back are the civil servants, simply because they have been milking it since 1920.

Many Greeks have had this problem in my experience: they can’t really understand themselves in a bigger picture. They can’t understand that for something to happen, everyone must contribute. Instead, they see it as “the other guy’s problem, not mine”. Not to mention that some Greeks have a VERY snobbish approach against the Europeans. It’s “the Europeans”, and then there’s “we, the Greeks, who gave these stupid Europeans the Light of Civilization”. They think that a family in Sweden, or in France should bail out the corrupted Greeks just because they’re Greeks. Because they think that other countries STILL OWE THEM.

News flash: THEY DON’T.

Get a good look in the mirror Greece. I do hope that you don’t get a bail-out from EU. You don’t deserve it. Not until your government has the fucking balls to remove most of the benefits from the biggest MENACE of the country: civil servants. Saving the country should be the No1 priority for all, no matter the cost. This is no time for strikes! Going on strike when the economy is so bad, shows citizens who don’t understand what the hell is going on. Strikes don’t help the economy, they destroy it even further!

And then Greece has a problem, and it creates a diplomatic incident when someone tells it like it is? Sorry my compatriots, but that magazine cover was WELL DESERVED. It’s the fault of every one of you for letting your own country fall into such situation (I’m mostly looking at you recipients of European funds back in the ’80s). Not just some government that came and passed. Accept responsibility and dug yourselves out of the hole. Do something that’s admirable, for the first time in 2500 years.

Band of the Week: We Are Wolves

This is one of my favorite electro-rock bands, the Quebec-based We Are Wolves. Their new album, “Invisible Violence“, was released in the US a few days ago. Download some legal mp3s to sample their music here.

LOST: “Lighthouse”

I got disappointed with LOST’s “Lighthouse” episode last night. Three reasons:

1. This episode is AGAIN about the Losties learn that they are “candidates”. The previous episode dealt with the exact same thing. I simply found the episode redundant because of this. That’s what happens if you don’t plot ALL your episodes and seasons at the very beginning and based on the story you got, and instead you have to listen to the network about “how many episodes they want this season” or “how many seasons”. In my opinion, LOST should have ended last year. The second part of the 2nd season and first part of 3rd season should have been merged. Ideally, LOST should have only been 3 seasons of ~24 episodes each.

2. So there’s a lighthouse. CLOSE to the fucking caves. That no one seen before? What type of bullshit is that? That was a total cop-out. Even the writers knew that this is a total cop-out, and that’s exactly why Jack was put to say “how come we never seen it before”, and then they had Hurley to say “I don’t know dude, maybe we weren’t looking for it before”. Total fucking cop-out.

3. And Jack has a kid in the alternative universe. Like we care. The 6th season is too late to bring such characters into the main character’s lives. Even Dogen is. He should have at least been *mentioned* in the past by Richard or Ben in order to stomach him in the 6th season. Like the bomb last year. Another such major element that should have been mentioned before the 5th season (cryptically, of course).

All that shows not poor planning, but how that industry works. Yes, the writers have written the GENERAL story of what’s going on in LOST, but not the details. The details are written when each episode is written (usually 3-5 months before the episode is aired). And that’s where the problem lies. For a show like LOST to be REALLY cohesive, everything, every important detail, had to be written by 2004 already.

New music video

Yesterday marked the longest shoot session I ever did, with an overall time of 8+ hours. It was for the music video of a track by the band Midnight Strangers. The music video/short-film deals with technology addiction. More in a few days, when the video is up and ready. Until then, here are two unmodified screen-grabs from yesterday’s shoot.


A music video with the Canon SD960 IS

Glenn “Avene” Thomas is an old timer in the HV20 community, but he lately experiments with the cheap Canon HD digicams. This is a music video with one of these cams.

Shot with the Canon SD960 IS digicam (aka IXUS 110 IS, and IXY 510 IS).

Downloading the original WMV file looks great. Here’s a re-sized still from that WMV:

One very interesting tidbit that I was made aware of just a few moments ago: even the cheapest Canon new digicams now, like the A490 that costs $100 (announced last week), do 29.97 fps instead of the traditional 30.00 fps. This shows a change in the mentality of Canon regarding video, and how they feel that their digicams can play a role in the video market. Happy times ahead for us video geeks. I wouldn’t be surprised if their near-future models also do 24p (23.976 fps), selectable to 25p and 30p.

Who’s that fat cow on TV?

Last summer I was interviewed by the cable TV show “Visual Crunch” for the HIJK music video “Alibi” (the very first music video I directed, 2008). The show aired tonight, but I was a bit shy to let you know before I actually watched the show myself and see how I looked on it… Well, I looked as fat on it as I’m in real life, not much more, I think. Thankfully, my English panned out pretty well on (the HVX-200) camera too, another one of my fears.

I’d like the thank the band for their kind words though. Meant a lot to me. We’ve already discussed shooting a new music video for their new EP, so I hope we will be shooting soon!

If you’d like to watch the show, here are the re-runs of the specific episode #5. Our segment is on the second part of the show. Check out first if you have access to the MYX channel btw (Channel #368 on Comcast, I believe):

– Feb 19, Friday at 1730 PT/ 2030 ET and 2100PT/ midnight ET
– Feb 20, Saturday at 2000 PT/ 2300 ET
– Feb 22, Monday at 1200 PT/ 1500 ET

Pandorum

Pandorum” is a sci-fi movie released last year. I just watched it tonight, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it to be some really good sci-fi, very well made. It’s such a shame that critics killed it. It cost $40 mil but it only made back $14 mil after the critics backlash.

The interesting thing here is that I enjoyed this movie more than I enjoyed “Moon” (which I watched last week). “Moon” was highly praised, and it’s a miracle film made for just $5 mil, but I found its premise a bit more boring than I found the action-based “Pandorum”. Only “District 9” came ahead of “Pandorum” last year, IMHO. “Avatar” was great for its tech, but less intense for me.

[SPOILERS] While critics found the zombie-like monsters “derivative”, I actually found them to be an allegory. They were created because Gallo was insane, with Gallo representing humanity. And Gallo got insane because of the effects of the cryogenic technology. The movie delivers a message without sounding technophobe. I liked how at the end the 1162 people survived, they had nothing with them. No tools, not even clothes, to start again anew to the new planet. Another allegory to show us that if we want a second chance as a species we’ll have to fight for it, and that we’d really have to start from zero.

Overall, very enjoyable, and a great sci-fi flick. The critics can go suck it.

Band of the Week: Scanners

This is a new section I’m starting on my blog, titled “band of the week”. It’d be a band that I discover through my endless music researching daily, and that I think you should listen too.

The first band I’m presenting is Scanners, from London, UK. Scanners’ second full album, “Submarine“, was released yesterday. It’s great hooky indie pop-rock, with some elements of goth punk rock. You can legally download three songs for free here, and one more here.

Why Canon instead of a Panasonic video P&S digicam

I use semi or pro cameras these days, but I’ll always be a proponent of “you can do the same with less”. A number of people have emailed in the past year asking me which HD video-capable P&S digicam they should buy. I reply to them suggesting either the Canon SD780 IS or the SX200 IS, depending on their budget. Only to come back to me, within 24 hours, and say “but, but… what about this Panasonic model?”. Honestly, that’s pretty annoying. So I decided to write this blog post to explain why *for video*, a Canon HD digicam is better than any other in the sub-$300 range.

Image quality
Panasonic uses better lenses in most of their HD sub-$300 models, and worse in few others. However, Canon uses 24 mbps bitrate, while Panasonic uses 17 mbps (the format internally is essentially the same, AVCHD-Lite or not). Winner: Canon for footage with more movement, with possibly Panasonic being the winner for static scenes. So it’s a bit of draw here, it highly depends on the model in question.

Low light
Panasonic wins. While the sensor size is the same in the modern crop of P&S cams, Canon has been quite bad in low light lately. That Digic4 chip wasn’t all that it was hyped out to be.

Zoom while recording
Only one model from Canon, the SX210 IS, supports optical zooming while recording. However, as I have explained in the past many times, if you’re doing artistic and not random family videos, then you should not be zooming while recording. It’s a home-video tell-tale sign. Anyways, this goes to Panasonic.

Color Controls
Canon wins hands down. They offer sharpness, contrast, saturation, skin color, and even individual R, G, B manipulation, which can help you get the film look right out of the box! Shooting “flat” also has extreme value when color grading. Panasonic’s color controls pale in comparison. And even their most “flat” mode is not flat enough. It’s high-jacked on saturation and contrast like a 50-year old hooker.

Exposure and lock
Both Panny and Canon have exposure compensation support, but Canon goes one step beyond, by letting you lock exposure. Without locking, your video will look like amateur home video. It’s the No1 feature I personally look into a camera. Without this feature, there’s no sale for me. Even if you give me such a camera for free I wouldn’t touch it.

Manual Focus and lock
Some Canon cams, like the SX200/SX210 IS, have the ability to precisely control the focus (rather than just “macro”, “normal”, “infinity”). For these cams, Canon wins, for the rest, it’s a draw I guess.

Now, if you count the wins and the draws, the two manufacturers almost even out. However, except the zooming while recording (which is a feature that as a filmmaker I couldn’t care less about), Panasonic didn’t win anything with a big lead. Canon on the other hand gets ahead with its color controls and exposure locking (which as I explained is the No1 feature for me). So for the kinds of videos I shoot, and the kinds of videos I encourage people to shoot, Canon has a clear advantage, even if they don’t do everything right. It’s all about what kinds of videos you shoot, so different features have different weight. And I can only speak for the kinds of videos I do.

Now, if you just want to shoot the cat tormenting your dog, or your grandmother putting her teeth back, then a $70 Kodak Zi6 will do the job too. No reason to spend more in that case.

The next step for both manufacturers would be to offer selectable 23.976, 25.00, and 29.97 fps. Full manual control is almost impossible in video mode in these digicams (various hardware constraints), but frame rate selection is not. An adapter hook for a filter thread wouldn’t be a bad idea either, so this way we could somewhat control the outdoors high shutter speeds by using ND filters.