Thanks, everyone, for your wonderful reaction to the first episode of my new podcast, “Almanac“!
It’s intended to be (and will be) a weekly-ish show. So why has it been a month already and now Show #0002?
While Almanac isn’t going to be an “Andy spouts off about what’s on his mind at the moment” show (well, not primarily, anyway), I feel like the next show has to focus on my reactions to the election. Because, truth be told, I’ve been thinking about little else. Continue reading →
After three years, 10,000 Tweets, and being followed by more than 35,000 people, I still don’t have a good answer to the question “But what’s the point of Twitter?” I’ve come up with two responses that work.
Apparently, Twitter is either a boat or a sliver of soap, depending on who’s asking me and who’s listening.
If my audience sincerely and earnestly wants to understand Twitter, I tell them “It’s like a boat. Anybody can use a Twitter account just for fun. A much smaller percentage are leading the kind of lives in which it’s actually useful. And a tiny, tiny fraction are making money with the thing.” If it’s a conversational kind of request, I say “Think of that sliver of soap left in the dish. That’s a single Tweet. All by itself, it’s worthless. Squeeze lots of them together, and you’ll eventually have something with weight and substance.”
But I guess Twitter is like my iPhone 4. Sometimes the best endorsement you can make — and the only endorsement that really matters — is the simple fact that you use the hell out of this thing, and that your week would be very, very different without it.
I got a taste of that over the past few days. For the past couple of weeks, I’d been aware that I was nearing my 10,000th Tweet. I knew I wanted to do something a little bit special for #10,000. Eventually I got to #9998, which meant that I had just enough shots left to announce what I was going to do and then to do it…which also meant that I couldn’t Tweet anything at all until I figured out what those things were going to be.
“What should my 10,000th Tweet be?” I wondered. I came up with a halfway decent “140-character novel.” Naw. I thought about just being sincere and sweet and thanking the folks who’ve supported my work in various ways. Mmm…naah. When the right idea came, I instantly recognized that there could be no more appropriate way to crystallize my previous 9,999 Tweets.
But yes, these Big Plans meant that I had to stop Twittering for a few days, to preserve the #10,000 slot. Going without Twitter for 72 hours served to remind me about the things I most enjoy about the service.
I missed the ongoing communication with the people who read my columns and listen to my podcasts. There’s an immediacy and a conversational tone to the Twitter timeline that doesn’t exist in any other medium. I like responding to questions and I also like hearing good and bad reactions. Either way, comments are usually to the point, and valuable.
I missed those little moments of time with my friends. If I could afford to send each of my friends one of those baskets of fresh fruit cut into flowery shapes a few times a week, I could. Commenting on a particularly cool of interesting tweet of theirs is close enough, though it really does next to nothing to combat the spread of scurvy and The Ghost Disease among the geek populace.
Not Tweeting has been a little like watching milk go bad in my fridge. Little things pop into my head and maybe they’re of no use to anybody, but they’re fun little strings of words. Twitter is the only place where I can post them, really, and if I try to “save them up” for a later date, they go completely stale after sitting in my head for so long. “I was acting on impulse” isn’t a great explanation for why you did something stupid, but it’s still a hell of a lot better than having to admit that yes, you thought about it for two or three days and it still seemed like a solid idea. This admission is often the precursor to a fiancee maintaining her composure just long enough to twist the engagement ring from her finger and fling it at you with enough force that you’re going to want to apply a little Bactine to the wound.
I don’t feel like I’ve done all I can for something I’ve just written and published until I’ve Tweeted a link. And here we get to the Business end of Twitter. I was looking through my Flickr feed the other day, specifically looking for “orphan” photos that haven’t been organized into any existing photoset before. It’s not hard to figure out why some of these have received just four or five hundred views over the course of a year and another one got 2,000 in just a week: I Tweeted a link to one of them.
I create and publish things for many different reasons and they vary from item to item but yes, somewhere in the back of my mind “I’d like people to see this” is always on the list. I can come up with what I think is an interesting idea, research and write it well, edit it carefully, and publish it. But I’ve got this list of 35,000 people who at some point clicked a button to indicate that they’re somewhat interested in the stuff I post. Until I’ve posted a link to Twitter, I feel like the job is only partially-complete. If it fails to catch on, it fails to catch on…but just like sending a kid off to school with a good, hot breakfast in his or her belly, I feel as though I gave this piece every reasonable advantage.
And Twitter just keeps getting more and more important. Yesterday, I downloaded the sort of app that gets all of my Nerd Parts tingling. Within the first ten minutes of using Flipboard and linking it to my Twitter account, it seemed as though writing a review of it became the most important thing that I would ever do. Phrases like “From now on, instead of vaguely talking about the future of magazines and newspapers, we should just point to Flipboard and then break into discussion groups” and “This free app will justify at least $150 of the money you spend for your iPad” came straight to mind.
(When I feel this exuberant about something…yeah, I quickly realize that I need to calm down and see how I feel after a few more days.)
Flipboard: it really feels like the way I'll be getting 80% of my news from now on.
Still! What a brilliant idea. I follow about 250 people on Twitter. This is, exclusively, a list of people and institutions whose opinions matter to me (actual friends, and writers or publications who regularly write things that I want to read). Their Tweets are of interest to me. These people also often Tweet links to articles and other content that they think is valuable.
Flipboard strip-mines your Twitter follows for content and links, and assembles it all into a beautiful digital magazine of fresh content. I’d say it’s almost “suspiciously” beautiful. Like the Mechanical Turk, it’s hard to imagine that this on-the-fly design and layout is the result of an automaton working without human intervention.
It’s not a Twitter client, really. But yes, you can reply to Tweets and Star the original posts and whatnot.
The app was just released a day ago, so details are still a little sketchy. In addition to linking to Twitter and Facebook, there are “curated” channels whose sources are managed by the Flipboard team…and other social-media sources are coming soon. I almost wore out some of the glass on my iPad tapping and searching for a way to add my Flickr feeds to FlipBoard; a “National Geographic”-style viewer for all of my friends’ photos is going to be a killer feature.
When I first tried Twitter (let’s see: “March 22, 2007” — oh, my…were we ever that young?) I dismissed it as just a useless micro-trend. Then my friends started to join, and it became entertaining. Then, it somehow became important. I truly value the Twitter infrastructure. I’ve never been interested in playing the Numbers Game; having a certain number of Followers doesn’t motivate me. It’s the connections represented by the 282 people whom I follow and the 35,589 people who follow me that I rely upon. It’s not something that can be engineered. It has to be grown over time.
I had an awareness of the value of the unique shape of this thing called “my peculiar use of Twitter” before Flipboard was released. Flipboard is just the first app that makes that value so tangible.
Well, then. The next milestone, I think, will be 50,000 Twitter followers. I have at least a couple of years to think about how I’m going to mark that occasion. I hope to do something big but even so: expect a cash bar.
Watch it while you can: DailyMotion has a 72-minute documentary about Star Wars fandom available for streaming until the 27th. I think that means if you’re watching it at 11:59:59 PM on Wednesday and the segment about the woman who belly dances in a Slave Leia costume is just starting…you’re really going to wish you’d started the movie about five or ten minutes earlier in the evening.
I’ve seen it all the way through. It’s a spiffy flick. It’s very much in the same vein as “Trekkies” — another terrific doc about fandom. “Trekkies” is a better movie; it’s not quite so loving about its subject, and it’s not as “inside.” But if I’d paid to rent “Jedi Junkies” on iTunes, I’d feel as though I’d gotten my $5 worth. Which is awesome, because it’s available for rent for just $2.99.
Those of you who aren’t in that kind of tax bracket are urged to watch the movie on DailyMotion while it’s still up there. The viewing link is on the movie’s official site.
Today, Flip released what might be termed a “Red Carpet-Ready” edition of the Flip Mino HD. Viz:
Highlights: a larger, sharper screen, built-in HDMI-out, and double the memory for a total of 2 hours of recording time. Also, a brushed-metal case that gives the thing the heft and feel of a murder weapon.
(For a small dog. It just feels a little heavier than the plastic-cased version, which is still available.)
The video components appear to be the same as the old one: 720p HD with no optical zoom. Flip sent me one while I was away in New York City and I found some time yesterday to shoot some sample videos to confirm it:
I’m prepping a review of the Mino HD (and Ultra) alongside the Kodak Zi8 and A Third Camera that I’m supposed to be getting soon. Stay tuned.
I’ve been busy with iMovie ’09 over the past week, sloughing through all of the clips in my old iMovie library, shooting new footage, and all in all trying to come up with opinions on the new app and assemble some samples.
First up was a tour of my Friendly Neighborhood Comics Retailer, The Outer Limits in Waltham, MA:
Two lessons came from this one: Good God, am I a fan of the new interface. Bellies were ached and tempers were tantrumed last year when the old iMovie UI was tossed out and the app was freed of the legacy of professional editors. Fine. But I could never have thrown together this video so quickly and with so little drama in the old iMovie.
I didn’t even intend to do it. I was on my MacBook in the living room, and I Screen Shared into my office iMac simply to check on the status of an ongoing process. Along the way I checked to see what sort of footage I could work with when I really sat down to edit something. I found the Outer Limits “dailies,” started dragging things into the Project panel and (gorblimey!) fifteen or twenty minutes later, I’d completed my rough cut.
The fact that one of iMovie’s new animated themes is “comic book” sort of sealed my choice. I determined to let iMovie make all of the creative choices, even though it’s possible to flip a switch and override some of the theme’s decisions.
(Aside: I do sort of regret certain bits of the voice over. Yup, I use the word “nerds” a lot at the beginning, and I’m clearly having fun with the fact that I seemed to include a lot of footage of babes. But I’d hoped folks would appreciate that I myself am firmly and proudly in the Nerd group. I was making up the narration as I went and as always happens with such things, subsequent takes never go nearly as well as the first.)
Next, I wanted to aggressively check out one of iMovie’s signature features: image stabilization. So I headed off to the beach with my Flip Mino HD on the end of a stick, and shot myself and the environs:
I was particularly keen to see if there were circumstances where the stabilization would produce a shot other than the one I intended. For instance, if I panned the camera across the scene, would it struggle to keep the camera from “moving”? If someone walked in and out of the frame, would it try to keep everything centered on him?
What would happen if the scene contained constant movement…like a closeup of water rolling in and out, or a tracking shot of the ground as I walked?
iMovie came through like a pro. I’m really quite impressed. You can choose to apply any degree of stabilization, from weak to fairly aggressive. I had the slider all the way to 11. Even so, it didn’t look in any way unnatural. All of a sudden, it looked as though I had the camera on a tripod and hadn’t drunk four Cokes that morning.
To make the point, I burned two copies of the video, with and without stabilization, and did a side-by-side comparison in Final Cut:
An app like iMovie ’09 is a real equalizer. One of the major weaknesses of a cheap HD cam like the Flip is its lack of built-in stabilization. Doing a “walk and talk” video with it is practically impossible. But hell, now iMovie can largely compensate for hardware limitations.
It’s certainly no replacement for a “real” HD camera, mind you. Look at the Outer Limits video again. That one was shot with my Panasonic HDC-SD1. The video is better in every possible way, from color fidelity to exposure choices to focusing to zoom to…well, every possible way. And as you saw in the comparison video, the stabilization costs you in image quality; iMovie has to magnify a subsample of the video frame to work its magic.
But if you’re on a fixed budget, iMovie makes it easier to buy a $200 camera with confidence!
It also underscores a point I was making when I compared the Mino with the Kodak Zi6. Many (many many MANY) people greatly preferred the Kodak’s brighter images and punchier colors. I respected their intelligence…so much so that instead of calling them idiots wearing a moron costume, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and concluded that they must have been drunk at the time or something.
The point: yes, the Mino is way more conservative in the categories of exposure and color. But it makes safe choices. When I dumped the video into iMovie and noticed that the colors could have been a bit warmer, and the image could use a little more contrast, I nudged a couple of sliders and presto: I had the shots I wanted.
Whereas! If I had shot it with the Kodak and thought “Man! That’s way too bright. And the colors are freakishly weird!”…well, I wouldn’t have been able to do much about it. I could lower the brightness level, but the blown-out areas would still have lacked detail. I could decrease the saturation, but it would have flattened the color range.
The damage is done before you leave the beach, or EPCOT, or your cousin Moog’s President’s Day barbecue. You should always vote for quality video. Unless quality video doesn’t matter to you, in which case just gather people around a fire and describe what you saw, in classic storyteller tradition, instead of messing with technology.
(Summary: I am right right RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT!!!!! SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!!!!)
I’m actually planning a rather ambitious comparison of cheap HD cameras in the next week or so. But there’s certainly been an enthusiastic — bordering on, well, “annoying” — amount of interest in a direct comparison between the Mino HD and its natural commercial enemy: the Kodak Zi6.
And no wonder. They’re both the same sort of beastie: pockatable 720p HD cameras in an iPod-ish form factor, selling for about the same money.
(Yes, the Zi6 is about fifty bucks cheaper, but remember: that’s without any memory. Toss in a 4 gig card and you’re more or less square a bit closer to the Mino in price.)
With the holidays coming up, and the chance that Todd from Process Control will make as big an ass of himself at the breakroom holiday party as he did last year, lots of people want to know which of these Discreet Little Cameras to buy. Well, my uniform is proud to serve.
I took both cameras out for a jaunt or two and shot a bunch of clips in a variety of environments. Watch. Draw your own conclusions. And then read on and see if you’re so absolutely brilliant that your conclusions are identical to mine.
Click on the “fullscreen” button to watch it at 1280×720 resolution…just keep in mind that this is nowhere near as good as the original video files.
Okay. Based solely on this footage…it’s a clear win for the Mino. I think it’s obvious even in the Vimeo (which has been processed twice already). But here in iMovie, where I can see the original footage straight from the camera…t’s absolutely no contest. The Mino video is more agile, the colors are more accurate, and the lighting is more balanced. The Zi6 routinely produces over-saturated colors and doesn’t appear to have enough bandwidth to record a full range of colors and tones. And low-light shooting is a bit of a mess.
Three full-sized frame grabs illustrate my point. These were taken straight from the original MP4 files. Click the thumbnail for the full 720p frame.
Pulling Out Into Traffic
Mino HD: Note the gray tones in the sky and the cream color of the sign. There's plenty of shadow detail inside the car, too.
Kodak Zi6. The sky and the sign are white, all of a sudden. And inside the car, shadows have turned to mud.
Outdoors, On A Tripod
Mino HD. Nice shot. Maybe it should be a tad brighter. But the lighting is natural and the colors are spot-on.
My shirt is purple, my skin is a little weird (even for me). I think the Zi6's designers told it "Humans like punchy contrast and saturated colors. Err accordingly."
Inside Panera Bread
Mino HD. Nice, bright image with (again) natural colors...not an easy trick, as we're inside a Panera Bread with its muted soup-oriented lighting.
Zi6. Boy, what a crummy at-bat. The wall should be avocado, not lime green. Any shadows have turned into grey mud. My sunglasses are no longer transparent, nor did the Zi6 capture any reflections off the lenses. And it shows that dim lighting is the Zi6's Waterloo. Its only solution in a situation like this is to extend the shutter speed and cut the frame rate in half. This clip was recorded at 15 frames per second instead of the Mino's 30, creating choppy, blurry footage.
Rainy Street Corner
Mino HD. Hmm. The sky is a bit purple. But otherwise...a nice shot. Check out the brick building on the corner. You can see the bricks on the outside and the details of the warm shop inside.
Zi6. This individual frame doesn't look too bad. The Zi6 certainly captured the sky more naturally than the Mino did. But as usual, shadow details have turned to mud...and the dim light has forced the Zi6 to shoot this at 15 frames per second. Quite noticeable when cars drive past.
Okay, so this is a total slam-dunk for the Mino HD, right? It’s time for the Zi6 to slink off to the corner bar to drink itself into a state of apoplexy alongside the Zune and the Sony eBook Reader and every other bit of technology that’s been roundly spanked and made irrelevant by a superior competitor?
Naw, not at all.
Based on two days’ worth of side-by-side shooting, I’m convinced that the Mino HD’s videos are far more natural and pleasant. But I wish that Mino HD videos sounded as good as the Kodak’s. I don’t know if the Zi6’s designers did something as simple as choosing a high gain level for the microphone. Whatever the reason, the “outside Panera” clip handily demonstrates the Kodak’s superiority in this category.
The Zi6 also has the intriguing advantage of being able to go on forever. Which is something that the Mino emphatically cannot do.
The Mino is sealed up as tightly as an iPhone. Its memory and battery are locked inside and can’t be swapped. You record one hour’s worth of video and then the Mino HD becomes nothing more than a conversation piece.
But the Zi6 takes standard SDHC memory cards. To hell with the Mino’s built-in 4 gigs! Buy yourself a 16 gig card and record hours and hours of footage. And because it runs on 2 AA’s, it’ll can run forever. The Zi6 comes with a pair of rechargeables and natcherly, if you ever get caught short, you can just run to the store for some Energizers.
That’s not an inconsiderable advantage.
The Zi6 and the Mino are both “lifestyle” cameras. So I suppose the choice comes down to the sort of lifestyle that you intend to lead.
If image quality is a big item on your wish list, it’s the Mino. If your style of shooting is casual and unplanned — you want to have something handy to shoot baby’s first steps, keep something in your back pocket or your desk drawer in case the opportunity to direct and produce the next “Don’t Taze Me, Bro!” should unexpectedly present itself — it’s the Mino. If you’ll be shooting lots of stuff in low-light situations…the Mino. Already own a “real” camcorder, and want a second one for more casual shooting and the ability to shoot an event from two angles? Mino.
(Oh, I didn’t mention that the Mino is exactly the same size as the original Mino. The Zi6 is small enough to fit inside any pocket, but the Mino is so small that you’ll have to pat yourself down to figure out what pocket it’s even in.)
But if you’re going to shoot “events,” then you’ll want the Zi6. Although you’ll yearn for the higher quality of the Mino, the fact remains that (God help us all) most family weddings go on for more than an hour. And you have better things to do on vacation than keep running back to your hotel room or cabin to free up space on your camcorder. You can shoot a whole week’s worth of travelly hijinx on the Zi6.
As for the ease of editing your footage…it’s a draw. Both of these cameras record plain MP4 movie files. They imported into iMovie as easily as any other MP4 file.
Weird thing about the Flip, though: iMovie recognizes it as a camera and it immediately loads up thumbnails of all of your clips, ready for import…but the import will fail. Huh. But if you import the clips via the “File” menu — treat the Mino as though it were just a USB storage device — iMovie will copy the files into your library without a hitch. No transcoding necessary…it’s just a straight file copy.
Of course, neither of these are “real” camcorders. Spending a couple of days shooting with them made me miss the zoom lens, image-stabilization, and manual features of even a cheap standard-def camera. I guess the “lifestyle” implied by the Zi6 and the Mino involves walking straight up to people instead of recording them from a safe distance, and maintaining a steady posture as you do so.
If this is the case, then clearly I lead an alternative lifestyle.
There’s a reason why I’ve held off on my big review of Kodak’s “lifestyle”-grade pocket HD camcorder…and my Cone of Press Secrecy lifted today.
Yes, Flip was working on a high-definition version of the Flip Mino. Mine arrived just about an hour ago; it’s charging up as I write this so obviously…no sample video yet. Plus, there’s the pesky problem of “this week’s column” to finish.
But to answer your firstest questions:
It records in 720p (1280×720 at 16:9 widescreen ratio).
It has 4 gigs of storage, which promises to hold an hour of HD video.
It looks identical to the old Mino…just marginally wider and thicker.
Like the old Mino, there’s no card slot and the battery is sealed in.
$229, or just $50 more than the standard-def Mino (which remains in the lineup).
Oh, and iMovie recognizes it immedately and imports HD content directly…when I plugged it in to charge, iMovie activated and showed me thumbnails of a few samples that were already on the device.
More comments, video, and of course a full review — comparing the Flip HD, Kodak Zi6, the Aiptek Action HD (aka “The Walmart Camera”) against my Panasonic HDC-SD1 (aka the “real” HD camcorder) will follow.
Until then…There Will Be Blood. Er…photos. The HD edition is on the right…to the left is the standard-rez Mino.
[Updated: Yes, the Flip HD is immediately recognized by iMovie. Yes, it presents you with an import panel of thumbnails. But! None of them can be imported. Instead, you need to use the desktop app to import videos from the Flip. Let’s hope that it works with Perian. Stay tuned.]
[And the HD model is exactly the same size as the original Mino. Sorry folks…blame the optical illusion of that light-colored band around the original model.]
Yes, fellow sensation-seekers, it’s time for another video from Macworld Expo. And this time…I actually talk about stuff regarding the actual show!
I’ve been home for five days and I already miss that huge bathtub. My own bathtub is that common sort of pathetic Bathtub-Shaped Object whose sole purpose is to just prevent the water from slopping onto the floor when you shower. I’d forgotten how nifty it is to just settle into a cubic yard of hot, fresh water and read comics until your fingers and feet get all pruny.
Just one more Macworld video is coming…then it’s on to new business.
Welp, this ain’t going to be a weekly feature, sensation-seekers, but I realized that I prolly ought to get this second YouTube video up this week. It’s pretty clear that it was shot just before Christmas. Golly…way back then, you wouldn’t dare walk outside without some sort of jacket. If I tried to pass this off as something I did in January, nobody would believe me.
It turns out that all those NBC Christmas specials got it exactly right: walking through Central Park on the weekend before Christmas is just like walking through a Hallmark card. It’s damned pretty, and everybody comes out of the woodwork to have a Treasured Holiday Moment. Even those who do choose to engage in public urination do so discreetly.
Check out my Flickr feed for a bunch of shots from my latest trip to NYC on CBS’ dime.
I did mention a while back that I wanted to try a bunch of new things as I elevated my Colossal Waste of Bandwidth into the Celestial range. One of ’em is to start exploiting the fact that the saps at YouTube are willing to give me free storage and bandwidth on their servers.
At some point these naive young kids are going to wise up and realize that there’s no way to make money on Internet distribution of video. I mean, get real. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers believe this so fervently that they’re willing to drag the entire nation into a yearlong strike to defend their business of the insane demands of writers who insist on sticking their greedy little ink-stained hands into an empty till.
So it’s probably smart to get in on this before YouTube’s investors finally pull the plug, all of the company’s gelato tables and ping-pong machines are put up on eBay, and YouTube.com redirects to a Latvian porn site.
I’ve made three 10-minute videos so far. They’re fun to put together…particularly with iMovie ’08. These videos are iMovie’s first “live-fire” exercise and I gotta say that I’m ready to take sides: iMovie ’08 isn’t a wonderful upgrade for everybody, but for people like me who just want an efficient tool for turning a camera full of raw video into something short and presentable, it’s a big win.
I Amtrakked my way to a quaint little Dutch trading post over the weekend to do another bit for the CBS Early Show. Check ‘er out…I’m there to talk about my ideas about back-to-school tech for high schoolers:
Ach, it was a four-minute segment, I had about six minutes’ worth of stuff to say, and it really showed. Well, nobody died. I did kick the water cooler in the dugout afterward, metaphorically-speaking, but on the four-hour train rode home I replayed it in my head and decided that though it wasn’t my finest hour on national television, it wasn’t as bad as I was making it out to be. So I stopped writing personal letters of apology to the American viewing public after just 113 (from Aaban, Abrahaim G. through Aaban, Amos W.).
The important thing is that with this appearance, I’ve scored the Hat Trick: three segments on the Early Show in as many months. This means that I now feel like I can consider myself part of the CBS Family. And if, just before leaving the TV studio of a family member, you can’t fill your backpack with all of the Cokes from the minifridge in their green room…I ask you, just whose green room minifridge can you steal from?
I freely (and manfully) admit that the lamp was a bad impulse and I fully intend to return it if they ever invite me back.