Archive for June, 2010

Video editing with the Sony PS3

The brand new Sony PS3 firmware that was released tonight comes with a built-in video editor. It is able to edit in real time HDV, AVCHD, and [almost] dSLR h.264 footage.

First, you have to copy your video files in the internal hard drive. If you already have video files there, you will have to re-copy them, because the files must be copied with firmware 3.40 or newer (this firmware copies more needed attributes).

HDV and AVCHD files will work out of the box. If your footage is dSLR/digicam MOV h.264 files, then you must pass them via a re-wrapping utility, to make them MP4. Take note, this is NOT a re-encoding. Re-wrapping simply changes the container from MOV to MP4, without re-encoding. It’s done in mere seconds, and it has zero loss in quality. I usually do mine with Quicktime Pro, or MPEG Streamclip, or a DOS script utilizing ffmpeg, or mp4box and mencoder.

The easiest way is with MPEG Streamclip, but it doesn’t save the audio along. Google it, download it, install it, load it. Then click “List” from its menu, “Batch list”, “Add Files…”. Using your mouse or the SHIFT key in your keyboard, select all the files you want re-wrapped from MOV to MP4. Select “Open”. In the next dialog that pops up, select “Save As” from the drop-down menu, then the “Ok” button. Then select a folder to save the new MP4 files, and click “Ok” again. From the new dialog that pops up, select “MP4” from the drop-down menu, and then “Ok”. Then, select “Go” from the main dialog, to begin the re-wrapping process.

If you do want to keep the video’s audio, use Quicktime Pro (exporting the files one by one: use the MPEG-4 exporting option, and use “passthrough” for the video, and AAC 192 kbps for audio), or write a batch script that uses FFmpeg (e.g. ffmpeg -i input.mov -vcodec copy -acodec libfaac -ac 2 -ar 44100 -ab 192k output.mp4).

Then, copy the created .MP4 files on your PS3. I do it via the TwonkyMedia UPnP server, but you can use an SD/CF card too, or a burned DVD disc (with your files in it, not DVD video), or another DLNA/UPnP server.

Then from the “Video” XMB PS3 menu go up, and find the Video Editor option. Create a new project and “Add” your video files in it. Then follow the on-screen instructions to edit the videos. Usability is not stellar, but it works, and it’s super-fast. There are about 15 pre-installed music tracks to select from for your video, and there’s a text, and speed-up/slow-motion ability too.

At the end, you’re given the option to create a new MP4 file, or to upload to Youtube/Facebook. Unfortunately, we’re not given the opportunity to export to HD. All uploads are in 640×480 resolution, at 29.97 fps. For widescreen videos, the 1.333 aspect ratio is attached to the VGA resolution. The PS3 and the VLC players support that aspect ratio flag, and your widescreen-edited video will playback in widescreen, but Quicktime won’t recognize the flags and it will display your video squashed. I haven’t tried Youtube/Facebook about if they recognize the widescreen flag properly. Leave a comment if you tried it.

Quality of the saved video is very good: 2 mbps h.264 MP4, and 128 kbps AAC. It’s at least DVD quality. And exporting is very fast: 40 seconds of my edited video, took only about 30 seconds to encode!

Anyways, if Sony gives us the ability to export at different resolutions, frame rates, bitrates, and possibly add the [dreaded] support for the MOV container and the Canon audio dSLR/digicam format, they’ll have a winner. But even as it is now, it can really be of much help to people who have a camera and a PS3 but no video editor on their PC, or their video editor is too slow for their camera’s format. The PS3’s CELL CPUs really fly in video editing.

My own idea of a natural diet

Update: Obviously the following is not a great diet. Paleo/Primal is where real health lies.

Since my husband lost so much weight recently by following a loose version of the South Beach diet, a lot changed: we planted a garden, trying to grow our own vegetables, and I started following a similar food regime as well: a lower carb diet, with more vegetables in it. Doing so even helped my health issue somewhat: instead of getting sick every second or third day, it was reduced to once a week. Obviously an improvement.

JBQ and I have been joking that the traditionally accepted food pyramid is one of the reasons that America is obese. Also, I was reading lately that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world. Cretans are among the peoples with the best health in the world, apparently.

In fact, prior to 1985 (the ’80s was the decade that Greece became “modern”), I don’t remember anyone in my vicinity to die of cancer. And yet, as time goes by, I hear of cancer for people I know in Greece more and more. In the olden days, that was something very rare. I personally attribute a good chunk of the blame to the food changes. Back in the day I remember myself eating wild or other vegetables, and beans, 6 days out of the 7. We usually had meat every Sunday. Then, the ’80s came, a lot of the EU “free money” was spent (in good and bad ways), and everyone started eating more meat, and more junk products.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We probably had a protein deficiency back then (although some of the vegetables we ate, like wild amaranth, were rich in protein too). But the point remains, I feel that our diet back then was better than what it is now. Less crap in the shelves (hell, there were no shelves).

So in the last few days I tried to create another food pyramid, one that I personally believe is more proper for hommo sapiens (no, I’m not a dietitian or a doctor btw — just a good observer). A pyramid that takes into account the ancient people, and the way they evolved, the new theories about bad carbs (that now are getting proven, I was reading recently), the studies about how good olive oil is, and how I felt way back then, and now. Basically, this food chart is a mix of personal experience & knowledge — which could be way off, but so far, it works for me: I’ve lost weight, and I feel healthier.

Much healthier than my very-low-calorie diet (if you remember that one, which I blogged about it too). At the end of my VLCD I lost half of my hair. And I was always hungry throughout the 3 months I managed to live at 900 calories a day. With this new diet (which is not an actual weight loss diet, but a lifestyle change), I eat like a cow — and I lose weight.

Some clarifications:

– The basic principle is: don’t overdose on anything. Even when we have to eat vegetables every day, have a selection of veggies, not a full plate of the same vegetable. Our progenitors didn’t have a giant broccoli for lunch. They most probably had a bit of this, and a bit of that, whatever they could find. Therefore, we evolved in a way where overdosing EVEN for “good” foods is probably bad for us.

– You noticed that I don’t value wheat/corn products a lot. That’s for two reasons: First, flour products are not exactly natural. You can’t find flour in the wild, you will have to make it, after heavily processing it (and processed food is not very natural). Also, we can get their minerals and vitamins from other sources too. Plus, there’s a high-fiber bran cereal in my chart, which can offer all the vitamins and gluten one needs. I started eating this cereal. It’s very good, except the added aspartame. Alternatively, go for added-fiber wholewheat bread. But avoid pasta — wholewheat of not. Pasta is even more processed, and it’s impossible to eat in small quantities (spaghetti bolognese would look silly without enough pasta in it).

– Regarding animal meat, the best would be eating it only once a week. But I think my JBQ likes his steaks, so it’d be difficult to not cook it more for him. Fish 2-3 times a week is a must though, I’d say.

– Regarding sugary products, e.g. desserts, it’s best to make them yourselves, to ensure that you’re using the best ingredients. Use agave nectar instead of actual sugar, but still, not very often. There’s no better dessert than a fruit salad (add a bit of natural orange juice), or a smoothie (blend frozen fruits, with a little bit of natural orange juice — again, no sugar is required). All the sugar one needs can be found in fruits. So there’s no reason for a lot of added sugar, or its substitutes.

– Raw root vegetables are OK, e.g. carrots. Cooked root vegetables are ok too, but not too often, and not at high doses. E.g. a small potato is ok, but giant jacket potatoes twice+ a week are not. I admit, this is mostly a keep-the-weight-off tactic more than a healthy one though. Root vegetables are not “bad”.

– Dark chocolate is fine (75% of cocoa or above).

Greek-style Meatballs (keftedakia)

Update June 13th 2010: Original recipe blog post posted on Mar 28, 2007. My mom has informed me of the traditional method, so I’ve updated this blog post.

We are going to a BBQ party tonight and so that’s my contribution. They are an exceptionally good idea for buffet parties (guests can get some from a serving platter using toothpicks). My mother always makes some when we celebrate name days or birthdays.

Ingredients (for 2)
* 1/4 cup of bread crumbs or the white part of old white bread. For a Paleo version use almond flour.
* 250 gr ground beef
* 1 small onion
* 2 tbspoons fresh spearmint (important ingredient)
* 1 egg
* fresh (preferably Italian flatleaf) parsley
* 2 garlic cloves
* salt & pepper
* oregano
* olive oil
* canola or vegetable oil

Execution
1. Finely chop the parsley, spearmint, onion and garlic in very small pieces.
2. In a big bowl place the ground beef, the chopped ingredients above, salt, pepper, oregano, the egg, and 1 tbspoon olive oil. Then, add the bread crumbs on the mix. If you don’t have bread crumbs, you can use the white part of old bread after having wet it with some water.
3. Using your fists work the mix until it becomes one, and add bread crumbs as needed until the mix is not too loose or stiff, for 1-2 minutes (just like you would if you were making bread by hand). Using some clean wrap to protect it, put the mix to the refrigerator for an hour or so.
4. Later, move the mix on one of the sides of the bowl. Take small amounts of the mix and then using the palms of your hands, shape small balls. Place them on the other side of the bowl. Be patient, it can take a while.
5. In a large frying pan heat up some olive & canola oil. Meatballs need quite a bit of oil to get cooked through, so add up to half an inch of oil in the pan. When the oil is hot, place your meatballs in the pan, then reduce to medium fire, and cook them for about 8-10 minutes until brown. You will need to turn the meatballs 2-3 times during their cooking time, so they cook from all sides.
6. Remove the meatballs from heat (make sure you don’t take too much oil with it as you removing them from the pan). Serve hot with french fries. Alternatively, you can heat some pasta sauce in another pan and then put the meatballs in the sauce and cook together for 1-2 minutes. This variation can be served with either fries or pasta. Enjoy!

Keftedakia

Note: For a more Italian taste, you can also try to add some basil in the mix.

LOST: The Ultimate Cop-Out

For those who’ve read my blog all these years they know what a big supporter and fan of LOST I am. However, the ending was simply a big let down for me. I felt cheated. Scammed. Conned.

The writers chose a “character-based” solution for LOST, rather than a more sci-fi solution that would be full of answers about the island and the surrounding mythos.

Here’s my problem with their route: the people who were watching LOST for the characters (mostly comprised by the “faith” people), left LOST mid-3rd season. The majority of viewers who stayed strong fans — like myself — were the “science” people. We stayed with the show because we were expecting what we were promised, a “science-based solution” — according to the writers. As the show progressed and became full blown sci-fi, we expected answers for these unnatural mysteries, in a way that was compatible with that sci-fi aura.

Instead, we got what we got with BSG’s ending: religious bullshit. And no real answers for any of the major mysteries like time-travel, pregnancies, the “rules”, the cures, agelessness, Walt’s/kids’ specialness, island Egyptian pre-history, what the island was really made of, etc etc etc. I should have known that the 6th season was just a patch-up the writers put together when I saw the Black Rock — a ship made out of wood — destroying the statue — that’s made out of stone. Right at that moment it was obvious that the writers would just quickly patch up as much as they could all the huge mysteries they were opening the previous 5 years without any clear direction. And of course, at the end, they failed to patch-up most of these mysteries anyway.

No, I’m not asking to answer every single mystery. Neither it’s possible to please everyone. But there’s a huge gap between taking a risk, and fucking up everything that was built-up previously.

Back in the 1st season, the most character-based season of all, the No 1 most popular theory was that the island was a purgatory. The writers many times said in the past few years that it’s not a purgatory, and that the ultimate show answer would be science-based. Instead, at the very end we were introduced to the flash-sideways, which actually WAS a purgatory! What a whole lot of hogwash.

The way LOST should have ended was about revealing what the island really was. And the only solution that would made sense for all these open mysteries would be that the island was an alien spaceship. Not a traditional spaceship, but one that uses exotic matter to move through wormholes (in fact, many real scientists theorized that as the ending of LOST, saying that it’s the only theory that makes sense). Millions of years ago it encountered a mechanical problem, and stayed put on Earth. Corals grew around it, and created the actual island (which is how many Pacific islands are formed anyway). But the core of the island, stayed operational. And the “computer” operating at the center, was the one that gave the powers to Jacob, cured Locke etc.

This way, the usage of the Dharma plots would actually be useful to the overall plot: it would show WHY the island needed to be protected from humans. Humans who would want to understand and use the island’s powers for their own selfish needs. Instead, even the Dharma episodes (5th season), were full of character crap (no, really, I don’t care who Kate will choose), instead of actually showing what Dharma was working on, which were their motives and how all that was tying to the overall plot (ultimately, the protection of the island from the different forces).

Instead, the way LOST finished, which was all about character resolution rather than the island, everything that happened on the island makes it feel IRRELEVANT. Dharma is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, and the island itself is irrelevant too — since there are many other realities in the afterlife — as insinuated by the show. Everything that happened on the island for 6 seasons were just “stuff that happened”. We were fed time and again about how important the island is. In fact, it’s not. As also insinuated in the show, places like the island are to be found at many places on Earth. And put the afterlives on top of that, and there you go: the island is pretty much irrelevant, if only semi-special.

I don’t want to keep this opinion single-sided, so I’m linking to two reviews of the ending. One that seeks for answers and some scientific basis to the show, and one that’s taking the writer’s side (written by one of the ex-writers of LOST, apparently).

Finally, I want to say that having seen what the writers cooked up with LOST at the end, it was obvious that they were going blindly with the plot. They did not have a firm direction. Sure, they were better prepared than in other shows, but still not as good as such a show requires them to be. It’s true that more shows, and even book series, don’t have a known ending from the beginning, and most stuff are made-up as they go. But it is my opinion that shows like LOST do require a very clear vision from the very beginning, even on an episode by episode basis. It’s one of the things I liked with FlashForward, where its writers had pre-drafted all 3 seasons the show was supposed to last — even if FlashForward ended up being implemented in a way that was inferior to LOST.

So that’s the bad news. The good news is that it can be done better. The fact that there was a huge uproar online about the lackster LOST ending, it shows that maybe in 5 or 10 or 15 years from now, a young writer somewhere will pen “a better LOST“. Just like LOST was a better show than Twin Peaks, its grand-daddy, I hope that someone will create a better such show during my lifetime. A show that’s as deep, as exciting, as geeky, as well-shot as LOST, but with a grand plan from the beginning that doesn’t CHEAT on its viewers at the very end.