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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

The 17th Cucalorus film festival is nearing the end of its 4-day run in Wilmington. It’s a wide-ranging assortment of mostly small and independent films that brings together a pretty diverse crowd of old and new Wilmington, film students, industry craftspeople and (perhaps best of all) the filmmakers themselves. Like all good festivals, there’s way too much to take in, so you either plan excruciatingly or just kind of stumble into things. We chose the latter, and were richly rewarded.

The one big ticket we’d heard about was We Need to Talk about Kevin, a hit at the Cannes film festival. It’s a disturbingly intense story of a mother who, try as she might to construct a ‘normal’ life for her family, knows in her heart that something is really wrong with her son – and perhaps her. Tilda Swinton’s icy coolness is perfect for the part; the sound and scene design, non-linear story line and terrific acting add up to a kind of suburban horror story — but one that’s not supernatural, which makes it all the more chilling.

The 5 films grouped together as Zaragoza Shorts were a somewhat unexpected treat. I went in thinking that if only one or two of them were any good the evening would be well spent, but each in its own way was memorable. Even better, the filmmakers of 4 of them were present and spoke at a Q&A afterwards. We saw:

  • Jesus was a Commie, based on a magazine piece by, and starring, Matthew Modine. A meditation on non-violent revolution and how far we have gone astray from the teachings of Jesus. Really more of an illustrated essay – but at least intriguingly illustrated, and thoughtful.
  • Gilded Age Gladiator, an animated story of the 19th-century boxer John L. Sullivan. Coming in the week of Joe Paterno’s firing from Penn State, it was a timely story of the symbiotic intersection of money, media and sports.
  • Waiting Room. This film (less than 10 minutes long) is about – well, it’s about a man who waits in a room. Powerful and suspenseful results from a very spare minimalist esthetic. Not one frame, not one sound is wasted, nor more than needed. Here, more would have been less.
  • Manhattan Melody. Holly is a bored, unfulfilled aspiring actress in New York City, whose romantic dreams erupt from interior monologues to song. A chance encounter with potential danger seems to offer an escape. Will it?
  • I’m Coming Over. Perhaps the most off-beat of the night, and the funniest – a sweet postcard to the filmmaker’s adopted home town. Is there something wrong with your life? Is it possible the solution involves lumberjacks and chainsaws? Only, we learn, if you’re not clumsy. And what’s the deal with the typewriters and telephones?

I realized in writing this that it’s been a long time since I posted. I must have been spending a lot of my tech time with Facebook and/or my new smartphone. It’s easy to post to Facebook from the phone. I should try to post to the blog from it.

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Yes, I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 at an 11:30 am show today. Curiously, there were only 5 people in the theater. I really debated as to whether I wanted to see it in 3D or not.

The problem with most of the 3D movies I’ve seen is that the technology doesn’t mix well with the type of hyper-fast edits that most movies use today. When each frame moves an object 10 feet or more in front of you, the movement scrambles the brain’s 3D wiring.  Or my brain’s, anyway.

That was certainly true for every single one of the 3D trailers I had to sit through today. I was not impressed. Or maybe it’s just the projection method. U2 3D was terrific in Imax, not so good in standard 3D.

But HPDH2 made very effective, and subtle, use of 3D. Much better than in an earlier film (Half-Blood Prince), where you kept the glasses off for most of the film and put them on at the end. This one is 3D all the way through. Under David Yates’ direction, the cinematography by Eduardo Serra is incredibly rich. For once, the 3D actually helped make me feel as if I was there.

It’s a great ending to a great series, both of books and movies. I was exhilarated.

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A few days ago the South Carolina legislature overrode Governor Nikki Haley’s veto of funding for the SCETV Commission — that’s both public TV and radio in SC.

The legislative leadership apparently thought that they had assurances the funding would not be vetoed. For fans of political drama, here’s a remarkable video of the House Majority Leader, Kenny Bingham (R), taking the Governor to task (and getting cheers from the House).

Nice that he expresses compassion for the people who work at SCETV. And as for “There is no educational value in the second kick of a mule” — words to live by.

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Another geek alert:

Last time I wrote about digitizing LPs. Here’s my newest techno toy: the Zoom H2 digital recorder. I used this on a recent trip to Virginia for the Wayne Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition.

My sister Jean, a musician and educator who lives near Wayne in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia had invited me and I decided to test the H2 as a field recorder. I was really impressed. I used it for a story I later did for WHQR. You can find the story, and some of my original files, here.

With an 8G card, the H2 can record about 12 hours of stereo in WAV format, which is far less lossy than mp3. Of course, for the web and for many purposes mp3s are just fine; I use a Mac program called Amadeus to convert WAV to mp3. More on Amadeus later.

The H2 actually uses 4 mikes in pairs to record sound. You can direct the sound recording to the front stereo (facing you as you look at the controls), rear stereo (facing away), 2-channel front and rear, and 4-channel surround.

I quickly realized that for audio production I got best results from the 4-channel. In this mode the H2 actually makes simultaneous recordings from the front 2-channel and rear 2-channel. You can choose whichever one you like, or both. The front version takes in a 90-degree stereo field, good for a small group of musicians, for example. The rear setting’s field is 120 degrees, better for a larger group.

For my music recordings, even though I recorded in 4-channel mode, I only used the rear track since I was recording a fairly large group and didn’t need anything from my direction. What really fascinated me, though, was the way it worked for my interview with Erynn Marshall of the Blue Ridge Music Center.

I held the mike about halfway between the 2 of us, so the front channel got my voice and the rear channel got hers. All around us was the ambient noise of people cleaning up after a concert by Doc Watson.

You can see what this looks like in this Amadeus wave file. Originally these were two separate files; I copied and pasted one into the other, after clicking “Add New Stereo Track.” So now there are 2 stereo tracks here. My voice is in the 2 upper channels, hers in the lower 2. You can easily see who speaks when.

What’s remarkable is that the makers of the H2 thought to flip the stereo image between front and back, so the surrounding ambience is correct even though they point 180 degrees opposite each other.

We’re still not at a satisfactory stereo image, though. So I click on the upper track (my voice) and click “Merge With Next Track”. Voila! one single track with nice stereo ambience, and both of our voices in the middle.

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True story: I bought 4 old long-playing albums at Goodwill and decided to digitize them. When I tried to find an LP cleaner at Radio Shack the clerk said, “What’s an LP?”

Some months ago I had bought a USB turntable for $50 at Costco. I had previously digitized cassettes, but never LPs. I was glad to find the Chad Mitchell Trio’s “Singin’ Our Mind” album again — most of those tracks are not available as files that I can find, and I have a nostalgic affection for the group. So lacking a cleaner (thanks, Radio Shack), I literally washed the LPs in warm soapy water, patted them dry and finished with a hair dryer.

The turntable setup was ridiculously easy and I downloaded the albums into Amadeus Pro for the Mac without trouble. As you might guess, all these albums had some small pops and clicks, and most of one side of the Mitchell album had a huge scratch. I used Amadeus’ Interpolate routine to go through and try to eliminate as many of the pops as I could. Here’s a screen shot of “Maladyozhenaya” in Amadeus before using Interpolate (click for a larger version):

Every one of those spikes is a major click. To use Interpolate, you have to go and locate each one of them; as you can imagine, a tedious process. Here’s a shot of what it looked like at about 80% complete:

Some were harder to fix than others. I had to fiddle with Amadeus’s display a bit to locate the 2 big clicks on the far left. The results aren’t perfect; there are places where I think I grabbed too wide a swath of audio and as a result Interpolate suppresses things a bit. But to my nostalgia-tinged ears, it’s much more listenable:

Clip of Maladyozhenaya before Interpolation

Clip of Maladyozhenaya after Interpolation

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Last fall I presented a “Life After PowerPoint” workshop for my pals at the GCASTD conference (Greater Cincinnati chapter of American Society for Training and Development). Since I typically see a lot of presentations, it was something very much enjoyed doing.

One of the participants contacted me recently and asked me to update it for a group of project managers who use PowerPoint a lot. Since I’m now in Wilmington, I’ll have to do it long-distance. My first webinar!

Anyhoo, in researching for the update, I ran across an interesting comparison between presentations given by Steve Jobs of Apple and Michael Dell of Dell Computers. Here’s a screen shot from a Jobs presentation:

and here’s one from Dell:

The blog where I found this notes that “Steve wants the audience to listen to him tell the story, rather than read the slides…Michael’s would work well if it were designed to be send to someone who would not have the benefit of hearing the story live, but next to Steve’s slides, they just seem cluttered.”

Yes, I’m a Mac guy. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s right.

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Mennonite farm from Wikimedia Commons. Mennonites are good guys, not spammers

I have a Google Alert watch for ‘WHQR’. I was curious when I saw this notice in my email:

What Are the Benefits of Donating My Car to WHQR?. Although the option has been around for a number of years, many charitable organizations, such as WHQR-FM …

The notice provides a link to an article on the site ‘eHow.com’. I’m not going to provide that link here, for reasons which I hope will become clear.

This struck me as odd: why would a 3rd party bother to write about donating cars to WHQR? The article itself is pretty generic and the information isn’t essentially wrong; we do receive, and value, donations of cars.

I Googled eHow.com and started seeing messages about “content farms” — a new term for me. eHow is apparently owned by Demand Media. Their business model is to churn out thousands of pages per day of mostly recycled press releases from all kinds of businesses and organizations.

The purpose is to get a lot of page views, move to the top of Google rankings, and make tons of money from ads. Google has moved to quarantine some of the more flagrant ones, but it’s hard to see how this can be stopped completely.

Some of the sites writing about this refer to it as spam. But some of them appear to be possibly a little spammy themselves. I am going to link to this one, which is useful but essentially recycles material from an earlier post at the same location.

Maybe everyone knows about this. I didn’t. Another example of crappy stuff beating out useful stuff on the web. Sigh.

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