I've put together 14 high-quality original podsafe instrumental tunes from my Penmachine Podcast into a CD album you can buy. It also includes a bonus data DVD with a bunch of cool stuff that isn't on this website. Find out more...
This is "Penmachine.com: February 2002," a page that archives an entire month's entries from my online journal. The latest material for that month is at the top. For my newest entries, visit the home page.
Wednesday, February 27, 2002 - newest items first # 5:39:00 PM:
One for the boys
I can imagine the Mattel product development team sitting around the brainstorming table.
"Boys are getting tired of the plain old Hot Wheels tracks. What can we do next?"
"Hmm. What do boys like? Cars and... and... and..."
"Cars and sharks? How are we supposed to do that?"
Easy. Take cars, and simply add a shark. Then, the writeup:
This Hot Wheels Shark Playset challenges drivers to get their Hot Wheels cars around the entire track without getting munched by the big blue shark near the end. Cars race down a steep roller-coaster track, around a translucent blue curve, and through the gaping jaws of a large mechanical shark. The electronic shark says 18 different phrases, such as "Bring it on," "It's crunch time," and "I love chrome." Lucky drivers will zoom right past his chompers, while unlucky ones will become lunch.
Monday, February 25, 2002 - newest items first # 9:40:00 PM:
More digital photo printing advice
This is my fourth journal entry today. I should get out more.
Last week I noted an article series comparing various online digital photo printing services. Here's another article. This discussion thread on the subject (as well as this other one about using photo printers at home) is also valuable.
Chuck Jones just died. With Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson, he stewarded the golden age of Warner Brothers cartoons, including some of the best-remembered tales of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Pepe Le Pew, the Coyote and Road Runner, Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester and Tweety, the Tasmanian Devil, Foghorn Leghorn, and Marvin the Martian.
Once again, despite not liking hockey in the real world, I of course watched the entire gold-medal Olympic men's final yesterday. And though it was exciting, I thought that as pure hockey (rather than a grand national catharsis), the women's final was a better game.
Friday, February 22, 2002 - newest items first # 9:51:00 PM:
Last Halloween, an obnoxious kid came to our door in a fairly lame costume. After he got his candy and began walking away, he shouted, "Hey dad! This guy's got a nerrrrrd voice!" -- "this guy" being me. And you know, I suppose I do (at least when I'm not putting a fake British accent on it). Check it out for yourself in my interview video.
But whenever I have a cold, as I do now, I could easily pass for the smoothest, lowest-voiced FM radio DJ around. I was even able to sing some convincing Barry White today. So next year, maybe I should hope for a cold on Halloween. If that kid returns, I doubt he'll remember his comment of a year before. But maybe I could share the cold with him.
If you have a digital camera or you scan your film images into a computer, you might have wondered about those online printing services that turn digital images into photo prints like you're used to from photo labs. Here's a good article series about them. (Future editions are also supposed to talk about printing photos at home on inkjets.)
[Slight editorial additions made 2/15/2002 1:10:25 PM. This piece later turned into an article in the respected Mac online newsletter TidBITS.]
This past week, I edited my first real video on my computer. It's three and a half minutes long, and came from two hours of VHS tape. I created it using my 1997-era 266 MHz Power Macintosh G3 over the past couple of months. Making a video is a whole lot more work that you might initially expect.
One of my jobs is being a drummer an a retro-'60s faux British Invasion band here in Vancouver called The Neurotics. We play mostly corporate functions and other large events -- annual meetings, Christmas parties, Vancouver's huge annual fun run, and so on. Last year, our agent arranged to have one of our larger performances professionally videotaped by a crew of camera people (who also projected images onto videoscreens during the show). Some months later, the raw video from that show arrived in my hands as a VHS tape. Our agent asked if we could please please please make some sort of promotional video from it, since many high-end clients want to see what they'll be paying for.
I digitized the audio and video completely separately, and put everything together in my very limited spare time over the course of a couple of months. Here's how it went:
Back in November, I watched the whole performance and took copious notes on my Palm IIIxe handheld about which bits were especially good -- visually or sonically. (I could just as easily have used pen and paper, but as you'll see from the rest of this piece, sometimes I use technology just for its own sake.)
I then played the entire two-hour performance (in mono) into Coaster, the wonderful free audio-digitizing software from Visual Click Software.
I broke the audio into a few chunks with QuickTime Pro 4, then burned the results to CD (both as uncompressed AIFF data files, and as a separate set of regular audio CDs) using Toast 5 Titanium.
Next, I fired up Pro Tools Free from Digidesign, an excellent 8-track visual sound editor and mixer, which I used to edit (again in mono) the best bits of audio into a continuous 3 minute and 36 second montage of various songs and silly stage banter, with cross-fades, seamless splices, and other trickery to make sure it kept up a good pace.
This soundtrack formed the backbone of everything else I did, so I spent a lot of time on it. When it was done I exported it to a mono AIFF file and never altered it again.
I used my XLR8 InterView USB video capture device to digitize the video segments I thought would be most useful for the final video. It captures at 320x240 pixels, about 30 frames per second. That's the same frame-rate but much lower resolution than raw DV (digital video) stream -- the kind you get from digital video cameras -- but still quite acceptable, in my opinion.
I digitized segments (typically between 30 seconds and two minutes each) because I have a relatively small 12 GB hard drive with lots of stuff on it already -- and not nearly enough room for all the video in digital form. At 215 MB or so per minute, there's no way I could fit two hours of video, especially after the next step. (Even with my chunk-like approach, I had to back up and purge my MP3 collection to make room.)
I used QuickTime Pro to convert each video segment into a DV stream so iMovie could work with it. That scaled up the dimensions of the video images, but with the DV compression algorithm, each file stayed roughly the same (fairly huge) size. So I had to make sure I had about twice as much hard drive space as the raw video files needed on their own, for the originals and the DV conversions. I backed up the InterView QuickTime source files, then deleted them from my hard disk, leaving only the DV versions.
I created an iMovie project. Although I have both Strata VideoShop 4.5 (included with the InterView) and Adobe Premiere LE 5.1 (included with my FireWire/USB card), I find iMovie so much easier to use that I was willing to go through all the DV conversion rigamarole just to use it. (iMovie imports only DV files, not any other type of movie. It can export to standard QuickTime, however) That's a testament to the good job Apple did simplifying iMovie to do the very essentials of what it needs to do.
I imported the audio track into iMovie, complete, in mono, as-is, and did nothing with it for the rest of the time I worked.
I dragged a few of the DV stream files at a time into the iMovie folder, then ran iMovie so it would find the clips and import them as "strays." I then dragged them into the timeline in rough order before I quit and dropped in the next batch, so that the import tray (which has a limited number of spaces) wouldn't get full. Again, iMovie is easy enough to use that I was willing to go through this dump, run, drag, quit, dump process several times to use it.
I did my editing in iMovie last Wednesday, dragging files around, shortening them, creating transitions, and doing all that iMovie stuff. During that time, I used GraphicConverter 4.2 and Adobe Photoshop (version 5) to create some logo-title cards, manipulate some still photos, and generate some other non-video images (in JPEG and PICT format -- iMovie 1 doesn't seem to handle TIFFs) for use in the project. On the Web, I also found an old-style "Indian head" TV test pattern I wanted to use. I imported the images and made them part of the flow.
Since I sampled them separately, I did not try to sync up video and audio at all, even though they were from the same performance. In the end, I was surprised at a few bits where it looked like people were playing precisely what was on the audio track -- even when the audio and video were from completely different parts of the show! (And I'm a musician -- I should be able to spot the incongruities.)
I added a little stock clip of applause to the end of the video from iMovie's sound library.
When everything was done, I exported the video using iMovie's "Expert" QuickTime export settings, at 640x480, 29.97 frames per second (DV's standard), Cinepak compression at maximum quality, and uncompressed mono audio, 16-bit, 22.5 kHz. Essentially, as high quality as I could manage. This file was about 260 MB, and took my beige G3/266 about four hours to generate. I also made separate large (13 MB) and small (6 MB) Web videos and posted them to the band's site. They took less time to create.
NOTE: Before I uploaded the Web video versions, I opened them in the QuickTime Pro player and zoomed them to double size. So, for example, when the big video plays in a browser, it's the size of a 480x360-pixel video, but is in fact only 240x180. You can see some of the jagged edges and compression artifacts, but the better visibility more than makes up for that, especially on large monitors.
The other members of the band viewed the Web videos and made a few suggestions, so I popped back into iMovie and changed a few small things, then did the whole export thing again the next night. I uploaded the Web versions once more. Even though I normally hand-code my Web pages with BBEdit, I used Apple's iTools HomePage tool to create the video pages, since it was fast and I was hosting the video on our iTools site anyway.
I burned a few different versions of the video to CD -- first a data backup, then a Video CD/audio hybrid (with some audio-only song demos we'd recorded a couple of years ago on the audio portion), then a QuickTime data (Mac/PC)/audio hybrid. That way clients with VCD-capable DVD players or just audio CD players can just get a disc if they want. (I don't have a DVD burner.)
Finally finally finally, I used my ATI XClaim 3D Plus video card, which has an analog video out, to transfer the completed video (running as a full screen video from QuickTime Pro) to VHS tape, then added the (stereo) audio-only song demos on the end with static title cards displaying as they play. I made the title cards in Photoshop, and simply manually switched between layers to display each song's title as it played from iTunes. A bit awkward (especially when I wanted to make more than one master copy of the tape, since I had to do it all manually again), but it worked.
My reaction, in retrospect
We now have an 18-minute promotional VHS tape with 3-1/2 minutes of quite professional video at the start. It took a lot of time, but very little expense. Other than a bit of hacking around with iMovie when it was first available for download a couple of years ago, I have never edited video of any kind before, so I think it turned out quite well.
You might have noticed that the genuine "video editing" of this whole process is only two steps in the long chain. Just as in "real" movies, preparation and post-production (in this case, exporting) are much bigger pieces of the puzzle than they appear. Most of the work was not in the video editing, but in the sampling and conversion, and (surprisingly) in the creation of the audio track. I spent a lot of time doing other things (or sleeping) while the computer churned through converting one sort of file into another sort of file. I see now why people who do this for a living get the fastest computers possible, regardless of cost.
The video quality is certainly lower than that from a DV camera, or than it would have been had I been able to use a DV bridge to convert the original VHS, but the resulting video is full-screen, 30 fps, and it looks like old film from the '60s (slightly washed-out colours, somewhat grainy), which is perfectly appropriate for our '60s-retro band.
My main frustrations with iMovie were its limited clip-tray space, its unwillingness to run on more than one monitor, and its inability to view the audio track waveforms visually, so that I could sync up (or at least coordinate) the video more precisely with the sound. I liked the multi-level undo and the overall smoothness of using iMovie, compared to Strata or Premiere.
The age of my Mac also played in, since in iMovie the video never played smoothly, even though it did once exported to QuickTime, in the QuickTime Player. For that reason, and because much of the software (Coaster, Pro Tools, InterView, ATI video-out, my CD burner) is not yet Mac OS X native, I didn't even try using Mac OS X at all, even though that is my main operating environment most of the time. I was booted into Mac OS 9.2, with virtual memory off, for the whole process. (I also have 416 MB of RAM -- I recommend lots of it, whether your machine is old or new.)
I sure had fun doing it. Making this, my first real video, reminds me of the joy I felt when I first got into desktop publishing fifteen years ago or so and ditched Letraset forever. The rest of my family is probably glad I'm done with the video for now, though.
Despite the many frustrations, computers can be pretty cool sometimes.
Thursday, February 14, 2002 - newest items first # 8:31:00 PM:
My daughter was born the day Catriona Le May Doan won a gold medal in speed skating four years ago at the Nagano Olympics. Today, my daughter turned four, and Le May Doan won another gold. And it's Valentine's Day too.
I used to be frighteningly careful with books. When I was a kid, of course, I drew in them, ripped pages and covers, and generally mucked them up, but by the time I was in university I kept all my books in perfect shape. Never creased the spine. Never dog-eared pages. Never even used a highlighter in biology textbooks that would nevertheless be out of date in a year or two and practically unsellable -- not that I ever sold them anyway. (My wife and I, who both have biology degrees, now have a lot of duplicate textbooks on our shelves. We almost never look at any of them.) Most pathologically, I even avoided writing in the phone book.
Then, in 1992, when I was working on my writing diploma, I bought one of Thomas Kuhn's books on scientific revolutions. I made a conscious decision to make a mess of it. I used a highlighter, made notes on the pages, folded corners -- essentially treated it as disposable.
I still have the book, of course. But in the last ten years I've found a happy middle ground. I treat books casually, not intentionally doing any damage, but not worrying about them either. Sometimes the spines crack, sometimes I'll fold a corner on a particularly interesting page, but most of the time my books remain in pretty good shape. But I do circle numbers in the phone book now -- if I remember to force myself.
P.S. As my family and friends will tell you, I am only selectively neat-freakish, mostly in places where it's not helpful. Sure, I'll obsess over a book or the folder structure on a hard drive, but laundry piles up in my big basket for weeks, and I never remember to water the plants.
Monday, February 11, 2002 - newest items first # 9:14:00 PM:
Did we offend someone?
Most people think of us Canadians as inoffensive, friendly people, and for the most part we are. But one of us must have disturbed an ancient mummy and been hexed to be disliked by Olympic skating judges for all eternity.
Tonight, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Canada's world-champion figure skaters, won silver -- despite what all onlookers seemed to think was a better program than the Russians who won gold. The Canadians even skated a flawless program after Sale and the Russians collided during warmup.
At the last Olympics, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, our extraordinary ice dancers, placed fourth because of rigged judging -- controversial enough that the International Olympic Committee considered dropping ice dance from the next Olympics. They didn't, but the judging panels were cleaned out, and Bourne and Kraatz are back again in Salt Lake City. We'll see what happens this time.
Perhaps the reason I prefer downhill skiing, luge, cross-country, speed skating, and other such sports in the Winter Olympics is that judging vagaries don't affect them. There are no judges, just times and scores. But other people hate that.
Sunday, February 10, 2002 - newest items first # 2:56:00 PM:
Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on the same day: February 9, 1809.
I was quite wrong. Dean Allen of Textism does indeed have children -- or his common-law wife does, anyway, according to an article in this weekend's Vancouver Sun newspaper (note: the Sun will probably remove the article soon, so read it quick).
How he has time for oatmeal and glace de viande I don't know. Maybe the kids aren't that young. Maybe people find more time for things like that in France.
I've never liked sports. Hockey, football, basketball, boxing, rugby, lacrosse, Australian rules football, archery, jai alai -- none of them hold much appeal for me. But I've always enjoyed the Winter Olympics. Maybe it's just because I'm Canadian.
Our first daughter was born in Vancouver while the Nagano games were on in 1998. During my wife's long labour, we at least had something to watch in the middle of the night as events happened half a world away. This time our two kids keep us too busy to watch much, but what we can catch is still worth watching.
Adam Woodall, guitarist and harmonica player in my band, The Neurotics, was a ski racer in his teens. Had things gone a bit differently, he might have been in Salt Lake City this week, or in Nagano four years ago. As it was, he was playing with his other band in North Vancouver tonight, where my wife and I dropped in to see him. Canadian ski racers were on the pub TV.
Last Saturday my oldest daughter got sick with the stomach flu. Lots of vomiting. Very pleasant. Then my wife got it. And, after a family party, my parents. Then me. Each of us spent at least a day knocked out in bed.
I've tried a lot of keyboards -- PC, Mac, and otherwise -- in the past couple of decades, and I kept coming back to those old ones. I like the solid feel, the big key travel, the loud tapping as I type. Periodically I would try something else to see if anything better had come along. A few months ago, I even bought one of the new USB Apple Pro Keyboards at an eBay auction to try it out (and, to be honest, because it looks trop cool). I did try it, but put it away and returned to the Extended II. Too quiet, too mushy, I thought.
But recently I brought the Pro Keyboard back out of storage, as I endlessly fiddle around with how my computers are set up to avoid aggravating the repetitive strain injuries I sometimes get. And you know what? I really like the new keyboard now. Unlike most, it can lie almost perfectly flat (not raised at the back), which puts my wrists in a better position. The keys are slightly wider on top than on other keyboards, giving them a meaty feel. It's quiet, true, but still feels substantial. And yes, it still looks trop cool.
I can live with the lack of a power button, which probably wouldn't work on my old Mac anyway.
Yeah yeah, it's kind of weird to get this worked up about keyboards. But I'm a writer. I use the things all day (and night) long. My tools should be professional. And if they look trop cool (at least as much as a keyboard ever can), well, so much the better.
Tuesday, February 05, 2002 - newest items first # 1:54:00 PM:
A quick question
Why do so many young women routinely walk with their arms crossed? Men and older women don't seem to do it. It doesn't look comfortable. What's up?
P.S. Flaming Text is a useful online tool for creating Web graphics. Thanks to Seb for the link.
Sunday, February 03, 2002 - newest items first # 9:41:00 AM:
That's not a job, it's an insult
A friend forwarded a job ad (which may be gone by now) from the Vancouver Sun yesterday (note emphasis):
Computer/Info Systems (02/02/02)
FULL-TIME Database/Web designer &
Translator. Maint/Devel. Access
databases & website. Min. 2 yrs.
exp. with MS Office 2000 &
network config. Min. 2 yrs. exp.
Fluent in Japanese & English.
Prev. translator exp. nec.
$10/hr. Fax 604-932-3755.
Attn: M. Sutherland.
He then commented: "TEN BUCKS AN HOUR! That's like, 2 bucks an hour more than they are legally
obligated to pay you! I think they left out the part where you have to be a mute nymphomaniac
lingerie model, and your family has to own a go-kart track..."
Hmm. When that last sentence makes its way from this site to the search engines, it should bring some fascinating people here.
Saturday, February 02, 2002 - newest items first # 9:42:00 PM:
Today, February 2, 2002, it didn't matter much whether you prefer the European (month, day, year) or American (day, month, year) method of representing the date. Either way, it's 02-02-02, or 02-02-2002. It happened last January 1, too. But before that, the last previous such event was December 12, 1912, when very few of us were alive.
Friday, February 01, 2002 - newest items first # 7:59:00 PM:
Ain't it always the way?
Here's a quote I love from another former co-worker, Marlush:
I'm so over shopping. I mean I'm really over it. I mean I'm so tired of it. NO MORE I tell you. Well, except for one last trip to Ikea.
She wrote it back in November and I kept neglecting to note it here ever since. But I never forgot it. I think it sums things up for many of us.