Friday, February 29, 2008

Mac Video and Machinima Pointers

Well last night I have a bit of adventure in video editing, and its cause was something I've run into before but just didn't catch this time. Since the best mistakes to learn from are from other peoeple's mistakes I thought I'd share what happened, how I got there, and how I fixed it.

I'll also share some observations from my first attempt at Machinima (movies made using 3d games or virtual worlds)

So the first part will be Mac specific, the second part more generally applicable.

This was a pretty simple project. Take video of a walking tour, take snippets and make a reasonable short video of the tour. I thought I'd do this in iMovie08 1) because FinalCut Pro isn't on my machine and 2) FinalCut Pro sounded like way overkill.

I imported my .mov files into iMovie08 (after having fiddled with them briefly in iMovieHD). I started editing but soon found that every click and movement of the play head resulted in the machine stopping for a good 5-10 seconds. (Spinning beachball.) With about an hour of screen capture footage that was to be cut down to 5-10 minutes things didn't look good.

I finally gave up, exported the video I had made thus far (to preserve voice overs) so I could import it into FinalCut Pro.

And that was when it all became clear - there was no video on the export. Audio was fine but the video was all blank. The codec that the original video was in was one that iMovie08 doesn't like. The solution is - convert the video to something iMovie does like, like H.264. (There are probably other codecs but I know that one works.)

A bit of converting (using Quicktime) and re-importing and iMovie was all happy.

The way I got here was I used Snapz Pro X to capture the video. The default codec that the version I have choses when encoding video is not one iMovie likes. However, when you go to save the video you can edit the video encoding settings and save as H.264 - and you will save yourself a lot of headache.

(And as an addendum. I just found this awesome blog, Unlocking iMovie '08, with lots of good pointers on iMovie08 - including info on features you might think are missing but aren't.)

As I was editing the video I was reminded how it takes practice to take in a scene and see what the camera sees instead of seeing the filtered scene that your brain presents to you. Our mind does a great job of filtering out noise but that isn't what you want on film. Experienced film makers probably know this all intuitively but for the rest of you I'll share my bloopers.

1) Turn off distracting information - I remembered to turn off the display of HUDs, but I left SL voice on - which since I wasn't actually recording the SL Voice resulted in a unnecessary lovely white dot above my head and in odd places in the scene. Turn off extra displays, look again, and then make sure there isn't anything you missed before going on.

2) Look at your lighting - Most of my scenes were fine, but in one area it was night with minimal external lighting. I adjusted the exposure on that scene, which resulted in blown out colors but otherwise the details of the scene would have been near invisible on a windows PC. I could reshoot but the smarter thing would have been to notice the light and done something about it before shooting the scene (force sunrise/sunset)

3) Lose the pointer arrow - Most of my scenes I did ok with this, but in one scene I have this little arrow moving occasionally on the screen. There are times you can't avoid this but use what tools you have when you can (e.g. camera controls) and don't just randomly leave the mouse pointer in the middle of the screen.

I'm sure I'll learn more with my next machinima, but those are my lessons from this round. I hope they proved helpful for at least a few of you. And if you have pointers for me feel free to leave them in the comments, or drop me an email. (goldiekatsu at gmail)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

More GTD Thoughts

If you were wondering about my sudden posts on GTD, I've been gradually picking up various projects and tasks and then suddenly work (yeah the one that pays me) started picking up at the same time a couple of other projects did. My "Gee I really should get organized, maybe tomorrow" became a "Wish I'd started this yesterday." That and at the previous BWET (Boulder Women Engaging Technology) meeting Gwen assigned us the first 20 pages of the book Getting Things Done. I have already read the book, and then encourage others to read it so I was ok with reading it again but thinking "Yeah, brush-up refresher no big deal."

Ok, maybe big deal. Right at the beginning Dave Allen talks about a key thing that is so important and obvious that you can totally miss it. So you have something you want to get done. What does "done" look like. Define it, write it down.

It is so easy to get caught up in projects and sub-projects and tasks that the goal you are aiming for, the outcome, can get lost.

For example. I want to start an podcast (as in the formal thing that you can subscribe to). Outcome - regularly produce video content that people can subscribe to. But the thing is I'm into so many different things I wasn't sure what particular topic to do my podcast on - so action define topic. Not a bad action but over time (weeks) you have to ask is it leading to outcome or just holding things up.

Last week I was talking with someone who talked about how she is into lots of things and she tried out different topics as podcasts and them moved on if it didn't work for her. What a great idea. Sure eventually I'll want to find the topic/niche but if the answer isn't forthcoming making various podcasts to find the niche that works for me may get me to my outcome a whole lot faster.

If I was tied to just the actions - well I haven't found my topic, can't move on. But by focusing on the outcome - what done looks like - I can say - wait this next action isn't getting me where I need to go - time to rethink.

So I'm very glad that I had that reading assignment, and I've already benefited from the reading.

And before I go one more thought that was inspired by RJ Moriarty's comment on my previous post.

On first blush GTD seems to expect you to have considerable physical space - the mega inbox and filing. But for those of us who are online/with computer folks a lot of this physical stuff can be moved to on the computer. (See this lifehacker post on the paperless home.) Yes, mail comes in and there is some paper to use, but you can scan in needed documents, and most of my inbox I send to myself in mail. More space than what you have about your desk isn't absolutely necessary.

As far as the contexts (that is where you do a particular task) well that isn't necessarily about place. "On my Mac" can be anywhere my Mac is. And a lot of my contexts are actually hats. When I'm at my computer I can be doing work for my job, doing SL projects, doing non-profit activities and other stuff too. With lots of "bosses" so to speak I do focus blocks - right now I'm @ work, right now I'm @ the non-profit, etc., so even though I'm in the same physical space I'm in different contexts. But really, you only need as many contexts as are useful for you. "Out in the world", "at work", and "at home" may be enough depending on what you do and how you work.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What if GTD Was a Competition Sport

I am, once again, trying to get into the swing of using the Getting Things Done (GTD) method of time (or more accurately action) management. If you haven't heard about GTD I recommend checking out 43 Folders on GTD, however the starting point is gathering all the tasks, projects, things to get done and putting them in your inbox(es). That part isn't necessarily that hard - but the next step - processing that inbox - now that can be a challenge. Just as an example - how well do you process your email inbox - does it get cleared and then magically build up seemingly overnight. (Ok, maybe it is over a week or so but it is still fast.)

Really my email is my main inbox. I will email myself notes on projects/voicemail/etc. so it really is a general collection area so letting it build up is a fast path to ruin. I realize that some of this comes from lingering through my email frequently rather than giving it focused attention at specific times each day but it is sometimes hard to motivate myself to just do it.

Anyway, I was pondering this and in a silly mood the other day and thought, what if GTD was a competition sport. How fast and how accurately can you sort your in-box. In my mind I envisioned the ESPN coverage of the competition and laughed at myself. But I wonder if there was some way to make task management a game where you can win & level up if it would make it easier to keep up on it? Sure keeping on top of stuff is its own reward but sometimes the pain of getting through that inbox seems greater than the pleasure at the end. What tricks do you use to make this process easier.

Oh and for those who want to see the geeky ESPN coverage that played in my head, here is an approximation.

Ann: Ok, Goldie is getting ready
(Goldie stretches & cracks knuckles)
Ann: The clocks are about to start
Beep beep buzz of the starter clock
Ann: And she's off!
Ann: Look at her go
(clicking dragging data flying)
(Cuts between other competitors and similar observations)
Ann: Oh wait - she's spent more than 2 minutes on a task - that's a penalty - 4 points
Ann: Wait...she's getting up? Her filing isn't by her desk!?! Oh this is going to cost her some serious time.
(scene continues)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Peasful Thoughts

It is Friday, which means it's a Frozen Pea Friday.

In an amazing set of coincidences I was just sitting down to eat some frozen peas (that had been subsequently warmed up) when Chel Pixie asked if I could make a video for the frozen pea fund.

If you haven't made it to the site yet, click the link above or the one here, and donate the equivalent of two bags of frozen peas to the fund to support breast cancer research.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Colorado Podcamp

Back in December I mentioned that discussion were beginning in the area of a Podcamp in Colorado and that I would keep you updated on the plans.

We have started working on the initial planning of Colorado Podcamp over at the Colorado Podcamp Google group.

Right now we are still defining the structure of the event as well as a more specific date than "some time in the summer". But the event will be a BarCamp-Style gathering for people interested in New Media which includes blogs, vlogs, podcasts, vidcasts and more.

If you are interested in find out more, participating in, or helping plan this event please join the Colorado Podcamp Group.

We haven't had our first planning meeting but that will be coming soon. I will keep you posted here, and of course on the group.

Social Connection Across the Virtual/Physical Border

What an exciting year this is turning out to be. My official work has begun to pick up, and I'm pushing personal project internally. In the social media/startup/podcasting/tech sphere I've started to meet up with people in person. Very exciting and interesting to watch.

Online social media is an interesting phenomenon. In a sense it is like the old forums/read news and text based chats in that there is enough distance that a person who is perhaps a bit more shy can feel comfortable speaking in the virtual environment. The interesting twist is that with the addition of video and virtual worlds you begin to feel that you are interacting "for real". While this is true to some extent, real friendships and relationships are created, it has been somewhat startling when you transfer that to the physical realm.

I suppose it is a bit more startling for me. I spent about a year homebound with very little personal interaction beyond the online medium. For that time who I was in groups in online reality (whether virtual worlds or twitter or chats on blogtv etc.) was how I interacted.

The real shock came when I could finally walk well enough to go to a meet up where I knew no one and I found myself feeling uncertain and shy. (This was complicated by the fact that I wasn't sure how to introduce myself, my resume has one name, my public presence has another.) I was shocked at the way I reacted.

Then I thought of how I had acted before my convalescence. Sure I'd join in discussions in groups where I knew people but when it wasn't strictly work based I was on the shy side. Walking up to someone I didn't know and introducing myself was not really something I did.

Here I was expecting myself to act as my outgoing online self, but that hadn't been my modus operandi in the physical world. The contrast is probably why I skipped the meet up for the following couple of months. But I also reflected on my reactions (and got some combo/business cards that make introducing myself much easier.)

Today I went to the Boulder Open Coffee at The Cup. It was a great meet up. I also decided that I was going to embrace my online style and make it my in person style. It was a bit scary at times. I could tell I'm still getting the hang of it but it was promising. And I'm hoping to make it to the New Technology meet up this evening, this time with more confidence.

What I have found is that although the online networks are incredibly powerful (and can cause a person to grow) it is important to go try it out in the physical face to face world. The interaction is different. The combination of the two realms is awesome.