Archive for January, 2011

Highway Ice Skating

January 8th, 2011

Bang…bang against the Jersey barrier…

This morning in the worst of the icy snowfall,we got to see a Masshole in prime form. Having learned to drive in the absurdly steep and serpentine mountains of West Virginia’s Eastern panhandle, I’m fine on snowy roads. I can’t say the same for most of our locals. This morning’s bozo was such.

At 30 degrees, 128 had two inches of road nasties, a porridge of snow and ice. The shoulders and onramps got the highway plows’ residue of six or so inches of the perilous muck. That’s where the Masshole’s arrogance met defeat by physics.

His Ford Expedition should rightly be a Ford Exhibitionist. He gunned it over the snow and ice bank and around cars on the ramp. Big man=Big jerk.

We were in the middle of three lanes two vehicles back, in prime viewing position. The fat new SUV immediately spun counterclockwise. Through the grace of coincidence, it slid across three lanes without taking out any smarter drivers.

Somewhere between the third lane and the mini-shoulder and Jersey barriers, the Masshole managed to steer into the skid. It was too late to get back in the traffic flow, but at least he didn’t go headfirst into the concrete.

Instead, the driver’s side rear swung into it. In an impressive discarding of trim and metal, the side and bumper and lenses fairly exploded like a toy blown up with firecrackers.

That was no place to stop. Even at 45 MPH, it was plain the Masshole would not be seriously injured despite his reckless wreck. Sure, he’d have some considerable inconvenience – snaking his Exhibitionist to the breakdown lane, waiting for a wrecker or nervously heading to home or the dealer’s to begin the repair spiral. For him, he likely will escape charges as well as injury. He’ll lose some cash and get an insurance surcharge.

To those of us he put at risk, he won’t get enough punishment. Yet I think I can speak for all of us in self-interest that we were relieved to have been mere spectators.

Swiveling Jimmy Does Good

January 7th, 2011

We had a grand time at the Boston Symphony’s opening 2011 concert last evening — Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle. Even if we had read Boston Globe critic Jeremy Eischler’s pathetically niggling review that appeared this morning, the four of us would have been moved and entranced.

In particular, this was the first any of us had heard a performance of Bartók’s only opera. We (from 20 to 70 in our foursome) found it emotionally powerful and riveting. None of us understands Hungarian. We relied on the libretto screen, but more on the emotion and postures of the singers.


Oddly in this case, the normally supporting and minor role of such instruments as the pair of harps richly contributed to the power of this unstaged production. For instance, as lengthy segment in which the new bride opens a locked door to find a lake of tears is dramatized and enforced by the harpists portraying the rippling surface with their strokes.

To the right is a heavily cropped and modestly contrast-enhanced outtake of a photo by the Globe’s Michael Lutch. I claim fair use to illustrate Conductor James Levine in his chair.

His series of health problems in recent years has included debilitating sciatica, badly damaged rotator cuff and on and on. He missed much of last year in his dual role with NYC’s Met as a result.

When I first saw his fancy office chair on his little dais, I was thinking he’d been immobilized. His staggering on-stage leaving heavily on a cane reinforced that sense.

Forget that. Come baton-waving time, he was if anything liberated by his chair, which became yet another tool instead of a limitation. If anything, he was more active last night than when he stood on two feet.

He swiveled and swung. His arm motions were free and precise.

Perhaps most amazing were his feet. He fairly danced throughout hours of the two performances. He used his lower body in ways foot-rooted conductors can’t or at least don’t.

Amusingly, he seems a physical cross between fitness silly Richard Simmons, who shares similar absurd hair, and Truman Capote, with his thin limbs seemingly stuck into a stout torso. As he made this most of his chair, he’s alternately mince as Capote was wont and stick the positions as Simmons does when exercising. I have no doubt, he is in no way hampered by having to use a chair.

Today and tomorrow are the last two of these concerts. It inspired us to catch more of the BSO when Levine is swiveling, particularly if he’s conducting daring and unusual pieces.

Tags: harrumphharrumpherBSOLevineStrasvinksyBartók

Artist and Geek Rumble

January 3rd, 2011

herbsOur visiting artist, Savannah, a.k.a. Marion Etheredge, figuratively slapped me upside my head quite a few times this weekend. It was about creating videos, newish to me and new to her.

Like speaking another language while in a foreign town, being made to see through the eyes and in the brain of a real artist is broadening. I flashed on the British cryptic puzzles of which I am so fond and such a habitué. My wife claims they are impossibly illogical, while I contend that one must first shift mental gears to be open to the ambiguity of the clues.

Savannah has recently begun expanding from the still camera in her smart phone to its video. If you don’t make video, that may seem trivial, but I’ve been attending Boston Media Makers for quite awhile and learned that many of the hotshot video makers and vbloggers started with the low-level functionality in inexpensive digital cameras and phones. Longest journeys and first steps, and like that.

She’s been visiting from South Carolina. That included a Sunday session of BMM. She also was deeply curious about the equipment and hardware I’ve been using. She knows that I am doing a series of short videos for a food website that’s about to go live.

So, she sat with me while I combined a group of clips on how to dry fresh herbs from my garden. She wanted to know how I planned it and particularly how I edited the mess into a 3 or so minute clip for the web.

She’s a Mac sort and as it turns out, I recently discovered the marvelous free online video editing site JayCut. That was the right thing to show her, even though I am new to it. JayCut is much more similar to the Apple built-in video software iMovie than the clunkier Microsoft variation MovieMaker.

Not the least advantage in JayCut is conversion from QuickTime. My video camera saves in QT and MovieMaker doesn’t do Apple. I’ve been having to use QT Pro or other conversion utilities before playing with clips in MovieMaker. Then even with my high-powered desktop, MovieMaker grunts and grinds to save edited files. JayCut does its work on its own servers, faster and without complaining about QT files.


On the downside, JayCut is very Apple-like in doing a terrible job in explaining itself. It arrogantly assumes that its icons are so intuitive and simple that it doesn’t need to explain anything. For a couple of examples, consider the cutting process, involving the scissors icon. In many audio and other editing programs, deleting a segment means clicking something like this, dragging it to the end of the section to delete, releasing the mouse button and hitting a delete key. Through trial and several errors, we discovered that this tool in this package takes clicking the scissors, picking a starting point, releasing the button, clicking the icon again, clicking an end point and releasing the button to create a standalone segment. Then clicking the arrow icon and dragging the segment to the upper bar deletes it.

jcdragNext to close up the generated space in the file, you can mouse over the arrow embedded at a segment beginning. Popup text tells you go grab the arrow and change the beginning of the segment. In JayCut reality, if you want to close the gap, you need to select the arrow icon above, move the cursor to the middle of the segment and drag and drop it from there. Moving the beginning arrow invariably goofs up the segment, possibly re-inserting deleted material.

The sparse help function shows next to nothing and illustrated neither of these. Having worked in software companies for many years, I’m sure the attitude of developers there is that if customers are too stupid to figure these out, they have no reason to use the program and service. In this case, I did figure the quirks out, and of course, with the free service, I lost no money, just some time and patience. In my Windows world as well, the speed benefits of JayCut, plus the ability to save the result in many different formats made it well worth my while to solve these little puzzles.

So to the artist, she thinks differently about video, like, well, a painter and sculptor. I come in as a journalist, general writer, and technical communicator.

The biggest difference was that aural and visual details were huge to her. To me, content is king, queen and court.

My inclination has gotten lots of reinforcement from the many BMM meetings I’ve attended. I strongly recommend them to anyone in new media. Attendants love nothing more than helping others solve or even better avoid problems with hardware, software, techniques and more.

recursivesg.jpgI came in very humble with this group of experienced film and video heads. Starting with founder Steve Garfield, they really know their stuff. As a blogger and podcaster, and not a video person, I was and remain awed by their experience and expertise. I gleaned tips on the right camera to begin with (Kodak Zi8 in my case), and such obvious to them but new to me basics as you need to grab the viewer in the first 15 seconds of a clip and you damned well better have great stuff if you intend to go more than two and one-half minutes.

Wowsers to that, but then it is pretty similar to what I learned in journalism school and practiced for years in newspapers and magazines. There, the short lead paragraph had to be compelling enough or the readers would be on the next article. Likewise,  you had better assume that nearly no one would read the whole piece — hence the inverted pyramid style of writing with the best stuff up front.

Chair to chair, Savannah’s concerns and style were markedly different from mine. For one example, she was appalled to hear the rustle of my feet on dry leaves as I moved for two or so seconds to the perennial herb bed. Likewise, she thought I should enlist my wife or someone else to hold and direct the camera, which I had on a tripod, so that my hands tying the herb stems would be the absolute center of the screen instead of the lower area.

Editing the clips with her, I felt the values were solid and those details OK improvements but nonessential. The audio and visual were clear and understandable. The procedure was accurate. The sound was at a good level. Someone seeing and hearing this little clip would know what to do and how. Content was solid.

I suspect she would be much happier with the output if the production values and appearance were prettier and artsy perfect, even if the message and steps were not quite accurate or were hard to follow. Yet, she is a remarkable artist with a keen eye. I can keep her attitude handy for future shoots. In fact, my wife has agreed to be pressed into service making sure the focal point of a clip appears central in the frame.

In the end of our session, I had debugged the editing steps and she left with confidence that she could follow my procedure from rough storyboarding through shooting a series of clips in the right order to stripping out the unnecessary and distracting (like popping into the scene).

We are crafts folk each in our own way, but she and I learned from the process. That was a fine and useful way to pass a couple of hours. The artist and the geek rubbed elbows and each come away better for it.

Tags: harrumphharrumphervideoBoston Media MakersJayCutiMovieMovieMakerartistSavannahediting