Archive for December, 2010

Vintage Look with Sony Vegas

Here are three presets (red, green, blue tints) that try to emulate the old 8mm film look. Instagram and the 8mm Vintage Camera utilities for iOS are pretty popular these days, so here’s something similar in Sony Vegas that I cooked up for you tonight.

1. Download this zip file. Unzip the “presets 2″ folder in it on your C:\ root folder. It must be unzipped on the root folder of your C:\ drive, or the included .vf sample project won’t load properly.

2. Download the Preset Manager directly from Sony. Install it. This is a nice official utility that unfortunately doesn’t come with Vegas by default.

3. Make sure you have the AAV ColorLab free Vegas plugin installed in your system.

4. Browse the C:\presets 2\ folder and double click the vintage.sfpreset file to open with the Preset Manager. Click the little + sign on the left of the “vintage.sfpreset” word, and then select the “FX Chain” word that appears directly underneath it. Then, click the “edit” menu, and “Copy to system”.

5. Now, open a Vegas and load my sample “project.vf” file, to see how to it looks like. You can then create your own project with your own footage, and then try to apply a plugin to an event in the timeline (by clicking the blue + symbol on the right side of any timeline event). From the long list appearing, click “Filter Packages” on the tree list on the left, and the new presets will be now visible. You can choose any of the 8mm presets to load, and start playing around.


Before, and after the 8mm effects.
Picture by Brent Moore, titled “Nashville-Davidson Co. Rock City Barn“. Licensed under the CC-BY 2.0.

On my sample .vf project file, notice the transparent gradient on the top video track, and its exact settings: you will have to recreate this manually on your projects (it’s not part of the preset).

As with all non-dynamic presets, each scene will require tweaking. So don’t expect this to look perfect just by loading the preset!

More Sony Vegas color grading presets here (you might want to tweak them to use less contrast though).

Why education-focused Linux distros fail to deliver

I came across Edubuntu tonight, a Linux distro focused on education. Their goal is to create a distro that official education organizations can use to deploy to students.

As much as I hate my country for all its shortcomings, I do love my country just as much (if not more) for the things that it does well. And it’s because of this love why sometimes I envision how things should happen in order to bring Greece to become again all that it used to be. But it all starts with education. It’s the No 1 building block for a future.

So I’d love to see cheap netbooks given/sold to students, netbooks running an open platform, with each school having a WiFi network that can access certain web sites (e.g. Wikipedia), lets the kids to use Skype to video-chat, and with administrative tools to keep unwanted fiddling out. Most of this can be done today with Edubuntu. But the biggest feature on this laptop should be the access to interactive curriculum, and this is where Edubuntu falls short.

I’m not talking about Edubuntu providing the curriculum of course, that would be impossible as education is very different depending on the country/area/school. But what I am talking about is a PLATFORM where each country/area/school can use it to DEPLOY their curriculum. A sort of an “App Store”-type application where the kids can download books, exercises, even applications that have heavy graphics to teach them Geometry or Math. Virtual books that have annotations, comments, and clipboard support. No need to carry 8 kilos of books every day on your back (I had to endure that when I was at school), no need to learn math the old way that it’s so wrong (check the embedded videos for more), no need to buy books anymore (as it’s common in some countries). There could be even exercises carried through by team of students at the same time, kind of like collaborative word processors work, to endorse team spirit. The possibilities on how you educate kids using modern methods are endless once you go digital.

But for a government or private school to go digital, the said platform must exist. The tools they need, and the special file formats, and special apps they need to do all that, must first exist. All they must have to do is provide the CONTENT. But the infrastructure must exist, must be cohesive, must make sense. And this is the biggest feature these Linux education distros must provide. Locking down a student user account and limiting internet access (that can currently be done) should only be an afterthought to the whole education thing. What governments need first and foremost is the infrastructure to deploy content — limiting users is secondary.

Even OLPC falls short in that front. I wrote in the past that I was against a custom OS interface for educational purposes, but that’s a small misstep compared to the fact that even OLPC doesn’t get it, and never provided the said platform for deployment. Instead, they developed some useless butt-ugly tools, and expected the educators to learn Squeak or some shit like that, and write useless apps like “eToys”. No wonder OLPC went nowhere either.

Sure, OLPC’s main attraction was its supposed $100 price tag, but you see, you will have to be realistic and logical here, even if that doesn’t always mean “humanistic”. See, when a country like Greece, Italy, Spain still don’t have what I suggest above, do you think that Uganda can afford OLPC — even at its lower price tag? The answer is “no”. As cruel as this may sound, the digitization of education must start from the richer countries (heck, even USA is lacking!), and move to the poorer countries as both hardware becomes cheaper, and these countries get *the rest* of the infrastructure (e.g. server rooms, hordes of devs, country-wide internet) to run such a big project. Trying to sell OLPCs to poor countries, is like trying to sell a FORD car to some tribal leader that lives 10 Khm from the nearest paved road. You can’t force progress, sorry. It has to happen in stages.

All this is of course a big job to take on for a few volunteers, and honestly, I think this is where UN or some other organization (maybe UNESCO?), should put money where their mouth is, and help out the Edubuntu volunteers by providing R&D, engineers, and education ideas to create that server-client software platform discussed above. There is no need for custom hardware, there is no need for custom interfaces, there is no need to unearth useless programming languages. Instead, there is a need for a management and deployment solution, along interactive and [complex] apps that explain the sciences in a very visual way. All that should run on a NORMAL Linux distro (e.g. Edubuntu) and hardware (e.g. Atom netbooks), instead of the incompatible wet-dream like OLPC was. I hope UN/UNESCO takes the bite, otherwise I don’t see us going anywhere on that front…

BTW, if you made it through this article, make sure you watch the videos. They explain how educational software must go further than traditional teaching methods.

DELL Vostro V130 video performance

So my Christmas present arrived today, a Dell Vostro V130 laptop, with an i3 1.33 Ghz CPU (equivalent to Cure2Duo 1.86Ghz ULV), Win7 64bit, and Intel HD Graphics. The laptop is nice, but its touchpad driver would crash on me, so I had to uninstall the custom DELL Synaptics driver, and install the generic one, which worked better and had the options I needed (I couldn’t disable horizontal scrolling with DELL’s UI).

I needed an ultra-portable at a good price, and I found this to be the best solution out there. I was hoping that the device would be able to manage 1080p h.264 video, but unfortunately, it’s a hit and miss. Here’s the review about it:

YouTube/Vimeo Flash 1080/30p at 16:9 aspect ratio: CHOPPY
YouTube/Vimeo Flash 1080/24p at 1:85:1 aspect ratio: SMOOTH (less area, and fewer frames to decode — decoder at its limits)
YouTube/Vimeo Flash 1080/24p at 16:9 aspect ratio: CHOPPY but watchable
YouTube/Vimeo Flash 720/30p at 16:9 aspect ratio: SMOOTH
Windows Media Player 1080/30p: SMOOTH
VLC 1080/30p: CHOPPY/FROZEN at times
WMP/VLC 720/30p: SMOOTH
Quicktime: CHOPPY, no matter what res (no big surprise there)
Sony Vegas Pro v10.0b 64bit: When project properties are set properly, and preview window is set to preview/auto and 640×360 preview resolution, it’s smooth for the most part, at any video resolution! At 1080/30p is struggling a bit, but it manages better than other editors. The laptop is obviously at its limits there. 720/30p editing is smooth.
HULU desktop app, connected to TV as a secondary monitor via HDMI: In “High” Hulu video quality (480p), when the TV resolution is set to 1080p, the decoder drops frames. When the TV resolution is set to 720p, it manages ok. If Hulu was to upgrade its “High” 480p standard to actual 720p video, then I reckon the decoder wouldn’t manage anymore.

The biggest disappointment here is Adobe and it’s badly optimized Flash player. I tried both 10.1 and 10.2b, but performance was the same. Windows Media Player showcases that the GPU is able to do just fine with these full-HD files, but Flash falls short. I do put the blame to Adobe here and not Intel. It’s just another clue that some Adobe teams are much worse than others, and much worse than the Microsoft ones.

In conclusion, I believe that this laptop is fine for editing 720p files. Since this is a very portable laptop, you can easily use it for editing your Canon digicam 720p video files. 1080p is possible, but it will put lots of strain on the machine.

The most-viewed HV music video

If you’re following my blog for a while you probably already know that there are well over 600 official music videos shot so far with the Canon HV20/30/40 line of HDV camcorders. Of course, most of these videos are not very popular, just small indie bands and artists who needed a video on the cheap. But as more and more videographers are moving to dSLRs, and the HV community gets on life support, it’s nice to find out which HV music video actually was the most popular in terms of views. Not the best music video, but simply the most popular.

So it appears that the most popular HV music video is Washed Out’s “Hold Out”. Shot wih a naked HV30, and with its Handy35 35mm adapter. So far it clocks at about 40,000 views overall (vimeo+youtube+Pitchfork). Washed Out, a chillwave do-it-all-by-yourself artist, couldn’t use a better camera to shoot this, a camera that embodiments this do-it-yourself mentality.

To be more precise, an HV-related video with over 50,000 views is this one instead, but the HV30 was used there only in still picture mode and not in video mode, so I think that it’s not fair to place it in the first position. The actual video shots on this video used a Sony Z1 camcorder instead.

UPDATE: Apparently, this HV30 music video has over 300k views overall.

Video Quality: Vimeo vs YouTube

As I’ve written in the past, since we bought our Roku XD|S, we watch lots of online video. Of course, my favorites are mostly on Vimeo, but not because YouTube doesn’t carry the same videos (it does), but simply because it’s easier to find them on Vimeo — since quality content is encouraged, and promoted there (rather than these stupid vlogs that are getting promoted by YouTube).

So while we were watching such content, on our 50″ Pioneer plasma TV, from 2.5-3 meters away, my husband and I clearly noticed that YouTube HD videos were not as detailed as Vimeo’s. Ignoring the PNSR result graphs below, even with the naked eye the difference is noticeable. There was lack of detail and sharpness. And I’m not talking about artificial sharpness that anyone can add during post-processing, but lack of true sharpness and detail in the video compared to the original. I could see this problem on my PC too for months now, but I thought that on a TV this would not be as evident. But it was.

So I went ahead, ran some tests, and here’s what I found. Utilities used was pDiff, a pixel differentiation meter over the original, and a bandwidth calculator. The originally uploaded videos can be downloaded from Vimeo, if you’re logged-in. I used video samples from PLUS users because these are the only ones that the original file is still in tact after a week (non-PLUS users can only offer for download the re-encoded version after a week). You can double-check and verify the results after downloading some of the frames used for the comparison (12 MB).

1080p sample
YouTube: 4 mbps (includes 128 kbps audio). Pixel difference: 644980 px.
Vimeo: 4.62 mbps, 2-pass (4.5 mbps for video, 128 kbps for audio). Pixel difference: 513204 px. Please note that 1080p is only activated on Vimeo IF a Vimeo PLUS user specifically checks the 1080p box in the video’s preferences.

720p sample
YouTube: 2 mbps (includes 128 kbps audio). Pixel difference: 258864 px.
Vimeo: 2 mbps, 2-pass (includes 128 kbps audio). Pixel difference: 213288 px.

The difference looks small, but it’s actually very visible while watching something. YouTube’s version has too much softness over both Vimeo’s and the original’s. I personally think that both Vimeo and Youtube should upgrade to 2.5 mbps for 720p (with 160 kbps VBR audio), quality could be better in that resolution — there were times that I wasn’t satisfied with either of the two!

But for 1080p, Vimeo seems to have found a sweet spot at 4.6 mbps: quality is indeed stellar, and better than our Comcast cable box! This was one of the multitude of reasons we actually got rid of our cable TV just last week. On a second thought, I’d love to see Vimeo supporting 5.1 audio in 1080p, bringing the bitrate at 5 mbps overall.

The Recurring Dream

In all my years, I’ve had a single recurring dream. I have this same dream a few times a year.

I’m older. I’m in my father’s home in the mountainous, and difficult to reach, village. My father is living with me, but not my mother, my brother, or my husband. I’m working in my father’s vegetable garden — which feels like it’s our sole source of food.

Then, a flying object flies past the village. Sometimes I see this as an alien UFO, sometimes as an enemy combatant fighter jet. And I have the same thought each time: “They’re here, they reached this place too“.

Village under the mountain
Village under the mountain” by Quinn Dombrowski. Licensed under the CC-BY-SA 2.0.

From this point, the dreams drift to different storylines, sometimes with terrestrial enemies, and sometimes with extra-terrestrial ones. But that first part of the dream is always the same. It’s always the starting point. The general feeling I get from these dreams is that the world is in chaos, there is war, and my father’s village is the only place to hide, and live a hard, but peaceful life. Until they arrive there too…

A psychologist would say that the dream simply represents my fears about the modern world, and where I’d naturally go hide from it, or something to that effect. But it just feels so much more than that. It feels like a future to me, not just a scenario of my subconscious to just get me prepared in the case of an actual war. Paranoia or not, I’d like to think that there’s a place for me to hide. Makes me feel safer.

“Circles” by Soft Moon

I already placed Soft Moon as the number 1 Bay Area artist/album of the year, and on my top-3 worldwide. Here’s his new music video. People, THIS is music!

My Christmas present: Dell Vostro V130

My current laptops are all very old and weak:
– My Atom 1.6 Ghz HP netbook can run Ubuntu only, so Flash is unbearable in it. It’s my mom’s fallback laptop if her own Acer Ubuntu laptop dies (doesn’t seem very healthy atm).
– My Z-series MID Atom laptop at 1.2 Ghz is even slower. Otherwise, a nice laptop, but it hardware-crashes sometimes for some crazy reason. Laptop is promised to my brother.
– My Powerbook is from 2003, and it can’t render fast any site that has heavy javascript in it. Video is out of the question. Laptop is promised to a cousin of mine, to teach her kids.

My original idea was to go for a fully accessorized+adapters Macbook Air, something that would cost me about ~$2000+tax. The idea was that if I was to get such an expensive machine, I’d have to forgo any prospects for a new smartphone, new PC, or a tablet. Macbook Air would be a replacement for my laptop, desktop PC, and tablet, and I’d have to go by with whatever smartphone I could scrap from here and there.

And that was the idea until this week. With all the Wikileaks drama around though, I started thinking more about how I should spend my money. I’m a bit depressed about the whole state of affairs (about all things really, not just political), so I now find it to be pure vanity to go for an expensive laptop while I could go by with a cheaper one. If could find a laptop that could do what I need it to do for the most part (in my case, accelerated video playback), then I should be happy with that.

So today I bought the DELL Vostro V130. For $735+tax (price includes a “plant a tree for me” option ;-) ).

Sure it doesn’t run Mac OS X, sure it doesn’t have an nVidia GPU for even faster video acceleration, and sure it doesn’t have as much battery life. The CPU on my Vostro V130 is a 1.33 Ghz i3, which results in the same speed as the 1.86 Ghz Core2Duo found on one of the Macbook Air configurations, according to CPU benchmarks. But for a difference of over $1000, I prefer to stay with the Vostro. I’m simply not willing to pay that difference. Sure, I could have gone for the 11.6″ 1.86Ghz cheaper Macbook Air, but the price difference is still $600. I could buy a second laptop for that money! And if the Vostro dies within 2 years, I can still buy a faster one by then, and still have money left!

The main limitation of this model is its seriously weak battery life (not user replaceable), clocking at no more than 2:30 hours. But since I rarely leave home, and when I do I have either a car transformer, or hotel/airport plugs, I don’t really need much battery life.

There’s a good chance that my brother will lose his job this January in Greece, since his contract as an electrician runs out. There are simply better ways to use money than getting the coolest gadget that’s around. This is not meant as disrespect to the people who already bought the Macbook Air (two of my friends did), but rather as food for thought for everyone, including myself. That’s the reason I keep insisting non-professionals on buying cheap HD digicams from Canon instead of dSLRs or camcorders. Buy the model that does the minimum of what you need, and save money. Use your imagination and your skill to go around obstacles that other products do easier for a bigger sum of money. Difficult times are ahead.

Carson Daly Show shot with Canon dSLRs

I was watching the Carson Daly show late last night and I noticed how different their new reporting-style format looks to their old “live” audience-based format. There is very shallow depth of field (something that TV cameras only achieve if they zoom-in a lot), and lots of color grading. So the show now either uses RED Ones, or dSLRs. Unlikely to use HDV cameras with 35mm adapters. Since I counted 5 different cameras in the interview sections, it was obvious that dSLRs were used (five Red ONEs would be too expensive for this show). And lo-and-behold, towards the end of the show, one of the cameramen quickly captured in the frame one of the other cameramen. Their cameras are Canon dSLRs, either the 5D or the 7D.

If that was the 7D, I’m thinking that their whole setup (including lights, mics, cams, lenses, tripods, steadycams), probably didn’t cost them more than $15000, which is actually a bargain. Then I thought how much it would cost if you’d try to go super-bargain. I think that what the Carson Daly show does in terms of equipment, could be done for $1500. Sure the individual equipment wouldn’t be as good, but for someone scraping for cash, a Carson Daly-style show would still achieve a pleasurable look on the cheap too:

For the interview parts:
– Two Canon SD780 IS 720/30p digicams: $390 (on the sides, looking at the subjects). Otherwise, the Canon SD1400 IS is not a bad deal either at $150 each.
– One Canon SX210 IS 720/30p digicam: $250 (looking straight ahead at the subjects)
– Four cheap tripods: $100
– 2×250 Watt lights: $100 (like this one)
– One H4n mic: $300 (invisibly sitting on a tripod, in the middle of the two subjects). Some cheaper recorders that have a 3.5mm mic input cost just $30 (e.g. an Olympus or a Sony one). You can pair the recorder with the $50 Audio Technica ATR-6550 mic that has a tele-mode.
– A clapper: $10 (for audio sync)

(for the monologue, non-interview parts of the show)
– Two shoulder-rests: $90
– Two LED portable lights: $50 (like this one)
– Wearable mic, connected to the H4n: $30

Add some SD cards and extra batteries in there, and there you go, about $1500+tax. Put the cameras to record in custom “flat” mode (at their lowest sharpness, saturation, contrast setting, so you can ensure better color grading in post), set white balance, set and lock exposure compensation, and you’re good to go! I bet it will look and sound excellent.

Funnily, the TV screengrab above is the last one I grab off of Comcast. Today I canceled our Comcast cable TV service, going 100% with Netflix, Hulu, and Vimeo on my Roku box.

CHANGE

In 2008 Obama made the world believe in him with his “Change” message. However, change has not come in the 2 years he’s been in office. His only major victory so far has been the health-care bill, a bill that is still not as good as most of the European ones. But he has done nothing to change Congress, or the way this whole system works.

Change instead came from someone else, Julian Assange. Not in the form of signing actual new bills, but in terms of offering a way to get transparency. Wikileaks’ hunger for that transparency is supported among others by Congressman Ron Paul, famed intellectual Umberto Eco, and US Senator & presidential candidate Mike Gravel. Gravel himself was persecuted by the US government all the way to the Supreme Court when he assisted the leak of the Pentagon Papers in the ’70s. He won the case. What Assange does today with these 251,000 cable files, is what Obama should have done after the first 3 months he was in office. Instead, Obama took a back seat (it feels like he’s not even governing anymore), allowing his staff to perpetrate further the Bush-era laws and paranoia (TSA scanners anyone?). In the meantime, Assange ended up in jail.

Making things worse, US companies like Amazon, Paypal, MasterCard, and now Visa have cut off ties with Wikileaks, trying to kill the organization. How is it possible to stop service to an organization as important to so many people, when not proven guilty, and for all we know not even charged with anything? All they will manage to do is drive Wikileaks underground, get it to run by organizations like Anonymous, which might end up being a worse deal for the USA in the long run. And isn’t it weird that organizations like the Ku Klux Klan can operate freely within these companies’ services, but Wikileaks can not? Hmm?

If you’re on Netflix, I highly suggest you stream this documentary at your earliest convenience. See, what Wikileaks is doing is not new. Back in the early ’70s, the EXACT same thing happened, when a government analyst, Daniel Ellsberg, leaked to the press the information about the horrors & lies of the Vietnam war, and how unjust & brutal the US had been to that war. Ellsberg has tweeted and written in support to Wikileaks too.