Friday, January 31st, 2020

It was a cold and rainy day in Atlanta, and, judging from my sampling of YouTube live cameras (hey, who isn’t fascinated by a railroad crossing in a tiny town in northwest Ohio—LIVE!) it was a fairly scuzzy day for lots of folks across North America.

So we went up to Lenox Square and walked around some. Strolled…nah, briskly walked past open portals of commerce, all with a faintly desperate “won’t you PLEASE come in and SPEND some money” vibe that really doesn’t do much for me.

And then there’s the Lenox Apple Store, where I watched one hipstery sales person (there’s probably an Apple-approved term that sounds a lot better, but that’s what I have at this hour) leaning casually on the very very expensive new Mac Pro, discussing it with folks who had a bit of an interest in video production, but who were clearly not jaded ex-professionals like me.

An image I created displayed on the $4999 Pro Display XDR, ($1000 stand extra.)

I kind of wanted to say “Hey dude, don’t lean on the equipment”, but it was his shop, not mine.

Then I heard another employee behind me discussing the pricing of a MacBook Pro plus a fancy monitor as being “about 70 grand.” The customer started to wilt and I wheeled around and interjected “You mean 7 grand. 7 thousand dollars.”

Uh, yeah, whatever. If you have to ask. And as the leaning guy said, “we’re backordered on all of these anyway.”


Thursday, January 30th, 2020

Sorry to keep diving into the news of political Washington, but let’s face it, the President has been impeached and is on trial, and we are being dragged through what I’m increasingly seeing as a deeply flawed system that allows our executive branch to tilt alarmingly and semi-permanently toward one that is absolute, monarchical, and, sadly, incapable of being counterposed or corrected by the other two branches.

Will we figure out how to fix this? Sure is hard to say.

Russia, if you’re listening…

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

if you’re listening to the President’s representatives in the well of the Senate…well, they’re trying to put forth a theory of a President being immune, immune, immune because committing criminal acts as a way of adding to his power or getting re-elected is good for the country as a whole.

Because…why? He’s the sun king? He’s the state writ golden?

Nah, he’s a hoodlum.

Dissenting on the wall.

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

We had something to pick up from the library next door (our branch is being rebuilt so we’re on a tour of neighboring Atlanta Fulton Library branches.) And I read that an exhibition based on a book by Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilić called The Design of Dissent was in its last weeks at MODA—the Museum of Design Atlanta, check it out when you’re in town.

So we went in and breathed deeply and enjoyed the energy and I daresay it cleansed the palette a bit. No wait, That’s cleansed the palate, right? A palette is something that…designers and artists use. Hmmm.

The ‘expanded edition’ of their book has this subtitle: Greed, Nationalism, Alternative Facts, and the Resistance.

There was some powerful work and some powerful inspiration here. Ironically, the images with George W. or Reagan seemed like cries for help from another era. Eh, I guess that’s about right.

More recalibration is called for.


Monday, January 27th, 2020

The news cycle the past 48 hours was dominated by the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the still fairly anonymous “others.” Very sad that they died in that way (as sad as when anyone perishes in a flying machine that for whatever reasons, is being operated out of its safety zone.)

But how the event was reported is a sign of how the American press seems to struggle with calibration. Somehow the emotional component of the story (and certainly, there is one) overwhelms the story itself. In this age of internet-transmitted misinformation, the story of the crash has to somehow transcend the inaccurate reporting that seems to be flung automatically and simultaneously now when, well, when anything happens.

So the young reporters, raised in a more fragile age with a toolkit seemingly sorely lacking in nuance and quiet nouns and adjectives, pull out all the stops, declaring Bryant iconic (because they don’t seem to have any words for “really really really significant in modern American culture.” So he of course is iconic, and, because they like to turn “impact” into a clumsy adjective, his effect on the world was super impactful. They try to communicate profound impact, but they struggle, since the real impact has not really come into focus yet. This is a big story, yes. And it’s vying for pixels and airtime admidst impeachment and coronavirus and a national election and grammy awards and since reporters only have a limited toolbox, and they’re feeling emotional, they communicate those emotions, leaving the sparser facts (at this point) somewhat muffled in their wake.

And now, in day two, the system churns as it does, and we see tweets like “BBB Warns of Clickbait Scams After Kobe Bryant Tragedy.” “NBA: Petition to Change The NBA Logo.” “The Mossad Killed Kobe Bryant.” WHAT!?

This is how news and its toxic byproducts arrive now, screaming and overinflated and far far away from telling a real sober story of the deceased, among them the extremely famous dad, his daughter, a baseball coach, his wife and daughter, an assistant girls basketball coach, a mother and daughter…who came along for a tragic ride. Oh, and the pilot. They all were real people, with flaws and inspiring characteristics I’m sure, but we probably won’t get a calibrated look at all of that for quite a while while the noise settles down.

The San Antonio Spurs just tweeted “There are no words that can describe how everybody feels.” Well, yeah, exactly. So maybe we should just be quiet for a bit and let those emotions and feelings wash over people individually…and silently.

When the modern journalistic toolbox fails you, go back to first principles. What happened? To Who? When? Where? and when we know, Why?

@jcburns January 26, 2020 at 8:08 pm

Utility pole playing hide and seek.

Television, the miracle explained.

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

We watched an old (a 13 year old!) episode of 30 Rock tonight where Jack Donaghy complimented Kenneth, the NBC Page: “I wish I had your passion for television.”

I think my passion for television is more than a half-century out-of-date and focused in the technical nooks and crannies, far from the spotlights and stars. TV for me was science blended with design and entertainment, with just a touch of magic and good luck.

In recent days I came across these two parts of a stunningly old documentary that attempts to explain the technical side of ‘The Miracle of Television,’ set at Portland station KPTV in the mid 1960s. It was uploaded to YouTube by ‘doggies2009‘, ask for him? her? by name.

Here’s part one. Here’s part two.

It’s…best experienced under the influence of…something strong. From the perky fake needle-drop music to the authoritative narration of Blaine Hanks, this documentary…well, it’s not awful. It is accurate, and it most definitely is of a time. A time when I was less than 10 years old. A time when I thought the idea of live television entering the huge turrets of a gigantic camera and pouring out into our living room was miraculous indeed.

The Parallax View.

Friday, January 24th, 2020

I spent a while this afternoon listening to this podcast (caution, very geeky and behind-the-scenes) that discussed new techniques for shooting that involve environments that are projected on really big, really high res, all-but-cycloramic LED panels that encircle the actors, casting enough light that if the scene on the screen is “outdoors”, the bounce and fill and reflections and all of that stuff are just as they should be. Sunlight is sunlight, casting shadows! An overcast day is diffuse and low-key.

But the thing with flat cycs is that when you move the camera closer, higher, lower, or any which way in relation to the backdrop, it doesn’t change the way the world really does when you look out the window of your house. Move a foot to the right, and you see parts of what was behind your car, and the house across the street shifts to show you just a tad more of the tree that’s behind it.

So, with the help of massive GPU units reminiscent of the highest-end video games, this system tracks the position of the camera within “the volume” along with all kinds of lens data and changes perspective and parallax correctly on the fly. You get closer to the wall, you “see” more peeking out from around the foreground. That is some very, very sophisticated math to handle in real time.

The production which is the latest to make use (extensive use) of this approach is Disney’s The Mandalorian, and the podcast above is an interview with Baz Idoine, one of the show’s cinematographers—the directors of photography.

Two images from a tweet by the CBC (@THECBCYT)

The cinematographer works with the 3d modelers and “lights” the scene that is then displayed on the LED cyclorama, and that’s a lot of the work done right there. Set-up is (ultimately) faster, the results can be seamless, and when you’re shooting a series about a bounty hunter in a reflective helmet, getting “real” reflections is a big bonus too.

This is an evolution of technology that started with the films Gravity, Rogue One, and First Man, but we’re reaching the point where it’s not novel, it’s (almost?) convenient.

You can read a lot more about this new tech here, and I’m looking forward to the latest? next? issue of American Cinematographer, which apparently examines this in great detail.

[UPDATE: No, the article is in ICG Magazine’s Feb-Mar 2020 issue. ICG is the journal of the International Cinematographer’s Guild. Great article.]

Clearly, I’m fascinated by this. I would love to spend an afternoon on a ladder in a studio watching these folks make this work.


Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

The Enterprise, my brother’s comic persona, a burst section of pex pipe, NAB souvenirs, taconite pellets, the Jupiter 2, a roll of quarters for the laundry…and the Robot.


Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

I’ve had social accounts that share words and pictures, and I’ve tried to be diligent about tagging them with appropriate little nuggets of text so that when others click on them, they will get to enjoy a vast collection of perfectly curated Instawhatevers or Flickapics or Twitterverbs.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that some people:

  • Have a different idea of what a three letter acronym or a short word means when I do, or…
  • Simply are sloppy with their tags, plastering the same chunk over a vast number of pictures that may or may not be relevant to anything.

They may simply be younger, hipper, or live in a very different universe than the one I inhabit. But hey, any world that I’m welcome to is better than the one I come from (thank you Steely Dan.)

Let’s start with one I tagged when I shot a distinctive pavement marking just the other day:

  • ZFS. Every right-thinking computer geek knows this is a file system for (primarily) UNIX-based machines. Instagram seems to have a lot of pics related to the ‘Z Fit Studio’ which offers power weights and zumba.
  • VTR. This stands for Videotape Recorder. You know, those large things that..uh..record television on videotape? The big brother to VCRs. But again Instagram seems to be burdened with a bunch of pictures of something called a Citroen C4 VTR. The VTR brand doesn’t even show up on Citroen’s Wikipedia page, but an Irish car blog says “VTR is simply a Citroen trim level, and indicates a car in the middle of the range — well-equipped, but not the most expensive version.” Yeah, well, that’s not this:
  • Sohio. Ladies and gentlemen. This is the Standard Oil Company of Ohio, accept no substitutes. Sohio stations absolutely saturated the Ohio landscape in the 1960s and 1970s, until the early 80s when they were subsumed into BP Oil.
    Yet, annoyingly, a country-ish band based in Ohio decided, har de har har, to call themselves ‘Sohio,’ and subsequently, a brewery in Columbus, the state capital, put out some kind of beer called Sohio Stout, both of which sound like a lawsuit waiting to happen. Thus, the Instagram tag page has all kinds of odd stuff including italian olives (!?) and hip-hop dudes and, well, it’s a mess. Please, please, think of the Sohio-seeking children. Or late-night-surfing geezers trying to reconnect with the 1970s. Please.

I’ll spare you most of the others, but suffice it to say that Penn Central is a defunct railroad, Chyron and Vidifont are two pieces of ancient TV technology to put words on the screen (NOT the lower third banners themselves!) and GVG is a brand of video switcher. They deserve their uniqueness in the tagosphere.


Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

The vast, vast world of the streaming contentverse. So many choices. So many chances to see antiheroes, vast ensemble casts of unlikable protagonists, and the maiming and the martial arts kicks and the vehicular chases that defy the laws of physics…phew.

In other words, I’m not finding a lot for us to watch.

The easy answer is: we’re aging out of the demographic. But hey, wait, we have disposable income! We’re in the market for cool things, not just Medicare supplemental insurance! Those numbers people should be wanting to target us even now!

Eh, maybe not. I’ll just have to sift more diligently through the trailers and the pre-rolling app blipverts and mentions scattered throughout the web for possibles.

@jcburns January 20, 2020 at 8:31 am


Rainbow connection.

Sunday, January 19th, 2020

My dear partner of some 30 years and my fellow blogger Sammy would handle a day like today in a concise, vivid way. She would discuss that we went on a walk in the neighborhood on a day that was very cold (especially in the shadows) and very windy pretty much everywhere we weren’t sheltered by tall structures.

One of the best places to be wind-sheltered and still outside is the Old Fourth Ward Park, just south of the Ponce City Market, which in turn is just across Ponce from our Whole Foods and Home Depot, which in turn is just a fence and a parking lot south from the Trader Joe’s we frequent. There, in a nutshell, is a lot of our Frequently Accessed Infrastructure, and the Atlanta BeltLine runs down the eastern edge of all of it, and on a weekend, that means we commune with our neighbors as we stroll and are passed by hurtling bicycles and prancing joggers aplenty. A-plenty.

So, as I said, Sammy would cover this in a tenth as many words, and she’d poetically call your attention to the visual highlight of the day, which would probably be this fine rainbow viewed from the south edge of the O4W Park fountain, spattered into a fine mist by the winds that made it into the recesses of the park’s ponds/lakes/drainage.

But today, it was our walk and thus our shared rainbow moment. Nice.


Saturday, January 18th, 2020

The cool thing about old analog video switchers was that they offered these incredibly inappropriate visual transitions between one source and another. And in the shorthand of American control rooms, they had distinctive names. A barn door wipe! A clock wipe! A corner wipe! A diamond wipe! A star wipe! A purple modulated football wipe!

You don’t see these employed much these days for obvious reasons of taste and style, unless, of course, you’re trying to evoke an earlier era, as in…the Star Wars films.

But at the trade shows where these mammoth vision mixing panels (as they would say in Europe) were displayed, the upper right corner with these buttons implied power and versatility…versatility that might have been a bit more ideal than real, once you sat down behind one of these things and tried to get a newscast on the air.

Broken but not silent.

Friday, January 17th, 2020

As the amount of impeachment-related news surges out of Washington, I’m feeling the need to grab my official J-school Dropout Blue Pencil™ and begin slicing through cliché-ridden tweets, copy, posts, the stuff of reporting on-air and on the printed page.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday broke nearly 72 hours of silence over alleged surveillance and threats to the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, saying he believed the allegations would prove to be wrong but that he had an obligation to evaluate and investigate the matter.

Yes, it’s the Associated-freaking-Press with this “broke his silence” crap. Matthew Lee, the AP’s State Department reporter.

Mr. Lee, Pompeo simply “spoke.” He emitted a statement sufficiently on the record to be reported, and that’s really all that needs to be done. Report it. Report when he has no comment. Report when he does. Your job is not to hold a stopwatch, tapping your foot, putting your personal expectations out there amidst the political hoo-hah.

Until he spoke, the State Department had declined repeated requests to offer any public defense of Yovanovitch, drawing fire from many.

This isn’t a firefight. It’s not a competition, a battle, or a prizefight. Characterizing this stuff as trading blows, or lashing out, or taking fire, or lobbing “bombshells” does nothing to further the cause of the free flow of information, and does everything to dilute the streams of reporting with so many clichés that they flow by uncomprehended. I’m quite sure this practice has the “crying wolf” effect that makes us just that much more numb every time you casually toss one of these not-so-bon mots into a piece.

And he drew fire “from many”, eh? That’s as bad as the President’s contrived use of this anonymous “many” in his tweets.

Yes, I most definitely think that the White House, the State Department, and all the various parts of the extremely disturbing Trump administration should be speaking daily, hourly, on the record, backed by documents. And if that doesn’t happen, that fact should be reported. But the moment that a statement is made, be it by a Washington politician, a British royal, or a Hollywood celeb, that is not “breaking his/her/their silence.”

That is “talking.” That is “saying something.”

I don’t think it’s the press’s job to referee Washington. It’s the press’s job to report on Washington (and elsewhere on the planet.) As I’ve said other times, I admire those who do it well. It’s often not at all fun. I’m sure it’s tedious. But no matter how long you do it, unless you’ve been specifically assigned to write an opinion piece consisting of your very own opinions, just leave your opinions out of your work.

You could always pour them into a blog post, I suppose.

Muted messages.

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

We are both, in our home, fairly fast on the mute button even as we consume what is probably an above average amount of commercial TV in real or real-ish time.

Yes, we have Netflix and Amazon Prime, but there are nightly news broadcasts and various other shows that have commercials embedded. And when you’ve muted them you can still see them. So there are a lot of commercials that I have seen—many times—yet never heard.

Does that count (in the world of ad buys and ratings) as an ‘impression’? I don’t know. In the aggregate, the impression I get from these is that there are a lot of older people who are enjoying their golden years (literally, cavorting in heaps of golden sunlight) out in the park or in a beautiful back yard with family and friends, and a fair number of dogs and cats.

Obviously, that’s not a very complete message. Maybe I’m tuning out the, ah yes, there’s type on the screen. There’s a product logo for some sort of mysterious thing: Elena, Humira, Yahwehanda—and there’s a more complex word, a name in tiny type that looks like a cat has taken a tumble on the keys. Huminiacronababatab! Zinfoldamawrapodun! There must be software that comes up with these names. And then at the bottom is three or four lines of type, changing throughout the commercial that, if you take a moment to read it in detail, lists warnings of side effects and possible consequences so dire that I would probably not be willing to take the risk, no matter what the drug did. Death is one of the lesser consequences!

And what does the drug—yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s a drug—do? Well, with the sound off, it’s really hard to tell. It seems to restore the ability to enjoy life in a golden light. It brings smiles, and romance, prosperity, security, and good, good health.

Just as long as none of that stuff enumerated at the bottom happens. Yee-gads.

These are long, expensively-produced commercials. I suppose I should be able to get more out of them than that.

But I think we like our mute button more than that option.