Thursday, December 26, 2013

iMovie, We Hardly Knew Ye

So you may be wondering why I am writing a post the day after Christmas. Let me tell you. My daughter was (correction, still is) helping her boyfriend put together a series of DVDs of his family movies that had been on VHS for Christmas presents. Which meant, of course, that I was helping them.

First off, we used El Gato's EyeTV 250 Plus to convert the VHS tapes to digital format. Next, we converted the resulting MPG2 files to MOVs to bring into iMovie. Later, I found out I could directly export from the EyeTV software right to an iMovie '09 project. Oh well, live and learn. Anyway, so we imported them into iMovie. Since the recent promotion of Apple's new and free upgrade to OS X Mavericks, all the iLife and iWork applications also were already updated to their new versions. And that, my friends is where the story actually begins.

"Streamlined, simplified and easier" for first-time users! How about "feature stripped, crippled and annoying" for previous users? Because of Apples' abandoning of optical drives in their current computer line-up, they felt it necessary to remove features related to disc burning in their movie editing app. I mean really, who needs to burn DVDs anymore when you have YouTube and Facebook and Vimeo? Ah, that would be me, and probably thousands more who want to share their videos with others not with the current social network crowd.

So, no sharing function with iDVD (iDVD, what's that?). No direct burning to disc. No chapter markers for creating disc menus. Seriously? If the video needs chapter markers it's too long to upload and too long to hold people's attention? C'mon, I may be getting old, but I don't think the demise of the DVD is here just yet. And to completely abandon it for, from what I can tell from all the press, is merely aesthetics, is ludicrous! Who cares how thin an iMac is? It's a desktop! My current 27" iMac with optical drive looks just fine, thank you very much. And while Apple is making its current line of computers svelte, it's making the owners' physical desktops littered with keyboards, trackpads, mice, external DVD burners and hard drives. Yeah, baby!

What did I do next? Went to my trusty Time Machine backup and restored a copy of iMovie '09 to my optical drive-equipped iMac. Ahhh, that's much better. So much for upgrades. I don't think I have ever complained this much about an Apple related product. Now is the winter of my discontent. What about you, are you feeling left out in the cold by Apple?

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, November 04, 2013

It's Free, But is it for Me?

My pastor loves free stuff. Free food, t-shirts, movie tickets, you name it. He happens also to be an iMac owner (after much poking and prodding). I may not be as gung-ho about it, but I certainly find it hard to pass up a good deal and and free, well, is free. So I went ahead and installed the latest version of OS X (10.9) called “Mavericks.” Question of naming conventions aside, I was able to simply use the App Store to download and install it right onto my desktop and laptop.

Whoops, scratch that. Simple to download, yes. But the install wouldn’t happen until I quit the installer and opened it again. Why? Not sure. But then it installed pretty easily. Do I need to remind you to back up your files before doing any of this? Remember what happened last time you tried to do this? ’Nuff said.

So yeah. Installed. How is it? Well, unspectacular for the most part. Don’t get me wrong. That’s a good thing. Better than spectacularly bad. It behaves very much like Mountain Lion in most respects, with a couple of exceptions. After a week or so of regular use, I have experienced two changes – one good, one annoying.

Tabbed Finder Windows. Cool. You don’t have to have a dozen windows plastered all over your screen. CMD-T and open a new tab in the same window. Navigate to another directory, click between tabs, move between tabs, copy between tabs. Nice. I also notice that you can sort in open and save dialogs, also pretty cool. Now you can more easily find stuff in those instances.

The Eternal Unread. No, not undead, unread. My GMail account in my Mail app now permanently shows over 50 unread messages. But they aren’t there. Feels like I am being haunted by SPAM from emails past. Not super critical, but boy, it does get quite annoying. Oddly enough, this problem only shows on my desktop, not on my laptop where I have the same accounts setup. Apple claims they made changes to adapt to Google’s new way of handling mail, but obviously the two are not simpatico at the moment. It’s the biggest complaint I’ve heard so far, so I am hoping it will be addressed (unintended pun there) shortly.

Apple is touting both improved memory handling and battery life under Mavericks. I don’t care about battery life on my desktop, and I don’t travel much with my laptop, so it’s hard to judge, but it certainly doesn’t seem any worse than before. And the memory management may allow me to run more apps at once but it doesn’t necessary make things faster. And on my older iMac, it seems to a just a little slower running than before.

Another thing I have noticed is sometimes the speed of directory listings slows. Click on a folder and you have to wait many seconds before the contents are displayed. Blech. Again, not a deal breaker, but it does interrupt the flow of your work.

In regard to application conflicts, I have been keeping my apps up-to-date using MacUpdate Desktop or the built-in updated mechanisms in the apps themselves and the only things I’ve really had to do is reinstall JRE and X11. It was a one-time thing, but it would have been nice if it had noticed and left it alone or gave me the option to automatically reinstall. Even my copy of CS5.5 works fine without upgrades.

One bonus is that in most cases your iLife and iWork apps, if you have them, all get free upgrades. So if you use them, you can get all the latest features. iPhoto libraries and iMovie files will need updating but that’s always been the case. And it’s nice to have the latest sharing options and smoother scrolling.

Overall the experience hasn't been bad and the advantage now is that all my Apple machines are running the same version of the OS, which hasn’t happened for a while. It’s now easier to switch between machines and simpler to maintain them. If you find that a convenient thing, maybe you should too. Because, you know... it’s free.

So tell me. Have you installed Mavericks? What was your experience? Share with the whole class, please.

Monday, August 26, 2013

It’s time to Get Smart (phone). Or is it?

Ah, you've arrived. Agent 86 here. I see Agent 99 delivered the message. I always liked her... Anyway, come closer. Enter the Cone of Silence with me. WE NEED TO DISCUSS SOMETHING IMPORTANT. Oh, sorry, Chief. We need to discuss something important. Agents of KAOS have been infiltrating Control and replacing all our shoe phones with these new "smart" phones. What do you mean, "What's wrong with that?" It's a conspiracy! Nothing beats a good shoe phone, they're inexpensive and there's no need for a data plan. Why do you think they call it a "plan"? KAOS plans to ruin us financially!

And what's more, they do what they were designed for – walk and talk. What else do you need them to do? Browse the web, send email? My tablet, laptop and desktop are more than sufficient to handle those tasks. But what about texts? Texts? Are we reverting to the stone age? Phones are for verbal communications. If I want to send you a written note, I'll send you an email or mail you a letter, without the need for adding an apology for spelling at the end. When Agent 99 and I are out on a mission, we actually speak to one another.

Watch video? Play games? Seriously, on that size screen? I'd go blind doing that. I know, I know, everyone has one. Well, except for me and my Thom McCan's. Good shoe leather, and not a bad phone, to boot. Well if you simply must consider one of those things, at least get smart about it. Use this interactive table supplied by the Wall Street Journal to estimate your costs.

Agent 86 out.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

(Anatomy of a) Gag Reflex

Greetings Crimefighters!

Slaving away here in the Batcave, sometimes you forget about time slipping, slipping, slipping into the future. Yet it does. So here we are, months from my previous post. ***Thanks a lot, Alfred, for not making me aware of the time (but thanks for the watercress sandwiches, they were great!).*** Would it help to tell you that I have had 3 posts started but never completed? No, I guess it wouldn't. However, now I have one that you might find interesting.

Our pastor was at the pulpit a couple of weeks back and mentioned that sometime near the end of Paul the Apostle's life, Nero had begun his reign of terror, mostly of the Christians, whom he persecuted to no end. He also mentioned Nero's wife, who liked to, of all things, take baths in donkey's milk (Nero maintained a herd for just this purpose) and also used (gak!) crocodile mucous to keep her skin soft. Pastor Phil, never to leave a pun unused, phoned me the following week and asked if I could come up with something as a joke, seeing Mother's Day was approaching, using that little tidbit of info.

I hemmed and hawed (as I usually do) complaining that it was the middle of the week, I had to pick my daughter up from school, yadda, yadda, yadda. So he graciously said only if I had the time. I hung up the phone and ideas started to pour into my head. Divine inspiration? Quite possibly. The next day my work load was light, so I started kicking the idea around. We had done some made up TV spots in the past and thought this might be the way to go. I don't have a cast, crew and soundstage at my disposal, so maybe some kind of slideshow with a voiceover.

Mentally, I made a checklist:

  1. Products
  2. Images
  3. Script
  4. Voiceover
  5. Assembly
1. Products. Well, got those. Donkey's milk and crocodile mucous. Blech. However, they needed branding.

2. Images. Google image search to the rescue. Nero came to mind more than the wife, he was instantly recognizable and there were some key images associated with him. The laurel crown, fiddling, Rome burning, etc. I searched for laurel crowns, Ceasar and Nero. What did I find? Newman's Own Caesar Dressing. OMG! See where this is going?

2.5) I found some great images of containers I could use for the products, one of a decorative milk bottle from Crate & Barrel and another generic cold cream container. I used Adobe Fireworks, my favorite web graphic application, and silhouetted the items and removed any labels and such. Grabbed an image from the Newman's Own Caesar Dressing bottle, and away we go!

3. Script. Who knew a Communications degree from BU would come in so handy (well actually I did, I use it all the time)? I sat down and wrote a late-night TV marketing script. I sent a couple of images to a few people for review and got some good feedback, even a headline for one of the slides and wrote that into the script.

4. Voiceover. Everyone says I have a great voice for radio or as an announcer, so I put that into practice. Did a couple of takes and edited out the bad stuff using Felttip's SoundStudio, my go-to app for audio editing since SoundEdit 16 (back in Macromedia days).

5. Assembly. Now most of the time I would have used iMovie to assemble the pieces for something like this and for the purposes of this project, it was a little overkill. So instead I went into my folder full of apps and chose FotoMagico. Using this app was like the hitting the Staples button (that was easy).

Dragged in the images, dragged in the voiceover, added markers right in the app for the slide timing and chose the transitions. Then exported the whole thing as a MP4. Piece of cake. See for yourself:

And that, my friends, is the anatomy of a gag reflex. Have a good one.