Studs recalls Thanksgiving at the Wells-Grand, 1933 – YouTube

Studs recalls Thanksgiving at the Wells-Grand, 1933 – YouTube:

(Via @jbenton.)

“Once upon a time…once upon a time! This was a bookie shop. Once upon a time, I was young. And once upon a time, Thanksgiving was celebrated by a bunch of guys in the lobby of the Wells-Grand Hotel.”

I’ve watched this three times since I saw it on Twitter fifteen minutes ago. And now I think I’ll be playing it every Thanksgiving for the rest of my life.

I hung out with Studs Terkel (and Ebert) one evening in Chicago years ago. It was one of those experiences that made a young man want to live long enough to be an old man, if all old men were at least half as cool as Studs.

iPad Pro – Unboxing & First Flight video

I’ve been busy, busy, busy putting my new iPad Pro through its paces since I picked it up this morning. Too busy to even blog about it, in fact!

But I did shoot some video of the unboxing, setup, and my first flight with it, through a bunch of apps that make perfect sense. Sit back for all 45 minutes.

I did all of this in front of a live Periscope audience, who got to see a bunch of stuff I played with after my Mac Mini’s camera stopped (for God knows what reason). To sum up:

  • The Kindle app works OK, with two-page spreads. But the layout looks a little bit “off” due to the app not being optimized for the larger screen. iBooks looks much better.
  • The sound from the speakers is amazing. Sure, because it’s big enough to produce actual stereo separation (and unlike other iPads, actually has stereo speakers). That said, the sound is surprisingly rich.
  • When I paired with a Logitech bluetooth keyboard and set it up on a stand? Oh, baby! iOS on a big screen and in a desktop context feels so very right.

IMG 3188

Substantive opinions will have to wait until I’ve got a lot more stick time in with the Pro. But the iPad Pro made a great first impression and I had a fine first day with it, which included using it to edit (and partially shoot) the unboxing video.

I’ve got my ears and eyes open for data on Apple’s expectations for iPad Pro. I was a little surprised by what a staffer at the Apple Store told me when I came to pick it up, first thing in the morning. I asked if they were going to be busy with iPad Pro buyers. “Probably not,” he said. The store (in a big mall in a big New England city) only got a few of them. It was therefore a good thing that I’d stayed up and ordered one almost as soon as the purchasing window opened. Sometimes the problem is “too many earlybirds” and sometimes the problem is more accurately “not a whole lot of hardware shipped.”

They didn’t have any Apple Pencils or Smart Cases, except for display. That wasn’t surprising. The night before, I’d expanded the search in the Apple Store app to all of New England and even New York, and didn’t find a single store that had the Apple Pencil available for in-store pickup today.

Captain Video

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!!!!!!)

Showcase showdown! Flip Mino HD versus Kodak Zi6

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.


Flip Mino HD vs. Kodak Zi6 from Andy Ihnatko on Vimeo.

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 lots of shadow detail inside the car, too.
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 <i>and</i> the sign are white all of a sudden. And inside the car, shadows have turned to mud.
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. It's maybe a <i>bit</i> flat but the lighting is very natural and the colors are spot-on.
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 <i>way</i> too rosy, given my lifestyle. And again: where are the subtle details in the shadows?
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.
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. 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.
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 <i>bit</i> purple. But otherwise...a nice shot.
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 still frame doesn't look too bad. It did a better job with the night sky. But again we see muddy shadow details...and the actual video is shot at 15 frames per second instead of 30...very noticeable as the cars drive by.
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.

Stop it stopit STOPITT!!!!

Annoying commercials are like…concussions, I guess. The danger lies in repetition. Once? Twice? You can pretty much get away with it. But your tenth or eleventh will leave you in a frightful mental state.

I have been repeatedly concussed by this Verizon FiOS commercial. Watch it. Let’s see if you spot the same annoying problem that I do:

Okey-doke. The Dad is impressed by the digital HD picture and sound and he says “Wow!” Then the Mom. Then the kid.

Then the dog! Pause for atomic laffs and yucks.

At this point, there have already been four “Wow!”s. And the joke’s over because hey, it’s so impressive that even a housepet is floored by the idea of “I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry” presented in 720i HD and has been moved to respond as a human being would.

And then the cat says “Wow!” Five!

Then a flea on the cat!

SIX!

I think you’ll agree that this is a lot of “Wow!”s.

And y’know, the joke was finished two whole “Wow!”s ago, as soon as the first non-human creature said it. It could have been economized to just three. Husband, wife, cat. Or: parent, child, cat.

(The media is so saturated with talking dogs that a talking cat is automatically funnier.)

(Actually, I’d give the animal’s “Wow!” to a squirrel or a raccoon whose face is pressed up against the window.)

(No! The FiOS experience is so wonderful that a dozen backyard creatures have gathered there on the sill. Squirrels, mice, woodchucks…and they all say “Wow!” together, in high-pitched voices.)

But that’s not the point. The point is that this commercial can air six times an hour or more.

I have FiOS service (cable, internet, and a landline which I only have because it’s part of the package). By the fifth airing, I’m about ready to turn off the cable box and read a book.

Yes…it’s that annoying. I swear!

New YouTube video: “Shooting the Moon”

A new YouTube video is up, sensation-seekers. This one is heavier on the Nerd note than the Tech note: it’s about my little adventure photographing the lunar eclipse. For an hour while the moon was going into eclipse, I had the Nikon on the tripod shooting still pix. After the cool blood-red full eclipse thing was over with, I swapped it for the video camera and shot about an hour of footage of the giant night-ball coming back to us.

I’m a fabulous humanitarian, so I’ve sped this up to about a minute for the YouTube video.

Yes, sensation-seekers, I have frozen my butt off for two nights, all for you. Do keep this in mind when inevitably I do a post in which I seek someone to co-sign a car loan for me, okay?

New YouTube video: “Subliminal Tuesday”

My final video from Macworld Expo. This video was inspired by the sight of watching my photos flash through the screen as I imported them into iPhoto from my memory card. I shot so many sequences of photos that at regular intervals, wow…it turned into stop-motion video…!

This was due to the fact that I was shooting JPEG to conserve space. I was able to hold down the shutter and shoot continuously for as many frames as I wanted, pretty much. Normally I shoot RAW, which creates such huge files that the camera’s buffer fills up and it has to stop while it desperately writes data to the memory card.

I might have to do more of these. Maybe not for public consumption, but just as Something Neat To Have. As I look at the stack of photos, I note that this is, in fact, a record of everything I saw over the course of the day which I thought was interesting and that I’d be likely to remember.

The only undocumented bits were meetings, briefings, appearances, and other situations where hauling out a camera and firing away could be considered Uncouth. But overall, this is indeed everything I’d be likely to remember from a particular day. It’s like I dumped my entire short-term memory to permanent storage. Weird.

No, “weird” is the fact that on just about every day of the show, I had an HD camcorder in my bag…and yet I didn’t take it out even once.

New YouTube video: “In The Air”

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.

Initial YouTubery

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.

It’s all explained on the AMPTP site. Via an Internet video.

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.