Monthly Archives: August 2008

Getting Started with Home Video

Although I’ve shot tens of thousands of still camera shots over the years, I only just now got around to trying my hand at home video. To that end, I picked up a Canon HF100 (a stunningly small camera with a great picture) and started shooting some footage. I’ll admit right now that I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to shooting home video, but I’m pretty sure most of us are doing it all completely wrong.

Specifically, most folks I know get out the camera for those big “important events” — graduation events, school plays, and the like. We know these are the Big Moments in our loved one’s lives, and it’s natural for every parent in the audience to make like a paparazzo and record Junior’s Big Event for posterity. The problem is, nobody—especially neither ourselves nor Junior—wants to sit through the film of their Big Game, school concert, dance routine, piano recital, etc. later on. If we’re honest with ourselves, it wasn’t that much fun watching the whole thing the first time. We go willingly because they’re our loved ones and we’re interested in being with them for the Big Event. But that doesn’t mean we really want to relive every missed note, awkward movement, or bored expression in its badly shot glory on DVD years from now.

I used to think the problem with home video was the lack of editing, and to a lesser degree the monotonous camera work (and if you’ve been forced to sit through somebody else’s home videos, there’s certainly plenty of blame to go around on both counts). But no amount of snappy editing, bold camera moves, or even Hollywood-level cinematography is going to make Junior’s walk-on performance in the school play into something that the family will lovingly gather round in years to come in preference to the latest Spielberg offering…or for that matter a re-run of Mythbusters. So why shoot the video in the first place?

I think the answer is that video lets you capture an absolutely visceral sense of a moment, or a person, and lock it away in time so it can be relived later.  No other media comes close. Snapshots summon up memories of moments in a person’s life, but in a much more thoughtful, nuanced form; sound recordings can be brilliant, but who follows around their loved ones with a portable DAT recorder hoping they’ll say something cool? But video… shoot fifteen seconds of a person just being themselves and those few moments are captured forever and experienced later, much as if that person were right in front of you.

So far, some of the best footage I’ve shot is of my kids just sitting around talking. Six years from now, when my 10-year old son Neil has been replaced by 16-year-old Neil, I’ll be able to visit with 10-year-old Neil for a few precious moments thanks to the miracle of video. And when that time comes, the Neil I want to reminisce with isn’t the one who was fumbling his way through some performance…it’s the one I know and love from everyday life.

So here’s what I’m thinking (and those of you with much more experience with home video can confirm or correct me on this): put away those video cameras when it comes to the various Big Events in your kid’s lives; the misty, non-high-definition memories you have of those Big Events will age far better over time. But take out the camera and record as much as you can of your kids just being themselves. That’s what’s going to put a smile on your face, or a sentimental tear in your eye years from now.

Those Wacky folks at JibJab

Rush plays Tom Sawyer on Rock Band


The Abrupt End to Human Computing’s Break-Room Recycling Experiment

Since moving into the new offices, we’ve devoted part of our tiny (and I do mean tiny—like 25 square feet!) break room to housing a big rubber trash can to be used for recyclables. The thought was: hey, maybe if we collect our cans, take them down to the recycling center periodically, then pool the money, we might be able to take everyone out to lunch some day.

Today, with the can overflowing from six week’s worth of recyclables, I decided to see firsthand whether our experiment in recycling would pay off (or at the very least, I had to get the can emptied!). So I pulled the can down to the elevator, loaded it into my car, and drove the 3 miles down to the nearest recycling place—a huge operation run by Sims Metal. There was some waiting around involved (in 4 lines!) but the time involved was employed usefully by me meeting the many requirements of modern recycling: The many drippy cans, bottles, and plastic containers had to be sorted by type; all lids had to be unscrewed and removed; excess water drained, etc.

30 minutes after I started, a much messier me had arrived at the front of the line where automated scales tallied up my various materials and issued me a receipt which then had to be taken to a different part of the plant and given to a cashier, who then gave me an ATM-style card and pointed me at another (short) line. I inserted the card into the register and got my $13.14.

It took about a second to figure out that this was utter madness from a business standpoint, and another minute or two to put some numbers to the exercise:

Gross income: $13.14
Gas burned travelling to and from center: ($0.90)
6 week’s rent on 4 square feet of floor space@$1.75/sq. ft ($10.50)
Net income: $1.74
Income/hour: $1.60

$1.60 an hour—for some fairly icky and tedious work. And that doesn’t count the extra laundry involved, depreciation on my car, etc. — not to mention the cumulative seconds devoted by all my staffers to sorting those hundreds of cans and bottles into the right container in the first place.

What’s more, this is taking full advantage of the fact that California charged 5 cents per container “redemption value”, which artificially raised the value of the containers. Without this, my trash can full of aluminum, glass, and plastic would have been worth just $3.33. Tellingly, the glass and plastic had a raw materials value of $0.00 each. Without that additional incentive of essentially reclaiming money that had been taken from us at the time we bought the beverages in question, the whole exercise would have gone from simply being a waste of time, to a net payment by me of $7.58/hour for the time I spent doing the recycling.

As they say, “your mileage may vary”, but I’ve abandoned the fantasy of saving up my recycling dough and buying the staff lunch. And I’ve reclaimed the precious 4 square of space at the entrance to our break room so we can store something useful like water containers in its place.


It started to go wrong shortly before we left for San Diego.

In a last-minute attempt to de-install two Adobe suites and install a third on my work machine, I felt the icy chill of impending tech doom run down my neck when the suite I had spent hours attempting to install suddenly balked, giving me a cryptic “Code 2” error. With no time to spare before we loaded up the equipment for Comic-Con, I didn’t have time to investigate, but I suspected the whole thing wasn’t going to end well. And it didn’t.

Starting on Wednesday of last week, I tried repeatedly to run the seven hour-long install of Adobe Creative Suite Master Edition on my machine, always to no avail. Having run through all the other troubleshooting procedures, I decided to spend Saturday and simply reformat my machine before trying the install again. Starting at Saturday noon, I backed up, reformatted, reinstalled Windows, and began the long process of putting my machine back together. Then I began the hours-long process of installing Creative Suite Master Edition again. Having spent the hours that followed catching up on all of my old mail and magazines, as well as reading the entire first Artemis Fowl book, I was well into the install process for Creative Suite Master Edition when I decided to call it a night at 2am and head home.

…but when I returned on Sunday, the install had failed again.  In exactly the same place.

“Right.” I said, and, although I could sometimes summon the patience of a Buddhist monk, I nevertheless decided that if I had to try the whole thing again, I was going to do it in the comfort of my own home. So I bundled my machine, along with a spare mouse and keyboard and moved the install party to Casa Bickford. Additional backups were made of critical data, the existing partial install was deleted (itself a 40-minute process!), and I settled down with another good book to read.

And as one final precaution, just to try to improve my luck this go-round, I decided to update my Shuttle PC with the latest BIOS. Normally this is a “Probably won’t help, but can’t hurt” sort of step, and I needed all the voodoo I could muster to get this bloody thing to work this time. With that, I closed all my open apps, kicked off the BIOS flashing utility…and  sat agape with horror when it hung the computer 29% of the way into flashing the BIOS.

Now, having something go wrong when you’re flashing a BIOS or other EEPROM-type device is one of the only ways that software can render hardware utterly unusable. I prayed that nothing too serious would happen as a result of the mysterious hang, but when I attempted to reboot the machine, it turned out I was about as lucky as your average red-shirted crew member on the old Star Trek series. In short, I’d turned my desktop computer into a useless metal brick.

Sure, the RAM, processor, and hard drives were fine, but the machine no longer acted as a computer. It merely gave a feeble “BIOS Error” message, and didn’t even attempt to find the keyboard, mouse, or floppy drive–without which there was no hope for re-flashing the drive and retrying to turn it into a computer again. Resetting the CMOS, pulling the battery, and all the other tricks were to no avail. My machine was well and truly bricked.

So now, it’s Sunday night at 11:30 and I’m busily trying to scavenge the contents of the bricked computer’s hard drives onto a different machine. Let me tell you, 300 GB takes a long time to copy. I expect I’ll be finishing another novel before it’s over. Then it’s a call to Shuttle tech support in the morning, most likely to be followed by me mailing them the old BIOS chip to reflash, to be followed a week or so later by more novel reading as I try to get that machine rebuilt.

And then I get to try installing Creative Suite Master Edition again.

Hope my library card is still active. I may need it.