Archive for December, 2011

Four months with Paleo

I wrote an article a few months ago about the amazing health results I got from Paleo in just 6 weeks of using the diet. In the list, there were some items that were marked as “work in progress”. Well, here’s an update on these health problems on the 4 month mark.

* Eczema: Gone.
* Teeth sensitivity: Gone.
* Muscle atony on right arm/hand: Gone.
* Fibromyalgia-like pain: Gone.
* Sugar addiction: Gone-enough to be thinking of trying a ketogenic version of Paleo.
* Period pain: Comes and goes, depending on the month, but not as strong anymore.
* IBS-D: Depending on the week, and how careful I am with my probiotics, I might get one bad incident, or not.
* Alopecia: No new hair (yet), but they don’t fall as much anymore. (update: new hair is here!)
* Sleep apnea: This is reduced compared to pre-paleo, but it has returned, I get it about 2-3 times a month. It should go away as I keep losing weight (I’ve lost 16 lbs so far).

I will update again on the anniversary of the first year. If it continues like this, I expect sleep apnea, period pain, and IBS-D to have gone completely by then. The only real question-mark is if I will ever get new hair…

Cellphone camera apps

Android and iOS are taking over the world as the devices of choice for most people, and especially on the iOS front, still photography with an iPhone is taking off. The quality is “good-enough” to get something respectable out of it that FlickR audience would appreciate.

For video though, things are not as peachy as for still photography on smartphones. Video requires a few extra features to make it usable for artistic usage. These are:
– iOS: 24p/25p/30p fps selection (the FilmicPro app hacks this, but it’s not the real output of the camera). Low contrast/saturation/sharpness “flat” mode. iOS supports exposure compensation + lock, tap-to-focus and focus lock, and high bitrate.
– Android (most models): 24p/25p/30p fps selection. Higher bitrate (24mbps). Low contrast/saturation/sharpness “flat” mode. Exposure compensation + lock, and focus lock. Some models have tap-to-focus, but not much else.

So between the two, iOS wins so far easily on video by offering more control, but it’s still not perfect. I mean, we’re not even asking for full manual control here, just the basics to be able to get good video out of these phones. iOS only needs a few things to get it right, but the Samsung/Google/HTC/etc camera engineers really need to get a freaking clue about video and select hardware for their devices that support these features.

I know some people will argue that cellphones are not great to use for art, but I disagree. It’s the artist that matters, not the hardware. However, the artist can NOT fully open his/her wings and use the hardware to the fullest if the BASIC FEATURES are missing. For still photography things are easier, since fewer features are needed for people to get a good output. But for video, some extra stuff are needed, that are easily doable with modern hardware, but somehow they’re not taken into account by the engineers or project managers so far.

The Effects of Pure, Unadulterated Art

The text below was meant as a comment reply to my friend Glenn, but I think the subject warrants its own blog post:

Art becomes problematic when money is the object, because in order to make money, the artist must “comply” with the mainstream pop culture & limits of the time. Wild experimentation would result in a financial disaster, so no risks are taken. But it’s that experimentation that propels both art & our world forward. See, if you do pop music exactly because it’s easily consumable, and because you want to make a buck, then no, what you do, is not art. It’s a product.

My previous article was meant to go against the powerful mechanisms of capital and power in particular, who would manufacture “art” in order to sell to the masses, rather than because it’s good art. Just today I was reading this, where 6 media giants (in cahoots), get to decide 90% of the entertainment that gets served to the population. This is not just money we’re talking about here, but it’s POWER. When you control that much of the art people use, then you control these people, plain and simple.

That’s why I mostly listen to bedroom pop these days. 90% of my music experience is music written by young people in their bedrooms, who give their music for free (usually, but not always), and self-publish mostly via Bandcamp. These artists don’t even offer a picture of their faces to accompany their albums or their Tumblr blogs, while these one-man projects are usually hidden behind a pseudonym. In other words, this is 100% antithetic to what mainstream show business are. Plus, this kind of “chillwave” music speaks to me volumes about our situation today, about how we feel, or how we want to feel, rather than a sterile Katy Perry or a Lady Gaga song would ever be able to do so.

Regarding video we are still in the dawn of true indie video. Good cameras have just become to become affordable. For video, it’s like we live in 2003, in terms of computer music tool availability. Consider that chillwave took off in 2009. So by 2018 or so, I think we should be having amazing short films or other artistic videos, mostly for free on Vimeo. Sure, we already do have some (e.g. Matthew Brown’s work), just not as many.

I mean, just like with bedroom pop, I expect that artistic indie video will go to a different direction, to a new dawn of cinematic experience where the aesthetics, senses and emotions get 10x higher than in a normal narrative movie — for those who can “decode” the style. Chillwave was never about competing with mainstream pop, instead the Internet-sprouted genre was surprisingly current, and much more emotional: I listen to “Skin” by FiveNG for example, and I get transcended like I’m on a voodoo ritual. I listen to Washed Out’s “You & I“, and I get so fucking horny, that no other music ever managed to do so. I listen to “New Theory” by Washed Out, and my eyes fill up with tears with nostalgia about a place and time that was, but never really was. No other kind of mainstream music, ever, was able to do this to me. Maybe it helps that I’m a synesthete, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s because I give music a chance to open up to me. But since this hasn’t happen with any other genre or mainstream art before, I do give the credit for these high emotions and thoughts they inflict on me to the very fact that bedroom pop was created by real humans for a multiplicity of reasons (but all these reasons were pure), and not by an established capital power encouraging the masses to simply consume and obey.

To make it more visual: mainstream pop is like eating donuts. Full of corn syrup and wheat flour, among other additives, fried in PUFA oil. You eat some, your insulin spikes, and an hour later you need more because that’s what sugar does to you! You end up fat, sick, and dead inside. You become a slave of the system, of a chain of events that only stop when you die. True music instead is like eating a steak with a mix of veggies as a side. It’s a less interesting proposition at first, but it provides true nutrition, and after a while, this “real food” is the only food you eat, but you don’t necessarily “crave”, because craving itself is a symptom of the metabolic syndrome.

So similarly to music, I don’t expect this new kind of video art to try and compete with Avatar or Star Wars, but instead, be truly different. We live in the dawn of a new kind of filmmaking, which is truly impressionistic in nature. The people who will have their brains and eyes open, will feast on it. The rest, they can stay slaves of the powers of capital, who mostly serve pedestrian love war-stories. Good luck to them.

A video sample from the Canon SX230 HS

I had promised a small, unmodified, video test-sample from my new camera, the Canon SX230 HS. Right click to download the MOV file and play it on your computer, it’s a 43 MB file. This 36 mbps 1080/24p test-video was shot at -1/3EV exposure-locked, locked focus at center of the frame, and all custom color options are set on minimum values.

Pros: “Flat” colors & sharp detail. Rolling shutter is minimal and not a problem. Manual focus. Slow motion and miniature modes. 720/30p & 1080/24p at respectable bitrates. Exposure compensation & locking. Wind filter for built-in mic. 3″ widescreen.
Cons: No full video manual control. No built-in ND filters (my Zeikos filter add-on doesn’t fit its lens). Lens gets way too dark when zoomed-in. No menu option to turn off lens’ constant re-focus (very annoying), we have to always manually lock focus. We still can’t edit+join clips in-camera.

Artistic freedom, and why capitalism is a necessary evil

I was reading recently that:
1. Art is never pure when it’s created for money or fame.
2. Art is influenced by the state of power (capital, church, aristocrats etc).
3. Popular art mirrors the average brain capacity of the society of its time.

I must say that I agree with all these points, but I believe that we are currently living in a unique point of time in our history, where at least two of the three points above aren’t necessarily true anymore.

In the olden days, a piece of art would most likely exist only if some patron paid for it. Also, the kind of art that was created was highly influenced by the power of the time: medieval art was purely church-influenced, Renaissance and classical period was influenced by the aristocrats or the intellectuals, and today, the capitalistic market decides the type of art we consume.

Look at Hollywood movies for example, or popular music: the traits between the different works are more alike than different. You watch a Steve Carell comedy, or a Ben Stiller one, and the technical construction of the movie, along the “morals” served to the audience, are exactly the same. You listen to Gaga or Rihanna, and their “vibe” is the same. And if Hollywood or the music labels have an agenda (as The Guardian recently claimed), this can easily influence the sheep masses towards a specific mindset or opinion.

However, what about this “new” music, and this new kind of “film” appearing on sites like Bandcamp, Vimeo, or SoundCloud? These aren’t created for money but for love (they are offered completely for free), and they do not serve the agenda of capital. I’m talking about underground indie bands, usually recording in their bedrooms, using their computers. And I’m also talking about that other crop of artists, who use their dSLRs to make photographic or video art in a completely different way than what the mainstream audience is accustomed to. There are some of these pieces online that, in my opinion, rival professional works in quality. Speaking for myself, 90% of the music I listen to these days is downloaded from Bandcamp, for free. It sounds fresh, and current, not like a canned, formulaic piece of crap, which is how 99% of the mainstream and even “popular indie” music is. These bands don’t get mentioned by the Rolling Stone magazine, not even the king of indie music, Pitchfork, but mostly from much smaller blogs — which are also run for love and not for profit.

We must consider how we got here though, mostly within the last 10 years. How an 18 year old kid was able to put together an EP and give it away for free, without a label behind him, a producer, or a sound engineer. And the answer to this is this: through the commoditization of technology. Buying a $400 laptop, a $150 synthesizer, and then using the free version of Reaper, and countless free VST plugins & samples, is enough to create something magical and new — should the talent is present (technical expertise is usually patched together with knowledge acquired at forums or tutorials online, also for free). Similarly in the photography and video world, when the first affordable large-sensor dSLRs came around, and later HD video became fast-enough to edit, we got countless amazing pieces of works. Look on FlickR for example, or for video, check Vimeo’s Matthew Brown, or Charlie McCarthy.

In other words, there was a certain “democratization” that occurred in the current “fascism” of capitalism, via means of technology. I personally do not believe that such a commoditization of technology can happen in a strictly communistic state today. If USSR is an example, its art sucked pretty bad for the most part, and it was scarce to find anyway. While they had rad space satellites, technological innovation for the masses was not common either, and its citizens became poorer than before at the very end. Bedroom-pop (“Chillwave”), or “Vimeo-style filmmaking” would never exist in such an environment — at least not in the incarnation of communism USSR had.

This is not to say that capitalism is great either. Capitalism mass-produces art, thus having to average its radical elements to the IQ of the average consumer (making it mostly crap). What is called “pop sensibility” is simply an average barometer of the society’s needs or intelligence, expressed through pop-art. Make your art smarter, the masses can’t follow it anymore, and you will be called a “hipster”. Make it dumber, and you will be called “old”. There’s definitely a balance to be found, for those who crave to please the masses. Personally, I am not an avid promoter of “popularizing” (aka dumbing-down) art or science, just so people can follow your truth, or buy your record/movie. If the art is radical, then it’s the consumers who must do the effort to understand these new concepts. If they are not willing to do the effort, then they’re passive sheep, dragging everyone else down too. Passive sheep never get to run a company, or a country. They just consume for the sake of consuming. This doesn’t mean that I want art to be experimental/inaccessible all the time. I just believe that it has to be “edgy-enough” so it pushes people to make an effort to understand it.

Additionally, capitalism promotes the diminishing of ethics among the citizens — a heavy cost, no doubt. You can’t “make it” in a capitalistic environment by playing nice. I personally favor a somewhat socialist system, something in between of various popular ideologies: if so many people are fanatics for completely different political and economical ideologies, then where all these ideologies meet, it must be the sweet spot. Πάν μέτρον άριστον, the ancient Greeks used to say.

For now though, for better or worse, accessible technology does thrive in this capitalistic environment we live in. Technology might become the catalyst that could reset this diminishing of ethics. Some examples: freedom of information on the internet, future robot workers, machines that make food out of thin air, cybernetics and alteration of functions in the brain, etc. Such advancements can have a paramount effect on any political or economical system.

So my theory is that while capitalism has many negative effects, its very nature of producing “stuff” for the Market, some of these “products” end up fixing back some of capitalism’s bad points. In our case at hand, the electronics industry & market provided the tools to kill off the Music Industry, an Industry that ran on capital without a shred of love for art. Nothing happened on purpose of course, but it did happen as a natural consequence of our advancement. And it makes me happy that it happened. Because art should be free in order to re-affirm its pureness. And for the kinds of art that still require high amounts of capital to exist (e.g. a $200mil Pixar movie, or a large statue), technology eventually will get there to provide affordable solutions.

I know that some people will say that I put too much faith in technology, which itself can be manipulated to do “bad” as it can do “good”, but I believe that when technology is accessible by the common citizen, for every “bad” guy, there’s a “good” one too. For every computer virus that exists, there’s a wikipedia article too.

It all balances out most of the time, but it usually gets worse before it gets better. I truly believe that society is a living thing. It grows, it makes mistakes, it matures. Our society is not the same as the one of 10 years, or 100, or 1000 ago. You can’t force a population to suddenly become altruists for example, or to not break some law — instead, the society must learn right from wrong on its own. In 1000 years, or in 10,000 years from now, our society as a whole might be ready for some form of “utopia”. But in order to learn and get there, it has to suffer first. Capitalism is simply just a small part in this suffering-and-learning evolution. It’s just what we have right now, but I don’t believe capitalism will be with us forever.

Going back to art and society, for me, art is not just an aesthetic pleasure, but also a way to break new ground, to initiate more progress in many different directions. The faster we progress, the faster we will find our “utopia” (even if we have to get bruised in the process). We just have to keep pushing the envelop. Every. Single. Day.

Gizzards & kohlrabi en-cocotte

If there’s one recipe that will make you love kohlrabi (γογγύλι), it’s this one. Who needs white potatoes when you have such sweet and soft kohlrabi? Personally, I absolutely loved this Paleo dish! Its secret is in the bone broth.

Ingredients (for 3-4)
* 1 lb (450 gr) duck or chicken gizzards
* 1/3 stick of butter or duck fat
* 1 Tbspoon of coconut oil
* 2 cups of bone broth
* 3 medium kohlrabi bulbs
* 1 medium carrot
* 1 pinch of thyme or oregano
* 1 Tbspoon of lemon juice
* Salt & pepper to taste

Execution
1. Wash the gizzards with lots of water. Cut them in smaller pieces. Place them in a deep cooking pot, along the butter and coconut oil. Stir a few times, and brown them for a few minutes under medium heat.
2. Add the bone broth, salt & pepper, and simmer in low heat for about an hour or so.
3. Peel the kohlrabi, wash it, and cut it in 1-inch pieces. Wash the carrot, cut it in half length-wise, and then slice it.
4. Add them in the cooking pot, sprinkle the thyme/oregano, and stir. If at this point more liquid is required, add some water. Cook for 30 minutes in low heat.
5. When the liquid has evaporated, you’re left with a somewhat thick sauce, and the kohlrabi is soft, the dish is ready. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice, stir. Serve hot.

Shepherd’s pie, Paleo-style

I made this Paleo-modified shepherd’s pie dish (aka cottage pie) for our Sunday lunch, and my husband remarked about how good it was. Here’s how I made it:

Ingredients (for 4)
* 1 lb (450 gr) sheep or beef minced meat
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 2 Tbspoons chopped parsley
* 1 clove of garlic, chopped
* 1 small carrot, diced
* 3 medium roma tomatoes, skinned, diced
* 1 cup of bone broth
* 1 large-ish head of cauliflower (preferably the yellow kind)
* 1 Tbspoon of butter
* 2 Tbspoons of coconut milk
* 1 Tbspoon of coconut or olive oil
* 3-4 slices of provolone cheese (optional)
* 1/3 cup of frozen green peas (optional)
* Salt & pepper

Execution
1. Cut the cauliflower in smaller florets, wash it, and boil it for 15 minutes in hot boiling water. Strain it, set aside.
2. While the cauliflower is cooking, warm out the coconut oil in a cooking pan under medium heat, and then add the chopped onion. After the onion has browned a bit, add the minced meat, and keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the meat has started brown itself too.
3. Add the chopped parsley & garlic, diced carrot & tomatoes, salt and pepper, stir well. If you allow green peas in your diet, add them now too (some consider them Paleo, others don’t). Then add the bone broth, and continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F (200 C).
4. Put the cauliflower in a food processor, add the butter & coconut milk, and some pepper. Blend until smooth.
5. Use a 10″ diagonal, deep baking dish, and spread the minced meat mixture on it, leveling it well using the wooden spoon. Wash the wooden spoon, and use it again to evenly spread the cauliflower mash on top of the meat.
6. Spread the provolone cheese slices on top of the cauliflower (optional), and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until it has started to brown. Eat warm. Dish freezes well too.

Girls on Rings

We went to Google’s Christmas party last night, and there were some interesting acrobatics on rings as part of the spectacle. Many Android engineers & their partners were shooting with their phones or digicams the girls directly, while I was pretty much the only one shooting their shadows, after pinning in my mind the mood/sensual piece below. I conceived the idea while eating sushi. I guess sushi is quite the aphrodisiac. 😉

The video was shot handheld with the Canon SD780 IS P&S digicam at 720/30p, with flat colors, and exposure locked at -1/3EV. It was then slowed-down’ed to 24p, and 50% of its frames were then thrown away (12 fps, lo-fi). The “Film Grain” and “Glow” Sony Vegas Platinum 11 plugins were used. It was just 15 minutes of footage overall, but it took 3+ hours of post-processing.

Update: I slightly re-edited the video, and changed the license to the more liberal CC-BY-NC 3.0 license. Re-download you had done so before.

My favorite music genre

If you were to ask me which is my favorite contemporary music work (album) of all time I’d have a hard time answering. The first thing that would sprout to mind would either be Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, or Madonna’s “Madonna”. Surely enough these are classic pop albums, but I can’t say that they fill up my music sensibilities in this day and age.

The first thing I’m looking on a piece of music is atmosphere. I need it to make me feel a particular way, I care not about lyrics taking that role — in fact I’d like the human voice to be used as an blended or reverbed “instrument”, and only appear sparingly. Melody and harmony are important too, but not as much as the emotional imprint that the music is supposed to generate via its atmosphere. Finally, I really don’t care if the singer can actually sing, or if the band can play their instruments perfectly or not. As long as they can manage their way around, it’s good enough.

As for the actual kind of music I want to listen to, I don’t think it exists yet. I believe that musically we currently are in the early years of the genre I long for. And what’s that genre?

Think of Beethoven, Handel, Bach, Dvořák, Wagner, Verdi, and Mozart. Now mix in there some M83, Soft Moon, John Maus, Washed Out, Austra, Beat Connection, and Caribou. There you have it, “electro-classical”, or something like that.

What I envision is a gapless record, over 45 mins, starting with an ethereal atmosphere, then getting more intense, complex and poppy, then dark, heavy & gloomy, and ending by dialing back down to the ethereal mode. It would basically be a symphony with operatic elements, utilizing synthesizers (and classical instruments when needed), but within the scope of modern electronic music: edgy (listen to “Jamelia” below for a sample). Overall it should sound like an “epic” but twisted sci-fi movie soundtrack.

In the past 3-4 years we had new bands “retro-fying” the ’60s (surf-rock), ’70s (e.g. Blitzen Trapper), and ’80s (new wave/chillwave), but how about re-imagining the classical era in a more modern setting? How about we go further than these 3-minute songs that are usually pretty standard in construction, on a strict periodic rhythm? What if what we’re missing today is the EPIC-ness of it all? Is it a sign of our times that we aren’t dreaming big, or feeling big? Is this because of socio-political reasons, repressing us and making us feel “full” on a 3-minute “cute” pop song? We need to strive for more, to keep pushing the boundaries! I truly think it’s time for our music to reflect the progressive part of our generation. The people who want free healthcare. Who want no wars. Who do want to go to Mars and dream of becoming astronauts. Who instead are striving for the greatness of our species. This can only be mirrored by music via such a kind of genre that marries the Old Works with the new tools and ideas.

Stream the following tracks below, to feel what *I kind of* envision:
– Washed Out – “Feel it All Around
– M83 – “Moonchild
– M83 – “Fields, Shorelines & Hunters
– M83 – “*”
Caribou – “Jamelia” (M83 above & this probably come closest to my vision the most)
– Soft Moon – (everything on their catalog: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
– John Maus – “Keep Pushing On
– John Maus – “We can breakthrough
– Austra – “The Beat and the Pulse
– Beat Connection – “Theme from Yours Truly
– Washed Out – “New Theory

From all the current popular artists, I believe that the only ones who could achieve such a record are either M83, John Maus, or Caribou. M83 have practical experience by being close to the genre, while John Maus has the necessary academic & classical knowledge to achieve something like it, if he decides to go for a more involved production. Caribou on the other hand (PhD in Math), has already written a song that comes closest to my vision, the genius “Jamelia”. Or maybe they could all collaborate…

MAGIX Movie Edit Pro MX Premium 18

I tested the new version of MAGIX Movie Edit Pro MX Premium recently, version 18, and I was positively surprised. The application has played a good catch-up with Vegas Platinum and Premiere Elements.

The biggest new features in the new version are its stereo 3D support, full 24p support, and it has accelerated nVidia/AMD support for h.264 decoding & plugins. Three major third party video app developers added support for MAGIX too, proDAD VitaScene 2 (special effects), NewBlueFX Light Blends (transitions), and Red Giant Magic Bullet Quick Looks (color grading).

Other features include screen capturing, DVD/BD burning with various templates, multi-track, multi-cam, fast image stabilization, primary & secondary color correction, masks, good advanced modes in its exporting dialogs, and even Twixtor-like slow motion.

The app is not perfect though. Non-accelerated h.264 is not as fast as Sony Vegas’ plain decoding is, so you better start saving for an nVidia card. Then, the color correction plugins are not very versatile. Finally, the project properties dialog is missing some important setup options, compared to Vegas’.

On the other hand though, this app can do other things that Vegas can’t do, including 64bit support. Stability and overall speed were good while testing the app, although usability could use some touch-up.

Overall, I’d say that this version puts MAGIX on the top-3 of the consumer video editor market. It just needs more setup options in terms of flexibility, rather than more brand new advanced features (e.g. I’d like to tell my editor that my footage is interlaced, etc). But it seems to be getting there!

Rating: 8/10