The flow of work.

Monday, March 26th, 2007

My television design business used to be tied to the cycles of Federal Express and the costs of blank D2, Betacam, and Digital Betacam tape. Those days are largely…yet not completely…gone. If you had told me that my current project, a state-of-the-art traffic, weather, and community events channel for a really large phone company that has dipped its feet in the land of cable, if you told me that it would bring me back to the days in 1997 when I recorded high-quality animation via firewire to a tiny Sony camcorder and then rushed the tape off to the local FedEx, I’d express a healthy skepticism.

And if you added that in order to do the sports programming they’re planning on, I’d be forced to return to the not-so-halcyon times when I created elements for the Chyron Infinit (which used to be spelled, as I recall, with about eight exclamation points), I’d start running in the opposite direction.

And yet, this device (which showed such promise when I first heard Chyron’s VP of Engineering Roi Agneta describe it in an excited voice) and its half-baked implementation of the FTP protocol lives on, the bane of the existence of every TV graphic designer in the last 15 years or so.

It’s a fine enough character generator, but it uses a file format for its zip disks and 3 1/2″ floppies that no other machine, not Mac, nor PC, can read. There’s nothing Infi-neat about that.

Yes, I’m going through a busy period, and my mind is filled with this stuff, and I’m wondering why, exactly.

I could be railing about the administration or learning Ruby on Rails, but no, I’m rolling a (very tiny) tape, laying down color bars, and cut after cut of carefully hand-crafted animation. Just as I’ve done in one form or another all my adult life.

And we’ll use jet fuel to get it to Stamford, Connecticut in the wee hours tonight. There ought to be a better way. They are, after all, bits.

Canaries in the gears.

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

Geez, I would hate to be a librarian or a provider of web services/storage these days. You want to enable, empower others. Your government may call upon you to let them look at your folks’ private property at any time, and part of the law says—may say—hell, it’s hard to say these days—that you, the innocent intermediary, may not even tell your cherished client or user that their rights have been tromped on by the Feds.

These are awful times, in that way alone.

So how do you offer any reassurance at all? Well, one new approach seems to be steeped in that old deep-background j-school tradition…paraphrasing Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein, working out indirect signals from source to reporter: “so, if there’s a problem with the story, you just hang up now.” FBI informant: “got it?” Well, no, the secret nod and a wink were too complicated. Oh, yeah, sorry, bad 1970s flashback there.

The post-Patriot Act approach: a warrant canary. Yeah, as in a canary in a coal mine. An indicator, a flag in a flowerpot, that if things aren’t right, this textfile won’t be in this place with this high-tech key doing this kind of job anymore. It looks like these guys were the first to do it. It’s telling that they have to do it at all.

But I’m especially of a mind to appreciate an act of quiet yet strong legal defiance after watching Tom Morello (of, yes, you’re hipper than me, Rage Against the Machine fame) lay out the case for George Bush as hangable war criminal on Tavis Smiley…which I seldom watch, but it was one of those odd, off days. I’d never seen Morello talk about much of anything before, but I was impressed. In the pantheon of activist musicians (a crowded house), he stands tall. And he also seems to be (I shake my head in amazement), through accidents of background and choices far more decisive, blazing a trail for Barack Obama to follow…when he’s not playing old-timey twangy folk or chaotically flanged-out electric guitar.

Morello quotes Howard Zinn as saying “You can’t be neutral on a moving train,” and adds, “…this train is definitely moving in the wrong direction. So we can either sit in the dining car sipping cocktails, or we can throw something in the gears to try to stop it and turn it around.”

He says a lot more, too. Worth reading or listening to. And keep an eye on that canary, while you’re at it…the air’s getting more than a little stale around here.

More fun with the terminal.

Monday, March 5th, 2007

One of the joys of Mac OS X is that there’s this hugely powerful UNIX-based operating system lurking beneath the fancy GUI.

Came across this timely tidbit (here) today:

Want to see on which days your computer is planning to switch to daylight savings time and back in 2007?

Put this in your terminal window:

zdump -v US/Eastern | grep 2007

or for those in the pacific time zone:

zdump -v US/Pacific | grep 2007

…and if you’ve been updating your system regularly, your Mac should be hip to the fact that Daylight Savings Time changes this year earlier—on March 11th.

want to find out what the ‘zdump’ command does? Call up the UNIX ‘man’ (for ‘manual’) page:

man zdump

…which of course works for any UNIX command. I should probably post more of my accumulated terminal fun, because, you know, it’s fun.