May You Live In Interesting Times And Come Under The Notice Of Important People

A brief observation on an essential characteristic of our civilization in the past couple decades:

In ancient Greece, the important thing was fame.  Fame, particularly after death, was of the utmost importance, because it was really the only way for non-gods to be immortal.  Take this fellow: Everything he did was aimed at fame.

Today however, he’d just have a reality show or a video blog.  “Keeping Up With Achilles: this week, Achilles murders two thousand Dacians with his bare hands!” Honestly, in an age when everyone has a facebook page of equal quality, the thing that distinguishes or seems to distinguish the important people is their level of fame.  How many facebook friends do you have?  How many views did your video of your son get on youtube?  How many Paparazzi were trailing that celebrity?  In many ways we’re returning to the self-absorbed aspects of Greek civilization without the philosophy or the good storytelling.

Perhaps we can all take a lesson from antiquity then.  Hubris doesn’t mean pride.  It means pride so great, it angers the gods.  You don’t think such a thing exists today?  Then have a look here:


Video Card Done Gone And Killed Itself

Two things I’d like to note:  1: My Nvidia Quadro FX 4800 has spontaneously burned itself out.  I am truly amazed by this.  It is an expensive part.  2:  HP delivered the replacement in four hours, on Thanksgiving day.  This is mind-blowing.

I’ve been banging on to my friends about how awful Apple customer service is since they advised me to buy a $5000 system they bricked a few weeks after it arrived about nine years ago.  I’ve had some unpleasant experiences more recently as well.  For several months after Apple updated the OS on the iPod touch, I was left with a device that would crash three times a day or so.  Only after deleting all my saved settings and files several times over did the tech support suggest I come in to replace the unit, which took an hour when I went to the Apple store.  The final insult to their customers came recently when I used a corporate discount Apple offers to certain companies, to buy a friend one of the new iPod touch devices.  Since February, when I purchased mine, they have eliminated a year from the most expensive available warranty.  When I purchased mine, I was told getting the two year warranty came on top of the one year you get for free.  That means I have three years to show up, hand over a lump of melted plastic and get a brand new iPod touch.  Now however, for the same money, you buy the same policy only without getting three years.  No, now the two year warranty only lasts two years, though it costs the same as the old three year warranty.  And they won’t tell you about this policy change unless you ask, which means you knew to ask.  And let’s face it, if you knew anything about computers you wouldn’t be buying an Apple now would you?

Anyway, the point of this little rant is to point out how amazing HP customer service is.  I should preface this by saying HP has no idea I write this blog.  None.  I’m just another punter as far as they are concerned.  I couldn’t boot my Z800 workstation and I was worried it was some kind of catastrophic hard drive problem because it clearly wasn’t the power supply.  I called tech support (this is on Thanksgiving) and in about a minute I had a guy on the phone who walked me through some tests, determining it was probably a dead video card.  He said he’d send me a new one (these cost a fortune) since I could install it myself (had I not known how to do this, he’d have sent someone to do it for me.)  I expected it to arrive maybe Monday, probably Wednesday.  It arrived about two hours later.  On Thanksgiving.  A holiday.

Apple would never do that.  Not on their most expensive warranty.

Avid V. Final Cut Pro

I’ll start with this caveat: This is not PC V. Apple.  I’d love to go into that, but some other time.  This is specifically relevant to the editing systems Avid Media Composer and Final Cut Pro.

As many of you know, I’m a “tool guy.”  I look at gadgets and software as tools, nothing more.  Well, except for 16mm cameras.  Those I love for no good reason, but computers really are just tools.  Avid and Final Cut Pro are the dominant tools for video editing and I have some pet peeves about both of them.  First, I’ll talk about Final Cut Pro, as it is becoming more widely used.

Final Cut Pro has some great little features.  I like how the “travel matte” function is right up in the menu, not buried in a pile of effects, as it is in the Avid.  I also like how in Final Cut Pro you can look at your clips by only viewing the sound wave, which is great if you’re editing a documentary or something else with voiceover as you can make your in and out points right where you need them.  Avid lacks this as well.  Sometimes I find the way you can drop a sequence into another sequence as “a clip” useful because you can set up titles or a transitional effect sequence and drop it in in many places, then change the original and the whole new sequence is changed.  Great idea.

On the other hand, Final Cut Pro’s media management sucks, and on many occasions I’ve had the whole system go down because of a bad phase or a dropped frame.  Considering how expensive Apple products are, this is unacceptable.  It’s like having a Porsche that breaks down when it hits a little bump.  Awful.  Also, Final Cut Pro doesn’t (at least on the versions I’ve used) allow the operator to customize commands, so if you want the hotkeys on the Apple to be active, using fit to fill will kill Final Cut and bring up the desktop.  That’s just pathetic.

Avid on the other hand has its own foibles.   I sometimes like being about to clip something from a sequence into another sequence and actually get the original footage, not some clip that refers to something I may delete or change.  I also prefer the media encoding.  It’s cleaner, and better and I never have trouble with media files.  Also, Avid works on Mac and PC, so you aren’t tied down to one manufacturer for parts.  Avid has brilliant media management software and the basic stuff works well too.  On the other hand, the folks who make the media management software are geeks and think everyone else is too, so some of the metadata actually makes it harder to find and or delete stuff you aren’t using.  Not so great.  Still, you can always improve that.

One thing I really dig the idea of though, is Curator: I’ve little interest in going back into news but I think this could be very useful for movie production.  If you have a studio that shoots lots of stuff on location, you could use this to give the director the ability to do some editing work on site, so he or she will know on the spot if the work they just did is good or not, and the crew will have time to reshoot.  Assuming you have a director with an iron will who can work all day then edit for an hour or so with an assistant editor on site, you have a system that will increase flexibility in a filmy way not a videoy way, meaning the crew can know what they need and go after it with precision, not “shoot everything that moves” or “shoot first and ask questions later” which often leaves the editor to shift a hopeless pile of poorly white balanced crap.  Most of the high end media management systems like this don’t exist for Apple as a result of Apple’s corporate culture and aversion to anyone else making money from their OS, so I think over the next ten years, as Avid has restructured itself and made more competitive offers to students who want to buy their stuff, Final Cut Pro will be relegated to quick and dirty stuff, like in news.

Both tools have their advantages and disadvantages.  Sadly, in the end it seems the biggest disadvantage of them all is Apple.