CSS

Maybe someday I’ll be a good boy and teach myself how to be a good web developer, but until then, I’m just doing enough to get by. I’m not thrilled with the appearance of my blog yet, and this is due to my lack of skills when it comes to CSS. Since I don’t know of a good WYSIWYG editor that creates nice HTML and CSS that is both affordable and available for Mac, I’m stuck with finding existing code that is close to what I want, and then hacking it a bit. However, even this can be complicated; looking at the rendered page and the source and trying to trace which element everything belongs to. Fortunately, there’s a cool Firefox extension out there called Firebug which helps a lot. To see how it can help, follow these instructions:

  1. Install and enable Firebug.
  2. Select some text on a webpage.
  3. Right-click on the selection and choose “Inspect Element” from the pop-up menu.

That should be enough to get you started. Check out a screenshot of the interface.

Update: I’m testing Firefox 3 right now so none of my extensions are working. The “Inspect Element” feature of Safari is filling in pretty well. It should already be available if the debug menu is enabled.

Converting Widescreen DV video to iPhone

Nearly a week after it was first released, the Clam Dip episode of my podcast is finally playable on the iPhone. Here’s how I did it using QuickTime Pro, starting with a 16:9 NTSC DV source file:

  1. Open the source file in QuickTime Player.
  2. From the File menu, choose Export. You must have QuickTime Pro registered on your computer for this function to be available, however if you don’t have QuickTime Pro, these settings should work on any other application that lets you export QuickTime files and gives you access to all of the necessary settings.
    File - Export
  3. At the bottom of the dialog box, choose Movie to MPEG-4 in the Export field.Export: Movie to MPEG-4
  4. Click the Options button.
  5. Use the following settings for the Video tab:
    File Format: MP4
    Video Format: H.264
    Data Rate: 1200 kbits/sec. This is a suggested bitrate. To be playable on the iPhone, the combined audio/video bitrate must be at or under 1500 kb/sec. Depending on your audio, you may want to use a lower video bitrate.
    Image Size: 640 x 360. This is the maximum widescreen resolution supported by the iPhone. If you’re using a 4:3 video, you can bump it up to 640 x 480. Thanks to Jesse Hollington of iLounge for the info in this article.
    Frame Rate: Current
    Key Frame: AutomaticMPEG-4 Export Settings
  6. Click the Video Options button.
  7. In the Video Options window, restrict the profile to Baseline. This is the only profile the iPhone will play. Missing this setting prevented several versions of my video from playing on my iPhone until I figured out how to access this setting from this post by Neil Ghoshal in the Apple Discussions group.
    H.264 Video Options
  8. These are the settings I used for the Audio tab; but you can probably get away with doing just about anything here as long as you don’t exceed 1500 kb/sec for the final file.
    Audio Format: AAC
    Data Rate: 128 kbps
    Channels: Stereo
    Output Sample Rate: 44.1 kHz
    Encoding Quality: Best
    MPEG-4 Export Settings (Audio)
  9. After exporting the file with all the settings above, the final thing I did was import the file into iTunes and add artwork and other meta data by selecting the video and choosing Get Info from the File menu. You can easily find the modified file by choosing Show in Finder from the File menu.

Phew, I’m glad I finally got that sorted out. Optimizing for a specific device sure makes things complicated. It would be nice if I could add some higher resolution versions for other viewers, but as far as I know there’s no way to use multiple versions in the same feed, and I don’t want to manage multiple feeds for HD, iPhone, etc. Maybe someday this won’t be an issue.

I would have just gone with QuickTime’s iPhone preset for all this, but when I tried that it wasn’t understanding either the anamorphic tag or the non-square pixels of DV (or both), and ended up looking distorted. The iPhone itself I know does not support non-square pixels. Maybe I should have tried exporting from iMovie; but I am just realizing that now as I write this. If anyone has tried this, please post away in the comments below. Non-square pixels is something I’m used to, as when I did lots of video work most of my source material was 720 x 480 4:3 DV and the final output was 720 x 480 4:3 MPEG-2 on DVD. Now my source is 16:9 DV or HDV.

As I ramble on here, I’m reminded that video is always a technical challenge. Besides compression and resolution issues, I think by far the worst development to ever enter the field,* which we’ve had the chance to eliminate with every digital format, but haven’t, is interlacing. I don’t know why it was ever included in the HD standard. If I was in charge, I would have said, “We may not be able to make affordable 1080p devices in the current timeframe, but you know what, SD has gotten us this far; let’s just push things back a few years and make the ATSC HD standard as 1080p.” But whatever. Maybe I’m just bitter because I used to do jobs which included converting PowerPoint slides to video. When PowerPoint slides aren’t created by video geeks (and very few are), the video editor (me) gets hit both by resolution and interlacing issues. If the DVD is going to be displayed on a CRT TV, you lose 50% of your original resolution if the PowerPoint slides were created for a 1024 x 768 monitor and you want all that text around the edges to fit within the title-safe area. Quite a stark difference in screen real estate. Interlacing shows its ugly self via the flicker effect on tiny serif text. And don’t even get me started on trying to get the color and luminance on those slides to be broadcast legal.

At least I never worked in print. They have to deal with stuff like DPI and CMYK. I have trouble collating.

* Get it? Field. Interlacing. Never mind.

Whoops

I knew something was wrong last night when I was ready to go to a party early. Usually I wait until the last minute to start looking for some clean clothes, but I didn’t really have anything to do yesterday so I even had time to go out and buy a new tie for the event. And that new tie? I got it in a decent knot on the first try. I wear ties so infrequently (probably averaging out to about once a year) that it usually takes me quite some time to get it even close to looking acceptable.

When it was time to go, I had everything I needed for the party, but when I reached for my keys, I couldn’t find them. I looked around my unusually clean apartment and didn’t see them anywhere, and within seconds realized what had happened. Off of my balcony, I have a storage closet that is locked with my apartment key. I was putting stuff in there earlier in the day, and set my keys down inside. When I was finished, I closed the locked door and got ready for the party, leaving the keys to my car and apartment locked up.

I sure felt like an idiot calling the after-hours lockout number, because when he asked where I was, I replied, “In my apartment.” He was pretty nice about it though, and told me about someone else who locked himself out on his balcony.

I think my string of bad luck is just about over though, because if these things come in threes, I’m all set. When I finally left for the party I forgot to bring directions to my friend’s house, and then today I went shopping in the grocery store without my wallet. I shop at Lucky, by the way, because they don’t have bonus cards. I like bonus cards as much as Adam West likes baseball cards.

Wyszdom – The Podcast!

After over a year since the last episode, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve brought back my podcast! Formerly known as Absolute Wyszdom, I’ve renamed it “Wyszdom” and it’s now hosted right here on thewysz.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast with this URL: http://www.thewysz.com/podcast/wyszdom.xml
or by clicking here to subscribe in iTunes.

Let me know how you like it! Here’s my first new episode:



As you may have noticed at the end, this episode also launches a new section of my site, informally known as “Chicken and Ketchup.” It’s where I’ll share recipes. Check it out at thewysz.com/food. I had a lot of fun with this first shot at a cooking show, so look for more to come. Maybe I’ll try to do a couple more next weekend.

Easy Music Licensing

I don’t do much video work now, but when I did, music was always an unfortunate issue. The boundaries were unclear when it came to educational/non-profit work, “free” music wasn’t really free, and even when one was willing to spend the money for a license, the process was prohibitively confusing.

Nearly three years ago, in a post titled iTunes Pro, I suggested that someone make it easy to license music for production use. This hasn’t happened yet. But, I was happy to hear on a recent episode of This Week in Media that at least one artist, Moby, has stepped up and explicitly allowed a portion of his catalog to be used for free by independent non-profit filmmakers. And for those who want the music for commercial use? Moby offers an “easy license,” with all revenue going to the Humane Society. I’m not sure about the details of this license (site requires registration), but anything “easy” is a step in the right direction.

On a side note, I also wish there was an easy way for small-time producers (meaning anyone with at least one original piece of content, whether it’s a video, song, book, or thingamajig) to sell downloads. I’ve heard of a few services that come close, but nobody does it quite right yet.

After these problems are sorted out, all we need are online haircuts. Then I’ll be satisfied.

Reality Television

In 1776, the United States of America declared its independence from Great Britain. In 1783, Britain recognized us as a sovereign nation, and presumably wished us good luck with our independence.

I’m guessing they thought, “Let’s just see how long they last on their own.”

The U.S. was left to fend for itself for over 200 years. We did some cool things, including becoming the largest exporter of television programming. In the era of sitcoms, this was great, providing the American entertainment industry with cash, and the rest of the world with common pop culture references. But then came the reality shows. The rest of the world, including the British, finally saw what Americans were really doing after 200 years of no supervision.

What did they see and hear? Our singing was terrible, we were being ruled by our children, and our restaurants were potential gold mines turned into money pits. Perhaps feeling a sense of responsibility for sending us off into the world a bit too soon, the UK sent a series of ambassadors to discipline us on our own TV shows.

At least that’s how I understand the story.

EaRthQuAKe!

I’ve been living in California for over a year now, but I’m still getting used to it. Earlier this evening, while on a video chat with Ted, I felt event nc40204628. It was the longest earthquake I’ve ever experienced; I’m guessing the shaking lasted about 20 seconds. Of course with all other earthquakes I’ve felt, my first thought wasn’t that the cause of the motion was an earthquake. I’ve always blamed it on something else, like a quarry blast or someone else walking on a balcony, and then only realized later, after hearing from someone else, that it was actually an earthquake. This time, I thought my upstairs neighbors had dropped something or were jumping. It wasn’t until about 5-10 seconds into it that I realized what was actually going on. Of course my instincts aren’t really tuned to make me react, so after telling Ted I was in an earthquake, I stood up and looked at the doorway, which I was pretty sure I was supposed to go to. But I assumed that by that time it was almost over, and just waited it out for several more seconds. When I thought it had stopped, I sat down, but was surprised to feel myself still swaying. I had to confirm by watching the swinging blinds that the motion wasn’t just in my head. Tiffany had a similar experience, only she was watching swinging pots.

And, just so you know how easily I’ve slid back into blogging, my first thought after it was all over was, “This will make a great blog entry.”