Produce the body.

Friday, September 29th, 2006

The internet(s) are abuzz this morning with a flurry of accumulated outrage related to the Senate debate on what’s being called “the torture bill”—the bill to authorize Military Commissions in such a way that gives the President emperor-like power to define what is torture and establish procedures that circumvent the centuries-old right of the accused to confront his accuser.

I’ll just leave you with a little auxiliary reading. First, of all, Molly Ivins, as she so often does, gets it right.

Illinois senator Barack Obama made some common-sense remarks about what’s really bad about this legislation. It’s sloppy, it’s steeped in political hypocracy, and it does lasting harm to centuries-old agreed common law.

Outside the political bubble, Star Trek actor turned celebrity blogger Wil Wheaton speaks with a clear, simple voice about the pain of having a representative government making these kinds of bad choices in our name. The responsibility, indeed, ultimately falls on all of our shoulders.

And finally, Vermont senator Patrick Leahy (one of my heroes in Congress) says “we have a profoundly important and dangerous choice to make today.”

He says:

Habeas corpus provides a remedy against arbitrary detentions and constitutional violations. It guarantees an opportunity to go to court, with the aid of a lawyer, to prove one’s innocence. As Justice Scalia stated in the Hamdi case, “The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive.” The remedy that secures that most basic of freedoms is habeas corpus.

I can’t help but flash back to a generation of my fellow elementary school classmates looking out the window, chewing gum, or falling asleep as we were taught this very fundamental civics lesson.

And today, those grown-up kids’ hands are on the wheel (in our name!) as the machinery moves forward to dismantle this fundamental protection.

Monica and John, highly defined.

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

It’s probably just as well that I never saw WXIA’s first night of broadcasting local news in high definition, but by happy coincidence with yesterday’s post, WSB, Atlanta’s ABC affiliate “went high def”, and I got a chance to watch the shakeout on their 11 pm broadcast.

First of all, they appear to have picked up an animation package (the ‘our logo is tumbling out of control’ look the kids love these days) from the same folks WXIA has used…except theirs is blue everywhere WXIA’s is red. The exact same kind of busy little doodads off in the corners of the HD frame to distract you from the fact that there’s no other important content there.

Secondly, there were (inevitably) some technical glitches. They left anchor Monica Kaufman stranded, standing alone on camera for some 30 seconds, during an extended reporter package intro where they apparently couldn’t get the reporter in the live shot’s video. (I don’t think you’re supposed to do that with the diva of Atlanta television. She handled it quite professionally, though.) There were numerous incursions into the 16 x 9 shot of floor manager’s hands cuing and we got to see the details of how Chuck Dowdle stacks the green pages of his script (right, bottom.)

I also think the field photographers are going to have to get used to shooting in 16 x 9 and protecting a good shot in 4 x 3. But that’s just part of practicing making mo’better.

More importantly, though, many of the weather graphics were created with elements that were chopped off the right side of the standard-def picture (I had my trusty SD Sony on as well.) As you see in the top two pictures on the right, aspect ratios can be a pain, but you gotta respect them…or you get ‘Highs Tomorro’. If you’re designing for both resolutions and aspects, you have to think about font size…what looks delicate and classy in HD looks mushy and unreadable in SD. Expect some tweaks.

There aren’t that many local stations doing HD news nationwide…now two of them in our down, next-door neighbors on Peachtree Street, are giving it a shot. O, pioneers…

Muchos pixels de MPEG2.

Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

Cory Doctorow may be right when he says that ultimately HDTV will be bad for consumers—and Hollywood—if DRM content (or the people who pay the creators for that content) are allowed to dictate how and under what circumstances it’s played…but right now, the free, over-the-air broadcasts of high definition television, as brought into our homes via the tiny Miglia/EyeTV TVMini HD box are quite addictive.

We’ve been sucking in many many pixels and watching them, Tivo-style, on either our venerable standard-def Sony TV, or, in much better quality, on our small but pixel-rich black MacBook, which is quite happy taking a high-definition stream recorded in my office, via an ethernet cable to the attic, where our wifi transmitter sprays it out and around our house, and into the waiting wifi antenna of the MacBook. I can’t even begin to explain how many transformations of packets this is, but the reality is that it ends up being pretty much the same rich, colorful, high-quality collection of bits representing picture and sound that left the edit room in Los Angeles.

Just as a small example, take a look at this image…it’s three unscaled crops from three full HTDV 1920 x 1080 pixel frames from last night’s Gilmore Girls. These are not paricularly close up shots…that is, there’s a lot more in the frame…but look how much is there. Particularly notice the white points of light in the actresses’ eyes that cinematographers work hard to accentuate…work that’s totally lost to standard def television.

Not only is this a richer experience (16 x 9 is such a lovely aspect ratio) but it solves a number of pesky problems. Take Gilmore Girls (yes, we watch it, we enjoy it, so there you are), now available in Atlanta on the alleged CW network, which in point of actual fact means that it’s broadcast on WUPA (analog) Channel 69, which doesn’t come in well over-the-air and, ironically, is placed on our Comcast analog cable channel 10, which suffers from interference from WXIA’s analog transmitter (not far from our house.) So the picture sucks in both places.

But! There’s also WUPA-DT, the digital television signal for that same channel, free, and over-the-air, and in…high definition! So that means we really only have once choice, and it’s a good one. And it gives us the option of watching House, broadcast at the same time, in plain old Comcast analog SD…although, damn, it too looks a lot cleaner in HD 16 x 9.

Well, I guess we could always buy a second TVMini HD (the software supports multiple units!) and record both shows, but that brings me back to a..well, a bit management problem.

Just as people with Tivos that have accumulated lots of shows that they’ve seen, I need to have a little discipline and say goodbye to these shows after we’ve seen them once…because, well, they are huge files, and they’re beginning to choke my 500GB (half a terabyte!) main hard drive on my G5. Gilmore Girls with commercials trimmed: 5.6GB. Studio 60: 4.7 GB. Both more data than will fit on a single 4.6GB DVD recordable.

So it’s probably better that we get used to viewing these as a stream of fine entertainment that flows into our house…and then flows into the desktop trash can without too much delay. That is, unless of course, I export tinier versions to my iPod…

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom!?

Monday, September 25th, 2006

I mean, seriously?

I love Photoshop. It’s a (one-sided) love affair that has lasted 16 years.

I think Lightroom is amazing and has buckets of potential.

I think whatever marketing person made the decision to rename Lightroom needs to take a long walk on the beach and reconsider.

And then re-study what it means to create, protect, and preserve a brand.

And then, barring all else, allow me to whack him or her on the head with a can of Tab. Not Tab Energy, plain old fashioned 1960s Tab.

A cold one.


Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

There is a point where the heat and humidity of summer can no longer retain its grasp on our neighborhood, and the oppressive Augustness (which has often stretched into September) relinquishes its hold. Cool, fresh air blows through Atlanta while the sun seems to recalibrate itself to a more attractive angle so we may better appreciate what we have.

This is that point for 2006, I’m here to say. The afternoon light was beautiful, and it felt great to be out in it.

The sewer, storm drain, and water line crews who have bound up our street and most of the surrounding ones in their web of orange cones and diesel-belching trench-diggers seem to have picked other targets for now, although there was one drive home Monday that involved about 8 detours (or as Sammy likes to say, desviaciones) of a very, very ad hoc sort.

And inside, more vague lights at the ends of oppressive corridors. I’ve made great progress on desk disentanglement—processing vast stacks of receipts, bills, and stuff that must be reconciled in September into their various database entries, mailed envelopes and file folders that make our household life seem orderly and simple.

The stacks of books (at bedside, in my office, pretty much everywhere) that I’ve been really, really wanting to get to, including a couple by family and friends, has settled down nicely, and my brain feels somehow liberated by all the new ideas, images, and life stories.

And finally, Apple Computer made it right when, after almost a month of refusing to give us back our 12 inch Powerbook, shipped off to hospital (apparently in Nashville, who knew?) with a dead DVD drive, a Lenox Square genius bar denizen gave their cranky RDF generator a whack and we were handed a shiny…no, wait, matte-y new black MacBook, which seems to have several times the processing power of its predecessor. Smiles all around.

This is how the second half of September feels to me. Maybe it’s all influenced by my relief in getting past sad national anniversaries, maybe it’s a overarching feeling of ‘letting go’ that completely comes from stuff I’m processing inside…or maybe it is as simple as the rejuvenative effects of way-less-humid air in sparkling afternoon light.

Stay classy.

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

Well, as in days almost vanished in the mists of time, we gathered around the TV set, our little family of two, and watched the next iteration of what Big Network Television thinks is a roundup of the day’s news. We saw Couric standing, Couric sitting behind a big desk that knew the day’s stock closings, Couric seated comfortably in front of what seemed to be a visual history of the CBS ‘eye’ icon chatting to the NYT’s Tom Friedman as the camera dollied nervously back and forth.

We saw some large stories (the change at the top of Ford Motor Company and the report on the effects of toxics in the air at Ground Zero) dramatically reduced to single-sentence briefs and an almost rah-rah report on new oil finds in the gulf that felt (on most of the networks, actually) like some sort of coordinated PR message from the oil industry, the administration, and the car industry. We took a deep breath and spent a minute-twenty watching filmmaker Morgan Spurlock exercise his First Amendment rights. We saw pictures (ooh, exclusive!) of the Cruise-Holmes baby placed in the..uh, grand CBS News tradition (look, Douglas Edwards held up pictures of baby Prince Charles, so it’s like, OK!)

And finally, we witnessed what appeared to be chapter one of Katie Couric’s Quest for a Sign-off, again self-consciously placed in a historical context that streched from Murrow through Huntley, Brinkley, Cronkite, Rather…and the fictional Ted Baxter and Ron Burgundy (“Stay classy, San Diego!”)

All of that in about 21 minutes of program amidst almost ten minutes of commercials. (The dark blue here on our EyeTV timeline is content, the rest are the breaks.)


Will she be a nightly habit? My quick first reaction…I got a richer news meal from Charlie and the chunks of Brian I watched during the Katie breaks. And I’m still figuring the typography out (Couric’s Evening News seems to fit in the tradition of several shows this season that seem to have unlocked the big cabinet of any-damn-typeface-in-the-world and said “have at it!”) Also, she kept mentioning this ‘web site’ thingie where apparently much more news exists. I guess I’ll have to check that out too.

Oh, and at the end, the new CBS News slogan: “See it now. Anytime. Anywhere.” Ghosts of Murrow, indeed.

Choosing to tell a story.

Monday, September 4th, 2006

Monday morning, Labor Day, and our top story this morning—breaking news, in the modern misdefinition of the term, which doesn’t apparently mean “important” but it means “something we weren’t able to run into the ground yesterday”—is the death-by-stingray of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin.

Coverage of his death saturated the morning programs, and so I figured “well, holiday weekend, slow news day,” until I went online, spent 2 minutes, and looked at the queue of stories that, were I at the assignment desk, I would have wanted to get onto my show:

My point isn’t that the Irwin story is not news…it’s just not an item that should overwhelm the morning airwaves and block everything else out. It’s funny, when TV news got started, it was criticized for being a “headline service”—breadth with no depth. Now, we have a lack of breadth, but no depth, either…just endless repetition, and extensive mixing-in of non-nutritive fillers and foaming agents.

Both NBC ‘Today’ and CNN’s ‘Larry King’ have apparently chosen to use this as an excuse to run extensive amounts of two year old interviews with Irwin from back when he as accused of endangering his infant child by dangling him in the general vicinity of a croc. And showing us this will shed light on…what?

My TV producer friends, what would have happened if you peeled a minute—60 seconds—off the Irwin story to instead say “and here’s a quick summary of the day’s other news” and rattled off the stories above? Would we be better served, better informed, more ready to take on the day?

Well, 80% of the above links were from the Washington Post page 1 RSS feed (just on their front page alone!) and the rest were from NPR. That may tell you all you need to know about where to find news that truly feeds your head these days.

(By the way, I learned about Irwin right when I woke up from my number one news summarizer Sammy, and because the coffee didn’t kick in immediately I had the impression that she was telling me that guitarist Steve Earle had died in some sort of car accident involving a Corvette Stingray.)

Mmmm, coffee good.