Long may you run.

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010


Hey, I’ve been around for a while. I’ve seen Johnny Carson’s last show. Heck, I’ve seen Dick Cavett’s last show. I saw one or two of Tom Snyder’s last shows. (And I’m talking when they aired, when they were broadcast to an still fairly monolithic american tv viewing public.)

Conan O’Brien’s last Tonight Show, last night was a classy
and entirely on-key farewell.

The guy is creative, talented, smart, works hard, and seems to inspire loyalty in his colleagues and guests. You can’t ask for much more than that.

It was, in some ways, all the more compelling coming on after the, uh, George Clooney show—a prime-time two hour fundraiser for the earthquake victims in Haiti, which, aside from the considerable good charitable work, was a modern masterpiece of live television. The music, interlaced with simple, straight-to-the-camera pleas for help (delivered by a-list movie talent), seemed to be exactly what tone you’d hope would be struck after a bad couple of weeks in the world. ‘Hope for Haiti Now’ reminded me how elegant well-produced LIVE musical numbers can be when done with restraint (hey, no audience!) and style, in glorious high definition.

Me, I hope television continues to function as a common electronic hearth, every once in a while, for us all to gather in realtime and, uh, tweet about it. Last night was a good night to do both. And hey, no Jay Leno show at ten…they ran Dateline!

One chunk of Conan’s closing comments is getting a lot of note in the hours after, and deservedly so. After the comedy stylings of Steve Carrell and Tom Hanks, and after the chords of Neil Young’s “Long May You Run” (I know, eh?) and before the comedy chord stylings of Will Farrell and company performing “Free Bird”, the Host Of The Tonight Show said this:

“All I ask of you, especially young people…is one thing. Please don’t be cynical, I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”

I can’t disagree.

Almost in frame.

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Almost in frame.Pulled up steaks.Portrait w two cameras.Waxy brilliance.Detritus of the analog age.Piscine glow.I think one of the reasons I like Flickr, the photo sharing site put together by Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake way back in 2004 (and sold, ca-ching, to Yahoo about a year later) is that not only do I get to upload and share my photos with the greater, uh, planet, but I do so in a way that makes each picture a post of its own…each one has a headline…sometimes a caption…and tags.

And, if you so permit, folks from the greater, uh, planet can add comments and generate a bit of a dialog right there on the page about what the image holds, signifies, or conjures up in their own overactive imaginations. (The picture of J.C. Salyer at top right, where he’s almost in the frame, even netted a quick comment from cofounder Fake herself.) I’ve ‘met’ some interesting people from the comments…neighbors, and people, well, anywhere.

And as a guy who used to really enjoy writing headlines back in the days when they involved equal amounts of copyfitting and wit, I try to put the same kind of work in the photo titles (which are, after all, little headlines) as I did in taking the picture. So I cobble together odd phrases like Watch this tower grow. and Ohio occurs in various colors. and The long shutter, en fuego. and teton zombieland. and But how do they hold the pencils? and Better than ‘Sindiana’ or ‘Swest Virginia.’ and Food that pleases at 2 am.

And yes, just like here, for some reason, the periods at the end of the headlines are important to me, so don’t mess with them, OK?

Some folks who upload (sometimes hundreds of) images don’t even bother to change the title, and so have a bunch of headlines resembling “IMG2137.JPG”, and some others elect to write little haikus of poetry in the tags, like:

  • cold
  • frozen
  • I was so cold
  • brrr

…and I think all of these idiosyncracies make browsing through the 2 billion or so pictures all the more interesting.

And yes, there’s the actual photography too…the technical approaches and styles used to create Flickr images inspire imitators, trends, and way too much discussion. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that after a blizzard of uploaded tilt-shift fake photos —that’s a technique that takes the characteristic shallow depth of field you see in miniature photos…why the model railroad layout has sharp trains and fuzzy cars in the foreground—and applies that (often digitally) to real-world objects to make them look like tiny toys. Anyway, there’s an Allstate commercial out there now that uses the technique, and if it hadn’t become fashionable online, I doubt they would given it a go on Real Network Television.

So every few days I try to make sure I upload a few choice-ish pictures to le Flickr and I give my brain a little headline-writing practice and I get a small smile knowing that you there in Kuala Lampur can sit there and look at a picture of my old Apple //e or Bob Beasley operating a 1970s-era video switcher or ‘Bowling from the future!’—a bowling alley in Wapakoneta, Ohio.

13 years after hitting ‘save.’

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Seems like it’s often in the cold of January when folks are busy resolutioning and starting with clean slates that I pull a couple of old CD backups off the shelf and ask myself “okay, how screwed am I now?”

Because things change. Operating systems change. Applications grow and evolve and the newest version of, say Adobe After Effects will not read files created by the oldest version. (This is even true of the 20 year old Adobe Photoshop, yet they’ve done a better job of most of perpetuating their file format. And some folks say that’s one of their biggest problems.)

I think this year it’s because I was reading a book I picked up on Borders’ discount table for $3.99 by computer journalist Steven Levy, called The Perfect Thing—about the development and launch—right after 9/11—of the iPod, a device that changed (say it with me): everything. (Later, I found Levy’s book for 50 cents at Amazon, but that’s neither here or there.)

So I went from iPod nostalgia—where I took out our old first-gen iPod and powered it up and verified that yep, it still plays songs and the screen still had Chicago type—to watching a couple of old Steve Jobs product introductions (“behold, the tangerine iBook!“) to looking pensively at an old After Effects 3.1 project file from 1997 (hey, not so long ago) and wondering if it would work in nice, shiny, After Effects CS4 on my nice shiny Intel iMac running Shiny..er, Snowy Leopard.

Click. Drag.

after_effects_cant.jpg

Um, no, it would not. However, the error dialog sensibly and helpfully suggested that maybe I could save it in a version of AE that was later than AE 3.1 and earlier than the current one.

Turns out, the ideal middleman for that is After Effects 6.5 and because, yeah, I have a drawer full of old Adobe disks, I could install it…except, hm, there’s no way it’ll run on Snow Leopard on an Intel machine. And certainly not one running full 64 bit. Well, okay, I need a PowerPC machine running Tiger (Mac OS 10.4). Fortunately, my sister-in-law’s Titanium laptop was recently retired and sits here awaiting a good retirement-home (one where it can be babied and always plugged in)…and sure enough, AE 6.5 installs and runs on that system like a champ, and I was able to open and save the project file and send it over to my modern iMac and ta-da! It opened in After Effects CS4.

Except most of the footage was missing (okay, I could find much of it on other CD backups) and some of that footage used an obsolete Quicktime codec that only runs on old PowerPC machines running 10.4 Tiger or so and…well…short story, the Titanium was able to transcode that video, one clip at a time, into the modern Apple ProRes codec that I would have killed to have worked with back in 1997.

And then there was a 3D move for which I had the Electric Image project file, and because the version of Electric Image (a 3d rendering program from the dawn of computer time) I have is indeed ancient and yet still runs (in Rosetta) even on Snow Leopard (!!) I was able to open up the project file and rerender the 3d move in what seems like a tiny fraction of the original time.

And so finally, there was my project, right exactly where I left it back in 1997, down to the last kerned character and reflected highlight, running on a modern 64 bit machine.

Moral: keep a PowerPC Mac alive—if on life support—running 10.4. Well, that’s not the only way to have done it, but it’s certainly one path to backward compatibility. And why is backward compatibility at all important? (I mean, it’s not like Time Warner’s gonna call me up now and say we need you to do that Bay News 9 project again. For one thing, they don’t even own Bay News 9 anymore.)

So why go to this Rube Goldbergian trouble? I guess I just think there’s something sacred about hitting ‘save’ on a project or on image and any sort of computer file and having the confidence that 15 or 20 years later, I can still read that file. Or I can go through some process to rehydrate it and breathe life into it. It seems important. And, it seems, it’s not a process that happens easily unless you stay on top of what is compatible with what—which certainly can be a full-time job.

Otherwise, what does ‘save’ mean, exactly?

Cable math.

Monday, January 4th, 2010

While I was busy playing around making cool graphics for the nascent WTBS/WTCG, I often overheard the suits in the hallways on West Peachtree Street talking per-sub rates…the money cable companies were willing to pay per subscriber, per month, to cablecast the SuperStation (ask for it by name!) These were negotiated, of course, and back when there were hundreds (thousands?) of independent cable companies it was quite a process…and the deals seemed to rely on schmoozing and wheedling as much as on plain old marketing.

CNN’s price per sub, according to a 1984 New York magazine article, was, back in those olden times, between 15 and 22 cents per sub, although Ted Turner cut the subscription price (the article says) to as little as 3 cents per to get the cable operators to start carrying CNN.

Now, large mega cable companies like Time Warner, Comcast, Cox, and Charter negotiate (and wheedle) with large mega content providers like Fox, Scripps, Viacom, Disney, and, uh, Time Warner and Comcast/NBC/Universal, eventually. It’s fewer entities talking to fewer entities and therefore the negotiations take on a more apocalyptic tone—when millions of cable homes are at stake at once. Then, they sit down, add all these fees up, and pass a hefty cable increase on to you.

In this morning’s Times, Brian Stelter does the modern math and the range and imbalance of the numbers surprises me: Food Network averages 8 cents (Scripps, the network’s owner wants a raise up to closer to 25 cents per month) and ESPN gets $4.10!?

This is, of course, why many cable companies (and content providers) fear a no longer so hypothetical future world where people get their content a la carte. At our house, we’d probably pay more for the Food Network and none at all for ESPN.

Hand me a tablet to figure it out….actually, I mean hand me the mythical end-of-January Apple tablet and let’s see if that device coupled with an iTunes-like TV-type entertainment-like system behind it can create a world where we can easily duct tape together the entertainment we want and avoid paying for the stuff we, well, avoid.

It’s what’s causing of the content providers and resellers to do some new (year’s) new math of their own.