Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category.

Eyematching by syncing audio

I recently edited a project that featured interviews with people in Zimbabwe speaking their native language. I don’t know what language they were speaking, but to facilitate our editing we were provided ProRes exports with English translations burned into the picture.

Interview-Export

We also received camera original media, and after the cut was mostly locked-down I worked to replace the burned-in translation clips with clean camera clips so we could apply a translation that we had more stylistic control over.

The challenge: The translation-burned clips were edited compilations of all the interviews from that day. There was no timecode reference back to the camera originals, I was left to eyematch the shots.

There were about a dozen clips that needed replacing, and some were pretty easy to accomplish. I would find a frame where a hand came up, or they looked off to the side in a way that I could visually locate in the camera originals. But after a while I found some challenging clips where I couldn’t easily locate a visual match and since I didn’t speak the language it didn’t help me to listen to the camera files.

Then I had a brainstorm: The computer could listen for me! What if I could get PluralEyes to use its audio waveform-syncing capabilities to link up the camera originals to the placeholder media I had been editing with.

I fired up PluralEyes, added the interview compilation clip and the camera originals, then I clicked Synchronize. It didn’t work!

Of course there’s no way it could work. The compilation clip was a long edited stringout of many interview answers, when considered as a whole it is not the same as any piece of camera media. So no sync. But also no problem. I just needed to export the small section of an interview I needed to locate in the camera clips. I parked on the interview clip in my timeline and did a Match Frame to load the source clip (the interview compilation) into the source monitor marked with an In and an Out. I exported this clip In-Out range to a H.264 file.

Now, armed with the small export from the compilation and the camera original media, I tried PluralEyes again. This time it worked great!

PE-synced

I exported this synced sequence to XML for Premiere Pro. After importing and relinking the media I was able to get the timecode I needed in the camera source then do a replace edit in my timeline. BTW, I was doing a replace edit on a clip that was a copy of the clip from the compilation, added on a track above. With the two clips stacked vertically I put the top clip in Difference Mode and that helped me make sure I was dead-on with the camera media. If it was off, I slipped the camera original until it was perfectly aligned and the composite of the two shots went black. Difference Mode is very helpful when matching shots.

After posting my success to Twitter, @adkimery asked why I used “PE instead of PPro’s own synch by waveform function?” It never occurred to me!

So I tried it, and it worked too!

premiere-pro-multicam-synced

For this task it ended up being easier to use Premiere Pro’s built-in syncing. I created a Multicamera Source Sequence using the short compilation excerpt export and the camera original media. Next I opened the multicam clip in the timeline and found where in the camera clip was the section I needed.

Even though this isn’t the intended purpose of the technology, using audio syncing to match up placeholder media with camera originals was a big help to me in this project.

Syncing Premiere Pro keyboard settings

With the CC releases, Adobe introduced a settings syncing feature allowing users to upload and download keyboard settings, output modules and other preferences. This can be pretty useful if you work between multiple systems and want your personalized settings to follow you. I’m old enough to remember when we freelance editors would arrive to a facility with a floppy disc containing our Avid keyboard settings. Plus, leaving your settings on a system was a fun “I was here” marketing strategy.  If you had “Wes Plate” in your list of users on your Avid, you were something special <grin>.

SyncMenu

 

But this isn’t your father’s floppy disc, this is the Cloud!

SyncSignIn

If  it were up to me, the Adobe Apps would remember my Sync Settings password longer. In my experience I have to enter my password after every application launch. After you’re signed in and you choose to sync your settings you are presented with this dialog.

 

SyncDialog

 

Do you want to take the settings stored on your local machine and upload them to Creative Cloud (overwriting what is there)? Or do you want to overwrite your local settings with the version stored in Creative Cloud?

What I don’t like about these two options is I can’t say for sure which version is newer. Many kinds of preferences are set once and then left alone, but in my experience keyboard shortcuts are evolving. When I last used my Mac Pro I may have set a keyboard shortcut for a newly-learned command, but did I remember to upload my changes to Creative Cloud? Did the change I made to my MacBook Pro’s settings based on settings downloaded from the Cloud or did I forget to download before I started making changes here?

I have no idea which of my two systems or the Creative Cloud has the most up-to-date settings for my keyboard. I really want Premiere Pro to just “sync” the settings. Do it Dropbox-style. All settings are synced all the time. And if I make a change on my laptop it is immediately stored in the cloud and my Mac Pro automatically receives the update. It should be invisible to me. I want whatever changes I make on one machine to be available wherever else I sign in and to always be up-to-date.

I have an idea for how you can do this today.

I mentioned Dropbox. I wondered if the keyboard settings file that gets updated locally could be synced by Dropbox even though it isn’t inside the Dropbox folder. I’ll bet some enterprising editor can make that work, but I was not successful. Plus, even if it had worked for me it was complicated. I wanted an easy solution I could easily explain to others. Also I don’t really want to go installing my enormous Dropbox on someone else’s machine when I’m only looking to sync one file.

The following screenshot shows the file that gets updated whenever I change my Premiere Pro CC 2014 keyboard settings. The settings files are in a folder called “Profile-CreativeCloud-” and the keyboard settings are stored in a platform-specific folder.

PathToSettingsFile

 

How to keep two arbitrary folders synced between multiple systems? I decided to try BitTorrent Sync.

BTSync is a peer-to-peer folder syncing application that runs on both Mac and Windows. I have used it to sync files between me and other production companies while editing remotely. Like Dropbox the synced folders stay automatically up-to-date, but there is not a cloud server and in my experience the transfer speeds for BTSync are much better than Dropbox.

Here’s how I synced the keyboard settings between my MacBook Pro and my Mac Pro using BitTorrent Sync.

Install and launch BitTorrent Sync. Click the Add folder button then navigate to the folder that contains the keyboard settings and click Open.

BTS_Add

 

Next you’re asked to assign some settings. Should the “peers” that you’re syncing with have Read-only or Read & Write access to the folder? Choose Read & Write so that your syncing and setting updated and happen no matter which system you’re on. You might want to turn off the peer approval security feature, you’ll see why later.

BTS_Settings

 

Then you click on one of the sharing buttons along the bottom. You’ll receive a very long URL that you can open on the other system that you want to stay in sync with. Just open that link and you’ll have the chance to download BitTorrent Sync if you don’t already have it.

BTS_emailWithLink

If the peer system already has BTSync, you can paste the URL into the Enter a key… dialog found from the gear button in the top right.

BTS_enterKey

BTS_pastedKey

 

Click Next and BTSync will ask you where on the peer system you will store the synced files. Click the Change… button and then navigate to the Profile-CreativeCloud- folder on that computer.

BTS_ChangeDestination

 

After you click Open, click the Connect button at the bottom of the window to complete the connection. BTSync will probably warn you that the Mac folder already exists, you want to proceed.

BTS_YesAnyway

When I set up this share I left on the default option to require peers to be approved. So next I need to return to the first computer and accept the request. This could be bad if I didn’t have access to that other computer when setting up the peer. So you may want to turn off the security option.

BTS_GivePermission

That’s it! Now, any change I make to my Premiere Pro keyboard settings on my laptop automatically appear on my tower and visa versa.

There is an obvious downside to this: both computers need to be turned on and connected to the internet.

Otherwise this idea seems to have some merit, though I hope in a future update Adobe improves the Sync Settings feature to have this kind of behavior by default.

What do you think? Do you have other ideas for syncing settings between systems?

 

BTW, you will want to know how to turn this off if you’re working on someone else’s system. Open BTSync and from the far-right menu button choose Disconnect. Syncing will no longer occur.

BTS_disconnect

 

BTS_noMoreSync

 

Here’s a video demonstrating how I set this up. It is not a perfect solution, but it is an idea for now.

http://youtu.be/gO_s3b5K-iY

Some writing for Post Magazine

Last month I was in Amsterdam for the annual IBC trade show, a large and important expo for people in the broadcast and film industries. I have been going to IBC since 2003, my company Automatic Duck would exhibit with other plug-in companies in the Plug-in Pavilion.  But 2010 was the first year where Automatic Duck did not exhibit.  There are still a lot of good reasons to be at IBC, so I still traveled to Amsterdam for a few days.

When my friend Randy Altman, the editor of Post Magazine heard that I wasn’t tied to a booth and was instead “wandering around” the show floor she asked me if I would like to blog for the magazine’s web site.

I didn’t immediately jump at the chance.  Sometimes I think I’m not a terrible writer, but I know that I’m a slow writer and I wasn’t sure I would be able to find anything interesting to write about.  But it would be a new experience no matter how it turned out, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

I ended up writing five posts for the Post Blog.

Thank you Randy and Post Magazine for inviting me to participate in your blog, I enjoyed the experience.

Real radio on my computer

For many of us young technophiles, terrestrial radio has lost its relevance. Radio stations’ ratings are down and the industry is struggling. Even while driving in the car you might listen to music or podcasts from your iPod, or stream satellite radio’s many offerings.  My crappy Jeep Wrangler doesn’t give me many modern options so I usually listen to FM radio, getting some NPR news and some local talk radio.

For example I really like the Dave Ross Show on Seattle radio station KIRO. He’s on from 9:00 until Noon, which means I wouldn’t listen since I wasn’t in my car very much for those three hours. I recently started listening to the Dave Ross Show through its web stream, and this worked well.  I would also play music from iTunes in the background, so I could turn the web stream’s volume down during commercials and still have something entertaining my ears.

But the problem with this system was the web stream sounds like crap.

RadioShark interface

Then I remembered  a nifty device I bought a few years ago: RadioShark from Griffin Technology. The RadioShark is a USB-connected radio antenna that feeds software for tuning and controlling.  The RadioShark software also allows for recording, even scheduled recording, and it even has Tivo-like functionality, allowing you to pause what you’re listening to.

Even better, it sounds great. Listening to KIRO radio on the RadioShark sounds way better than KIRO’s web stream.

I love the ability to pause the radio program and pick it up later.  I can run to the toilet, go get more coffee, go consult with coworkers, then come back and unpause the show.  I actually like getting a bit behind real time, because commercial radio loves its commercials, so I can just skip forward past them.

One thing that surprised me about the software was that Griffin took the time to make it scriptable via AppleScript. I wrote a couple of super-simple scripts and used QuickSilver to tie them to keyboard shortcuts, making RadioShark controllable from the keyboard no matter what application I’m using.

RadioShark in action

The scheduling feature is nifty, too, and I surprised myself by using it the other day.  I heard a promo for a show coming up on KUOW in the evening, during a time I would definitely not be listening live, so I scheduled RadioShark to record it in my absence.  It worked great!

If you find yourself needing to listen to AM or FM radio while you work I highly recommend Griffin Technology’s RadioShark.  I love mine.

URL shortening and maintaining your own brand

Long URLs are a problem in our online connected world, when sent via email they wrap and break, when pasted into a Twitter post they use up too many of your available characters.  The need to shorten URLs for sharing has created quite an industry of sites offering URL shortening services: tinyurl.com bit.ly ow.ly to name a few.

If you’re not familiar with URL shortening services here’s a quick primer:  You enter into their system a long URL like http://www.walmart.com/ip/Coleman-PowerChill-40-Quart-Thermoelectric-Cooler-with-Power-Supply/4810828 and the service adds your URL to their database and creates a unique short URL that will redirect to the address you entered, like http://bit.ly/9IBCdN.

URL shorteners are super helpful, but are there downsides to their use?

Every time you use a URL shortening service you are in effect promoting that service.  While http://bit.ly/9IBCdN will direct readers to the travel cooler I had in mind, before they click all their eyes see is http://bit.ly.  I have never had a single bad association in my mind with regard to any URL shortening service, but there is certainly the possibility of someone out there not trusting a bit.ly link or having their own brand bias. The links you post do say something about you, even the short versions of them, therefore wouldn’t it be better if the short URL they saw helped promote me or my brand instead?

You’ll see examples of this in the wild, For example the NY Times uses the domain http://nyti.ms/ for its URL shortening.  Even if you don’t click the link just looking at the URL reinforces their brand in your mind.

I had been thinking about all of this so one morning I decided to see if I could improve the link shortening I do when Twitter posting to reinforce my own personal brand.  It was shockingly easy to do.

The real key to URL shortening is the length of the short URL you’re using.  People probably prefer bit.ly to tinyurl.com because bit.ly is so much shorter, but URL length cannot be your only consideration.  If the URL was a little longer but was more valuable, maybe the tradeoff would be worth it?

I realized that my domain plate.net is pretty short, shorter than tinyurl.com in fact.  But the domain wes.plate.net more completely identifies me and better reinforces my personal “Wes Plate” brand, and it is still pretty short.  I proceeded to install some URL shortening software into my wes.plate.net domain, I chose to put it into a subdirectory because I couldn’t have it conflict with WordPress, which is what you see at http://wes.plate.net.  There are at least a few options for installing your own URL shortening service, I ended up choosing YOURLS a free collection of PHP and MySQL that is super easy to use.  In addition, YOURLS can integrate into Twitter clients like TweetDeck, Tweetie and Twitter for iPhone, which makes putting your short URL into use that much easier.  In the end a short URL like http://wes.plate.net/~/G isn’t quite as short as http://bit.ly/cgbmxm but it is more valuable to me because my version reinforces my brand and not bit.ly’s.

So now every link I post on Twitter is both short and also reinforces my brand, whether the reader clicks the link or not.  A friend even noticed and complimented me on it, so to me it is already working.  If your domain name is short enough or you can obtain one that resembles your brand, it may be a worthwhile exercise for you too.

5 bars with AT&T 3G MicroCell

My office is located in a part of our small town where AT&T’s coverage has always been a problem. Three of us have iPhones and whenever anyone would get a call on our mobiles we’d sprint to the outside deck where we had the best chance of catching a wayward signal.

Low Signal

So when AT&T announced in April that they were going to start their nationwide rollout of their 3G MicroCell devices, I was ready to jump on board. If you have followed at all the news and discussion of this solution to AT&T customer woes, you’ll no doubt have read people’s anger and frustration about paying themselves to solve AT&T coverage problems.  I will not address this other than to say it was worth $150 to us to have our phones work reliably in our office.

AT&T’s horrid Flash-based MicroCell web page offers to take your email address and notify you when the devices are available in your area. I signed up with two email addresses but never received any news, indeed I read on AT&T’s customer forums that other users never received emails about MicroCells coming available either so I kept checking back from time to time. One day out of the blue the availability checker didn’t give its usual “sorry, not available” response, instead it said they were ready for purchase! Hooray!

AT&T 3G MicroCell box

AT&T 3G MicroCell box

I called my nearest AT&T store and they said they had the MicroCells in stock, so I went to pick one up. Purchasing a MicroCell is like purchasing a cell phone: it takes way longer than it should. And since the MicroCell is a new thing for them, it took even longer to go through the buying procedure.

There seemed to be some confusion between the two sales people and the store manager who were working on my order about the zip code and address the system was showing for where I was going to install the device, because our business’ mailing address is a PO box and not our physical address. But they said they got it worked out.

Eventually I was out of the store and I unboxed the pretty little thing at the office. Installation is easy: ethernet connection to our network, power and it must be installed near a window for GPS reception. AT&T warns that activation can take a couple of hours so after I completed the online activation steps and set everything up near a window I left to let it simmer. Eventually I received a text message from AT&T warning me that my activation had failed.

Activation Failed

I searched the web for similar error messages and while I didn’t immediately find anyone with error 103, I did find people experiencing error 102 which apparently meant that the address provided on the activation web site didn’t match the physical location of the MicroCell. I did try calling AT&T but since it was a Saturday they were closed, real businesses don’t work weekends. Maybe errors 102 and 103 were related? I checked the address on my account for the MicroCell and sure enough, the three AT&T team members setting up my device at the store did indeed enter my PO Box, which has a different ZIP code than my physical location. I changed the address on the web to reflect where the MicroCell was installed and soon after I had an activated 3G MicroCell!

5 Bars

This was all well and good, my iPhone showed five bars and I could make calls from corners of the office never before possible. But I didn’t want this box sitting on my desk near the window, I wanted it hidden away in the server room. I tried moving it after it was activated but it didn’t work, when the MicroCell restarted it could not get a GPS signal so it didn’t enable itself. Time for some GPS antenna action.

Information on the web about using GPS attennae with the AT&T MicroCell is scarce, and the info I did find was rather inconclusive about what to get. People suggested that the antenna port on the MicroCell might be an MCX connector, and one post I found a guy reported getting an antenna meant for a Garmin, so I followed that reasoning in purchasing from Amazon…

The nearly 30 feet total these three would span would be enough to put the GPS antenna on the roof of our building and meet the MicroCell in the server room. Fingers crossed!

Thankfully it worked great. The AT&T 3G MicroCell is happily sitting in the server room, seeing its GPS stars in the sky and providing us with much more reliable phone service.

Device In Server Room

Apparently the three phone numbers on my AT&T account were automatically added to those granted access to our MicroCell, and I only needed to add one more phone number for a contractor who works here so he could also use our 5 bars.  Adding the additional number was easy to do through AT&T’s web site.  Up to ten numbers can be added to the permission list and up to four calls can be made at a time through it.  All in all a worthwhile endeavor for us.