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How does it work?

Submitted by sdgi222 on Thu, 04/19/2012 - 03:34 pm

Earlier today, I was watching one of my friends trying to get a video playing on their computer.  First there was no sound, then no video, then sound but blurred colors behind it.  Not exactly what they were trying for.  I helped poke and prod a bit, but it seemed like there was nothing we could do.  It had been saved as an .avi file, instead of a more friendly .mp4 or .mov, which I wouldn't mention were it not for the fact that when this was pointed out, someone actually asked me, "So, what is an .avi file?"

I honestly hadn't a clue.

I'm not trying to point out my own ignorance, but rather emphasize that the more complicated our technology gets, the less and less we really know about it, and how it works.  I call tell you which files will and will not import in Final Cut Pro, but most of the time I can't tell you why that is.  I can tell you that recording on a Vixia camera involves a ration of roughly 1 GB per minute of filming, but why that is remains a mystery.  The list goes on, and I know I'm not the only person in the office that encounters this from time to time.

It's not just computers and cameras that I'm talking about here, by the way.  I have an old boombox that acts up now and again, and when it does I'll usually take the back off and poke around to see what's happened, but so help me, if something goes wrong with my ipod it's getting sent straight back to the store.  My neighbor likes to work on cars in his spare time, but complained once that it's getting harder and harder to work on newer models that have almost as many computer parts as they have engine bits.  We're living in a paradoxal world that has somehow managed to become simpler even though everything has grown to be much more complicated than it was in years past.

Before you try to reason the argument out by saying, "Just Google it!" I'll counter by saying that's part of the problem.  There was a point in time when all you had to do to figure out what was wrong with something was to take it apart and look through the pieces to see what was wrong.  Now you need a good Internet connection and a few engineering classes under your belt to even figure out what's actually causing the problem, never mind how to go about actually resolving the issue.  If a toy car broke 20 or more years ago, usually one of your parents could turn it over and immediately see you'd broken an axle by slamming it too hard against the tree roots in the backyard.  Nowadays you need to unscrew the toy's casing and check for live batteries and frayed wires.

I'm not lamenting how advanced our world is; this technology is the reason I have a job right now, and I kind of like living in a future world.  I just wish that we better understood how things work now.

And for those of you who are curious, the friends got the video to work.  How, I'm not sure.  I'm chalking it up to witchcraft right now.

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The End of the Semester, and My First Year

Submitted by sdgi222 on Mon, 12/12/2011 - 11:05 am

Well, very soon winter break will be upon us, and with it comes the anniversary of A&S hiring me.

When I first started here a year ago, almost everything was new.  I'd made and edited videos before, but nothing like what I had to do when I started working.  It was like going from swimming in the kiddie pool to be dropped somewhere in the Pacific and having to swim just as well.  I had to ask around for help with nearly all my early projects.  It's amazing that the senior employees didn't get sick of me and chuck me out the window after a point.

My early videos were...less than stellar, to say the least.  Small errors that completely escaped me, but were obvious to anyone else who'd been working here longer than me.  Many edits were involved, if editing could salvage the wrecks I'd made.  It was panic-inducing to not be sure that my work was on par with what we expected to produce, as far as quality and timeliness goes.  Many nights, I went to sleep believing that I was completely in over my head.

But you know what?  Things got easier.  Eventually, I figured out what settings worked best for the Compressor and Final Cut Pro.  I knew what equipment would be needed for a shoot.  I even started producing a short series of videos called "Quick Reminders" to make things easier for future employees.

People have come and gone during my time here, and the HIVE is taking off now, giving us more requests and new technology to work with.  I'm not worried anymore; I know if I keep working on projects and learning new skills, I'll be able to continue making great videos and other projects for anyone and everyone who needs it.  The bosses aren't maniacal judges who'll press a button and make a trap door open beneath your feet if you make one or two mistakes now and again.  Most of the requests you get are not, in fact, impossible or designed specifically to wreck your sanity.  And your coworkers are students just like you, not some sort of video noble to your editing peasant and will look down on you for such.  Overall, it's rather nice here.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some editing to do.

End of Summer Round-Up

Submitted by sdgi222 on Fri, 08/19/2011 - 03:44 pm

Well folks, it’s the end of the summer semester here at UK, and fall term starts but a few days from now.  That means that this week’s blog is going to focus on wrapping up my thoughts and experiences on my first summer as a Media Mafia worker.

I guess I could sum up the summer by saying working here was…interesting, I guess.  There were days wherein I had very little to do, and days wherein I was absolutely swamped.  There were videos to shoot, people to interview, movies to digitize, furniture to move, sandwiches to eat, and programs to learn.  Higher powers, were there programs to learn.

This summer, we were lucky enough to acquire a nifty little application known as After Effects.  It’s fun to play with, but until you can get the basics down, it makes you feel like a complete moron for daring to try and operate a system that is so clearly out of your league in every way, shape, and form.  It took many a frustrating Youtube search and much trial and error, but I finally got to the point where I could make a decent enough video on it without feeling like I was an absolute failure.  I’m not a master of the program by any means, but I’m not so far in the novice range as I once was.

I also had to learn how to use Fireworks, which is kinda like a nicer version of Photoshop.  It’s the difference between the kind old guidance counselor that wants you to do well and succeed, and the bitter old hag of a counselor that loathes you for daring to breathe her air and would very much like for you to go away forever and never dare to approach her ever again.  Ever.  I used it to make my Quick Reminder videos, which I’ll probably miss more than anything else once the school year starts.  It could be hard to brainstorm ideas at times, but they were delightful to write and animate, and thus shall be sorely missed.

Overall, I’d say that this summer was pleasant.  Yes, there were definitely times that I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a little hole and die, but for the most part this was a pretty nifty summer job.  Now I just have to wait and see what the fall term has in store for me.

Take a Chill Pill: It's Not the End of the World

Submitted by sdgi222 on Thu, 08/04/2011 - 05:44 pm

It seems like everywhere I look, I see people declaring that the world is getting worse and worse by the second.  Death and famine across the globe, greedy men exploiting the poor, and other such travesties.  Why, just look at this quote I found about today’s young people:

"Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers."

Now, who do you think said that?  The president?  The pope? Some big wig with an over-inflated sense of self-worth who runs a national organization?  Actually, that quotation is attributed to Socrates in the fourth century B.C. Funny how one might assume it’s about our modern kids.

There is nothing that is as equally likely to make me rage and roll my eyes as people talking about the end of the world being close at hand because we’re all such terrible, terrible creatures.  Yes, technologies like Facebook and Twitter may give people a chance to write poorly spelled drivel, but at least those folks can read and write, which is more than what you’d find in the Dark Ages.  Yes, the Internet makes it possible to witness atrocities the world over, filling our news stations and websites with horrific tales of violence and oppression, but at least those stories can get out because of the technology the common man now possesses.

We live in a world where food is a grocery store away, where the biggest killers are heart diseases (as opposed to one hundred years ago when it was TB and cholera), where the biggest worries you have are budgeting to have a stuffed pantry and heated, clean house that runs on electricity.  There are twisted people dwelling in this world, and there are idiots, jerks, manipulators, and other refuse of society, but that’s nothing new.  We just hear more about them and their deeds now because Twitter and Youtube make access to such things easier than cooking popcorn in a microwave.

Your kid having a smartphone and not knowing who Charles Dickens is does not foretell the collapse of Western civilization.  Hearing stories of violence on the TV or Internet is tragic, but the fact that it shocks and horrifies you is a sign that such things are not in fact the norm where you dwell.  If you still feel the world is such a horrible place, kindly get up and do something with a local organization, or at the very least donate to a worthwhile charity.  After that, kindly cease and desist with the moaning.  It doesn’t help anything, and will only annoy those around you.

Nickel and Diming: or, "Really People? Really?"

Submitted by sdgi222 on Fri, 07/22/2011 - 09:06 am

I detest people that nickel and dime others.  Really, it’s a disgusting practice and I imagine after a certain point no amount of soap and water can wash of the shame a retailer feels for doing this to their poor customers.  The rage for this week is focused mainly on EA games.

 

Now if any of you watched E3 this year (doubtful, I realize) you’ll know that they are releasing a Stars Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG later this year.  This issue is that the digital version of the game is selling exclusively on Origin, EA’s site.  Now the game’s preorder price is set to be 40 pounds (the British money, not the weight), but they’re charging 5 pounds for buying it digitally instead of through a retailer, and then another 5 on top of that for being allowed the privilege of pre-ordering.  That’s 50 pounds, or for those of you bad at currency exchange, $85.  This for a game that they’ve said practically mum on, when on average you’d pay $50-60 for a new game in the U.S. and 30 pounds in Britain.

 

It’s not just EA doing this.  Comcast has implemented data caps and charges you for going too far over their standard rate, crippling photographers and filmmakers who not only stream a fair amount of data but upload massive amounts of their artwork.  Netflix has gone from being $8 per month to $8 for streaming, another $8 if you want to receive one DVD, and $14 for two DVDs.  You can pick which plan you’re on, but considering how terrible their streaming selection is, I fear some people may simply torrent their desired films.  The list goes on.

 

Yet the thing that bothers me the most, the bit of sand in my shoe, the issue that makes me gape and sputter with rage is that people still buy these products.  My roommate and I don’t even spend $85 on groceries per week, and you’re going to drop that kind of money for a game you don’t even know is any good?  What kind of sick logic is that?

 

I realize that for some people, Comcast is their only option, and to be fair, Netflix has to jack up their prices for Hollywood studios, but still, if they’re going to insist on charging so much, stop buying and start protesting.  People say vote with your wallet, and then go out and buy the product anyway.  Well enough is enough.

 

I’ll never support Comcast, I’ll bombard Netflix with emails begging them to stream more content, and I’m boycotting EA (not terribly hard, since I’m already ignoring the existence of Capcom, but that’s an entirely different issue).  Don’t just whine and complain; hit them where it hurts.

Quick Reminders

Submitted by sdgi222 on Sun, 07/03/2011 - 06:53 pm

For this week’s blog, I’m doing a bit of self-advertising to talk about a video series I’ve started called Quick Reminders.  The videos focus on the adventures of two stick people, New Cheerful Employee and Disgruntled Senior Employee, as they explore the dos and don’ts of office life in POT. It’s rather enjoyable, but it’s taught me a few things in the short time I’ve been working on them.

First, animating videos takes a long, long time.  The first video I did was only about three minutes long, but it took a good six hours to put together, even with computers doing most of the work.  I can’t even fathom how long it would take for a professional animator to put together a half-hour or hour-long cartoon, since they’d have to put far more effort into the artwork than I do.  Next time you watch a cartoon, take a moment to thank the animators for throwing countless hours of their life into making a project designed solely for your amusement (particularly those cartoons done before the advent of computers, when everything had to be hand-drawn).

Second, thinking up ideas to make videos enjoyable takes a long, long time.  It would be easy to simply list off reminders for the office and be done with it, but that can be boring.  This means writing a script, figuring out how to make corny yet informative jokes, and keeping it within a set time limit.  I don’t see how professionals can do it.

Finally, it can be really hard to think up material for Quick Reminders, mainly because our office runs rather efficiently and the workers work well together.  This means that sometimes I end up rehashing things you’ve heard from the bosses or fellow media folks a thousand times, only now you get it in stick person form.

In conclusion, I want to say that the reason I bothered to do a whole blog on this is because I have an incredible appreciation for anyone who works with any form of animated entertainment, as they have to come up with a much greater, higher quality amount of material than I do.  Keep in mind that as cheesy and short as some cartoons may seem, the people who made them probably bent over backwards to create such silly shows. 

Gaming Platforms

Submitted by sdgi222 on Fri, 06/24/2011 - 11:28 am

            Earlier this week, some people heard me declaring my intense dislike towards the evil known as Thomas Edison and asked me to do my blog on why I consider him to be a mustache-twirling arch villain.  As much as I’d love to rant about why he’s a lying thief, that will have to wait until next time, because I’d much rather rant about people ranting about something near and dear to my heart; video games.

            Before we get into this, I want to say that I’m stuck in the awkward age where I’m too young to have grown up with the 8-bit games that made the industry what it is today, but am too old to have played my first Pokemon game on a Nintendo 3DS.  My nostalgia period is 2001-2007 on the PS1 and PS2, with a few outliers like Spyro, Final Fantasy VII and Gameboy Color games. Now that you have the appropriate background, here’s the reason for my blog.

            There has always been (and probably always will be) a debate amongst gamers as to which platform is superior, a PC or a console.  Lately the PC supporters have become louder and more obnoxious than usual, berating and belittling consoles at every turn for having worse graphics and motions, being technologically inferior and overall just being lousy for games.  And as much as I love my Playstations, I’m going to have to agree with them on several of these points.

            Their argument that the current generation of consoles is technologically inferior to PCs is completely accurate, primarily because the current line-up is ancient.  The Xbox 360 was first released in 2005, and the PS3 and Wii were both released in 2006.  Think about how old that makes their hardware.  Can you imagine how limited our possibilities would be if we ran on programs from 5 years ago?  Do you ever stop to realize exactly how many huge jumps have been made in technology in those 5 years?  PCs, on the other hand, come out with a new model every few months with the latest and greatest in everything.  That means that game designers have the impossible task of trying to make something work as well on a five-year-old console as it does on a two-month-old PC.  It’d be like asking them to fix Avatar to play on a black-and-white TV from the fifties and make it look and sound as good as it will on a 50” plasma TV bought last week.  Of course this is difficult if not impossible to achieve, and games tend to be better on PC, unless the PC port for the game that comes out after the console release is completely and totally awful (which sadly does happen).

            So, am I suggesting you console lovers convert to the way of the PC? H-E-double hockey sticks no.  Sony and Microsoft both realize that their current consoles are rapidly approaching retirement age, and will have to come out with something new in the next couple of years (Microsoft, for it’s part, has been spreading rumors about a new console for several years), and Nintendo has already announced the launch of its hilariously titled Wii-U.  Newer technology means improved graphics and mechanics that could hopefully compete with most computers, so right now, it’s a matter of holding out.  At the same time, it’s a matter of money.

            If you were to run out and buy a computer for gaming, a machine with decent hardware and software can easily run up to $2k, and that’s before graphic cards and other mods to make it run better.  Even the cheaper computers will run up a bill of several hundred dollars, and all this is before you even go out and purchase the games.

            A used 360, on the other hand, will typically run about $100-200.  The PS2 can be purchased from Gamestop for a whopping $60.  And most of the games for these consoles are a few years old, so their price has depreciated faster than a used car.  I went out the other day to buy a replacement Dark Cloud game for my PS2, and it cost me all of 6 dollars.  That, more than anything else, is the hook that gets and keeps people on consoles and not PCs.  A console and its games are cheaper, and thus are more enticing to the average consumer and casual gamer (which may contribute to the elitist attitude of PC gamers, now that I think about it).  This isn’t to say a console is always budget friendly; Playstation 3s still run over $300 in most places, and I dare you to find a hard copy of FFVII that is under $40.  But overall, the price range of consoles makes them more readily available to the market than PCs, so more people will use them.  On an unrelated note, I would like to take this opportunity to say that whether you get a PC or console, please buy new games, not used.  Designers make exactly $0 from the sale of used games, so what’s budget-friendly for you hurts the whole market and keeps us from getting better games.  I understand that some games have been out of print for years and your only hope is to buy used, but please exhaust all other options before resorting to this. Back to the point I was making.

            What it breaks down to is finding what works best for you.  If you’re financially stable and willing to drop a pretty penny for games, by all means get a PC.  If, on the other hand, you’re a poor college kid like me who’s trying to scrape by and considers ramen to be ambrosia from heaven, stick with consoles.  Video games are fun no matter what system you buy and play them on, so there’s no point in getting uppity about one being so much better than the other.  I still play my old Spyro games alongside the newest Final Fantasy, and graphics don’t bother me too much.  Figure out what you prefer, and don’t be an obnoxious you-know-what about it.

Thank you, Internet, for remembering

Submitted by sdgi222 on Fri, 06/10/2011 - 06:08 pm

Before I begin this blog entry, I have a confession to make.  I spend entirely too much time on the Internet.  I don’t really have a good excuse for it (although if you gave me about ten seconds I could probably think up a decent or mediocre reason), it just happens.  Even as I type this entry I have four tabs open on Firefox and I’m checking them like a conspiracy theorist checks his tinfoil hat; that is to say, frequently and with much paranoia that something has happened and I’m not aware of it.

On a certain level, I hate the Internet for this.  I spent four hours outside at a nice picnic today, eating sun-warmed food and breathing air that was neither cooled by an air-conditioning unit nor stank of food left by coworkers in the office fridge, yet as soon as the picnic was over I had to hurry back to my desk and open those four tabs to make sure all was still well and good.  Yet as much as I loathe this wretched creation of man for intertwining itself so closely in my life and workplace that I can never hope to escape its foul clutches for more than a few hours at a time, I realize that deep down I truly love the Internet, for the simple reason that it remembers what I would otherwise forget.

A few weeks ago, for some reason or other an old television show by the name of Animaniacs came up in conversation.  This was a show that I’d watched a bit as a child, but it had been cancelled before I could truly get into it.  On a whim, I looked up some of the old clips on Youtube and watched such classics as The Ballad of Magellan and Wacko’s World.  Then I watched them again.  And again.  And again.  After all these years of separation, it was wonderful to see the hilarious antics I’d found so enthralling as a child, only now I was capable of catching all the double entendres and adult humor that had completely soared over my head back then.

The next time I visited Youtube, it recommended watching clips from Hey Arnold!, Angry Beavers, and Freakazoid.   Folks, these were shows that I hadn’t even thought about for a long, long time, and suddenly I was turning back the clock and laughing at the same jokes that had made me chuckle so long ago.

Most recently, I acquired Netflix and began watching anime after work.  I’ve always liked anime, but over the past few years my willingness to take the time to watch a show slowly but surely decreased, until at last I simply wasn’t watching anything.  Yet with Netflix’s help, I turned back the clock and, for a few brief hours, was a kid on my grandma’s couch, wearing a loose and itchy uniform as I clung to a pillow tucked beneath my chin, eyes wide and only blinking when my vision went blurry from the pupils drying out.  There was laughter and joy, screams and tears, anger and fear and catharsis for so much that had been missing for so long.

I tell you this not to bore you with a tale you’d much rather go without hearing, but to remind you not to forget as I once did.  Can you recall what games or toys you played with in the schoolyard?  Do you remember what your personal after-school ritual was, be it dive in front of a TV for your favorite program or grind away at your homework with a hawk-like mother watching attentively from across the room?  How long has it been since you recalled the décor of the bedroom of your youth, or what clothing was stored in the confines of your closet?  Were you picky about whether your parents bought Hunt’s or Heinz ketchup?

We live in an age where to forget and move on to something shiny and new is the norm.  Yet as our toys become sleeker and more expensive, the Internet which we frequent with the new toys both changes and stays the same.  As new information floods the web, it does not replace or destroy old data, but rather moves it away from our immediate view.  It is always there, waiting patiently for someone to recall an old movie star, or inquire about a baseball statistic, or like me, go hunting for a bit of nostalgia in the form of TV shows.  The information put on the Internet can be mirrored, copied, and otherwise preserved on hundreds of different sites in numerous and clever ways.  Unlike its human users, the web does not forget.

So if you have a moment today, think back on an event or item from your childhood and Google it. Enjoy the nostalgia trip.

What the PSN breech means for you

Submitted by sdgi222 on Tue, 05/17/2011 - 01:11 pm

As some of you may or may not be aware, the PlayStation Network was hacked several weeks ago, resulting in 77 million users having their names, usernames, passwords, and addresses stolen, among other things.

Look at that number: 77 million.  That’s a greater population than most countries in the world.  How in heaven’s name did a group of hackers manage to gather all that data?  It turns out that Sony thought it would be a good idea to store all their users’ personal information as plain text.  Plain text is infamous for being vulnerable and insecure; sort of like a child using their hands to cover up something they don’t want the teacher to see, only for her to brush them out of the way moments later.  They did have the decency to encrypt credit card data, but this gaping hole in users’ security has done massive amounts of damage to Sony’s PR (for example, Japan still won’t let the network come back online in their country).

So, how does this relate to those of you lucky enough to escape this fiasco?  Stop for a moment, and think about these questions.

1. How many websites do I frequent and use the same password?

2. How many websites have some form of personal info?

3. Which websites log me in with my Facebook/Myspace info instead of a unique username and password?

4. How easy would it be for someone to answer my security questions?

To be fair, the poor little human brain has difficulty remembering a dozen different usernames and passwords, and security questions seem pretty straightforward.  But comfort is no excuse when there are programs that can test over 10,000 possible passwords an hour (to put that in perspective, there’s less than 250,000 words currently in use by the English language). So, aside from the informative info videos you can find a senator or concerned police officer giving online, what can you do to keep yourself safe?

First, know that unless it’s a website like Ebay or Citibank online, you really don’t need to give out accurate information as to your real name or address.  Most websites I frequent are perfectly fine with me being Reginald Haberdashery, who lives at 1313 Dead End Drive in Townsville. I also recommend combining random strings of numbers with any street name from Monopoly. If it asks for a zip code, Google any random five digits and see what state you wind up with. 

Secondly, know that some websites really, REALLY don’t need to know every little detail about your life.  Take Facebook for instance.  Imagine that someone got hold of your password or, heaven forbid, you left yourself logged in at the library or at home where anyone could hop on.  What data about you would they see?  Is it absolutely necessary to say what school you go to, where you live, how old you are, etc., when everyone who you know will probably already know most of those tidbits?  People will “Facebook you” already to try and learn about potential dates, so that right there ought to be an indication that we’ve gotten a little too cozy posting personal data to a public venue.  Be careful.

Thirdly, be creative with the passwords.  I’m not saying combine your dog’s name with your birthday; that’s kid’s stuff any hacker could get from Googling your Facebook profile and photos (see what I mean?) No, I mean really out there, where did you come up with that creative.  Think back to the class that broke your 4.0 GPA.  What was the course?  Who taught it?  What year did you take it?  Combining these bits of data is meaningless to anyone else, but it’s something you can remember because it directly affected you and only you.  Other good passwords are sport scores with the player who made the winning point on your old high school team, your favorite shampoo and what you wistfully remember paying for it prior to the economy tanking, and how many licks Mr. Owl needs to take to get the center of a Tootsie pop.

Finally, NEVER be direct with answers to your security questions, no matter how obscure they may seem to be.  Let’s say that you pick the question, “Who was my first boyfriend?”  That was back in freshman year of high school, and you haven’t spoken to the guy in years!  No one will ever guess who it was, and your data is safe for another night. Or it would be, if I didn’t know you dated John Doe.  Maybe I found that in a yearbook, maybe we went to the same high school and I remember, maybe you mentioned it in a Facebook post; it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that I know the answer, I got in, I changed your password and the security question, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

So, how to avoid this sort of disaster?  It’s actually quite easy. Let’s say that you once again choose the question, “Who was my first boyfriend?” The answer is John Doe, and it would be tricky to try and say it was someone else, so we can’t use another ex.  But let’s say that you and John had a very messy breakup, and years later you still think he’s kind of a jerk.  So, the answer to the question is now, “Jerkface Jerkenstein.”  You’ll remember because you consider him to be a total jerk, but unless you repeatedly address him as such, no one will figure this out (bonus points for not using words that are considered actual words by spellcheck, since most password crackers need way more time time running random letter patterns instead of nice, whole words found in the dictionary).  What about, "Who was your favorite high school teacher?"  Think about what book you read that influenced you the most at that age, and write down the author’s name.  "What was your first car?"  Call it by its old nickname, like "my baby" or "the party wagon!"

The point is, it’s as easy to keep some data hidden as it is for others to break in and steal that information.  Just be careful, be private, and for goodness’ sake, stop posting every last detail about your life to Facebook.