Category: General (page 1 of 12)

A Follow-up

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while. At the moment, I’m taking some needed days off, but I’m happy to say that “Andyland” is back online and the above video is submitted as proof. It seems like I blinked an eye and this CRAZY semester ended. Now it’s summertime and the livin’ . . . well, it’s not easy because there’s a ton of work to do. DTLT is also losing a couple of key players in Ryan and Jim, so part of the summer scramble will include search committees.

I have a bunch of summer projects to put the polish on some of the ITCC facilities, and I’m going to try to blog about them. However, my vacation days are ending and I’m missing my production space. So I’m posting a video to remind me.

DTLT Tomorrow

One of the initiatives that I am currently working on here at UMW is something called the Digital Media Commons Initiative. Part of the purpose of that program is to get people up to speed with some more sophisticated digital video and audio equipment. We are going to have a full-blown studio in the new Information and Technology Convergence Center, so people will use some pretty high-end equipment in that space.

DTLT also has this thing called “The Kit“, which is a portable “studio” that can be set up in a variety of spaces. Mostly we have it set up in our office with a green screen, and we use Wirecast to control the broadcast (live-streaming and recording). Because of the nature of the laptop, it is limited in terms of the number of camera inputs, computer inputs, etc. We need to shift to the next gear.

The episode of DTLT Today (#112) included above, begins to describe what that next gear is. We needed a full-on switcher with true multiple inputs so we can do multiple camera angles, include computer content such as demoing websites, Skype conversations (or Google Hangouts), playing YouTube videos, and so on. The video is pretty rough, but it goes over some of the components that we used. I’ll let the video itself do the rest of the talking, but I did promise that I would list the equipment that we used, so here it is:

  • Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio (rack mounted w/power unit) ~ $1000
  • Blackmagic Design HDMI to SDI Converter (required to do long cable runs with SDI – HDMI will not do long cable runs) – * ~$300 ea.
  • Vixia HDMI Camera (we’ve used HV-40 and HF R400) – * ~$300 ea.
  • Mackie 402VLZ4 Mixer – * ~$100
  • RCA stereo to 3.5mm to run audio into camera
  • XLR audio cables
  • XLR microphones – In the video we use Shure SM58 (~$100), but we’ll also use Shure MX150 (~$300), Sennheiser MKE600 (~$330), and Sennheiser wireless
  • HDMI cables – standard (HV-40), or HDMI to mini HDMI
  • SDI cables – 50 ft.
  • Other inputs – Mac Mini via HDMI (input @ 1080i), GoPro via HDMI micro to HDMI,
  • Mac Mini or other for computer input (Skype, Hangouts, YouTube, etc.)
  • MacBook Pro running ATEM Software Control (switcher app) – connected to switcher via USB and Ethernet
  • iPad running Strata Lite ($10) for ATEM switcher control
  • Teradek VidiU ($700) box for live streaming to YouTube – *
  • Things we plan to add or use on certain occasions – Atomos Samurai Blade ($1300) for monitoring and redundant recording via SDI, Blackmagic Design Hyperdeck Shuttle Recorder ($345) to include video playback

* – needs an A/C Adapter

New Year 2014

Happy New Year one and all! I don’t know what it is, but 2014 is one of those years that sounds special for some reason. I can’t put my finger on it. I was finally able to slow down a bit during the Christmas break. The way things have gone for me in recent years, I have not been able to get into the spirit until after the actual holiday. Musing about surviving the holiday is not new. The turn-off for me begins on “Black Friday” and goes downhill until everyone stops literally trampling each other for holiday deals. Online shopping, for me is a savior – forgive the “reason-for-the-season” pun. Speaking of Online, it certainly was an oft-spoken word in the EdTech community. Certain segments of online course offerings went from boom to bust in 2013 (you know, the “M” word?).

If nothing else, the holiday break is a time for reflection, and for me 2013 was a doozy. Not because of a lot that happened. Though I did manage to obtain my prized And my Mom passed away. I started thinking more about UMW’s Convergence Center. I also thought a lot about numbers. There are some things I didn’t do this year, like my annual MS Ride. What I did in general is soak in the conversations about content, and courses, and delivery. I mostly look at those through the lens of video and (the earbuds of) audio. I’m thinking hard about the real vs. the virtual. Content vs. context. Even cloud-hosted vs. self-hosted.

So what got me thinking the most about online education and its efficacy? Christmas lights. Um, yeah, an explanation is needed.

Just after Christmas, my brother came down to visit. One of his suggested activities was to go see the “Tacky Lights Tour” in Richmond, Va. There’s a long list of houses to visit, so in an effort not to drive “all over Richmond”, I used the top 10 list to plot a course of a few of the “best” destinations. I couldn’t have done it without Google Maps and turn-by-turn directions on my iPhone.

The first house was in the Tuckahoe neighborhood, near the University of Richmond. Ahead of us was a limo. That was the first indication of how seriously people take these light shows. It was a narrow street and this particular display didn’t compel me to park and get out. I hoped that the next set would be more impressive to my and my brother’s family. I then plotted the course to the house (actually houses) that the list said was the “must see” – on Asbury Ct.

We turned into the neighborhood and saw a huge display, but we hadn’t reached our destination yet. It was a house that backed up to Westbury Lake, just off Patterson Ave.

This one got us primed. I parked, got out and snapped the shot above. Back in the car to the real destination. As we got close enough to see it, my brother let out an audible gasp.

It’s actually two houses with an unimaginable amount of lights, as well as a window display of animated Christmas dolls. We got there at a good time because as we left there was a small traffic jam forming with more limos and buses (I kid you not). Mind you this was December 30. I can’t fathom what crowds would have been like BEFORE Christmas. Off to our next house – The Christmas House.

A quieter street and a (relative to the last site) more humble set-up, but with a friendly man who greeted us and gave us the story of HIS lights. He said it takes four days just to plug everything in. I thanked him for what he does and wished him a Happy New Year.

Our last house was a visit to what I’m guessing is the most famous couple who put on a display and that’s the house of Al and Esther Thompson’s at 9726 Wendhurst Drive in Glen Allen, Va. You can read and see more about their display at

In visiting just these few houses, we were filled with Christmas Spirit and a great sense of joy and care for the holiday.

So I’m doing my best to use words and pictures to convey what I saw that night. I took tons of pictures. Close up, and wide angles. I was trying to capture details that give you a “picture” of the whole. I even took a little bit of video. Lots of news organizations and TV networks have covered the displays. It can’t, however, match being there, in the moment. I couldn’t adequately capture the look of wonder on my son’s face. He did say that it was one of the most amazing things he’s ever seen (at least in his short, 11-year-old life).

And that’s where we are with online education. We’ve made leaps and bounds with technology to help us convey content and disseminate information. However, we are inching forward with technology to give that full experience. Maybe, one day, we’ll have technology that everyone can use and has access to that allows a 3D immersive experience that can closely approximate “being there”. What’s important is that we take advantage of everyone who can write about, and photograph, and create video of these experiences, so as to amplify the experience. That amplified (social) experience is taking place online. It will enable a rich online educational experience. How rich is to be determined, but there are some talented individuals thinking in this space right now, and I have little doubt they will maximize the experience.

Epilogue – Here’s one video segment from CBS to give you a flavor for the Richmond Tacky Lights Tour:


Blu-ray Discs to Apple TV


I am writing this post the day before the October 2013 Apple Event where new iPads, MacBooks, Mac Pros, and a new OS X version known as Mavericks will all be announced. Rumor has it that a new Apple TV (ATV) will be coming soon too, but may not show up until a bit after the event. There’s even some question as to what it will be. The important thing, at least to me, is that Apple keeps adding capabilities that hint at getting serious with their set-top box. For me, it is the most complete device based on my home theater ecosystem.

Until recently, there were a few things that were missing from the box. One was a good built-in radio service, ala Spotify or Pandora. Apple has “fixed” that with their iTunes Radio app which is now prominently displayed in the top row of icons on the ATV screen. Also, more and more TV network apps have been added to watch programming like ESPN (Watch ESPN), the Smithsonian Channel, Disney Channel, and Sky News. The ESPN and Disney apps require that you have a cable subscription and that you authenticate with your cable provider account. The question going forward is whether there will be more independent apps that WON’T require cable. There are other services that would be nice on the device, but you can always use an iPod/iPhone/iPad to Airplay the missing apps to your TV. I do prefer them built-in though. The other issue is that the home screen is getting crowded since Apple has been adding more apps. This may be addressed with an updated device and new interface.

The final piece to this puzzle for me (and the purpose of this post) is the ability to play my HiDef movies (Blu-ray in most cases) through the ATV. That is, I have Blu-ray discs that I’d like to “rip” and then play on the device, and since it doesn’t have a hard drive built in, it means serving them up via my Mac Mini and iTunes. Blu-ray copy protection was cracked almost from day one of the format’s release. I have been using a program called Make MKV (a free program in what seems like a perpetual beta) which will create a single HD video file from Blu-ray movies using the h.264 codec. The problem was (is) that the ATV won’t recognize the .mkv format (actually mkv “container”), even when the h.264 codec is used (most of the apple video out there – QuickTime movies – uses the h.264 codec). So the next step was to use something like Handbrake to re-encode it into an Apple TV friendly file. The problem with that workflow is time. To re-encode a file of this size takes, depending on the processor speed, many hours (like 4-8 hours or more). There’s two problems with that. The first is, who wants to wait 4 to 8 hours? The second is when you re-encode, you’re losing quality. Even though the x.264 codec that Handbrake uses is extremely good quality.

So the solution is a program that I discovered recently called Subler (free from Google’s code repository). What it does is “re-wrap” the file in an Apple compatible wrapper (like an .m4v file that iTunes recognizes). If you’re not familiar with re-wrapping, it essentially takes the files inside one “container” (like .mkv) and puts it in a new container (again – .m4v). The advantage of Subler is that it takes considerably less time to re-wrap than it does to re-encode. So even though the file is several gigabytes in size, it will take about 30 minutes to complete. Note – that is on top of the 30-60 minutes that Make MKV takes to rip your Blu-ray disc. So an hour and a half versus 4+ hours. You decide.

Once you have your .m4v file, just add it to your iTunes library and then if you are sharing iTunes, your ATV will see it. Subler also adds metadata so you can indicate that the file is a movie, in 1080p HD, and even include the artwork for the movie (a google image search for the movie will give you what you need). It will then appear in your list of movies with the artwork and an “HD” indicator. I can report that the video looks fantastic – and I have one of the 2nd generation ATVs that only does 720p (I also have a TV that is 720p). Obviously the 1080p files get scaled down, in case you were wondering whether a 1080p file works on a 720p Apple TV. On a new 3rd gen. Apple TV with a new-ish flat panel it will look, well, like a Blu-ray disc should.

Two final notes. First, 1080p, Blu-ray quality video is only half the equation. When creating the MKV file and then using Subler, you need to make sure to use the multiple channel information (i.e. 5.1 surround) to get the full glory of the movie on your home theater.

Second. You should know that Subler will only be able to re-wrap to an Apple format if the MKV file is using the h.264 codec. I have HD-DVDs that I have used codecs like MPEG 2, and VC1, so they will need to be “transcoded” to h.264 (or x.264 in the case of Handbrake). That means get ready to wait.

I’ll be working on some screencasts to show you some of this as soon as possible. Those of you who know your way around this stuff already can get started with moving your Blu-rays to your Apple TV right away. Enjoy the Apple Event tomorrow and here’s hoping that they have something truly new to show off.


My Newest Venture

Introducing the Home Theater Cookbook website. It’s an idea I’ve had for quite a while now. I registered the domain back in 2008 (March 27 will be the 4 year anniversary!). I know, it took me long enough. The original idea was to write recipes, or instructions, on how to accomplish some home theater related task, like convert your DVDs to files you can store on your hard drive. I would post the “ingredients”, and then list the steps to complete the task. I have expanded the concept to include reviews and other resource articles related to home theater and home entertainment.

It basically is documenting my affection and wonder at the potential for all things media. I’ll reflect on the successes and struggles of using home media devices, software, cables, and more, to give you some ideas for your own entertainment system. There are also lots of experts out there that I will draw upon. My goal is to provide you with good information that will guide you through the minefield that is home electronics. For all of it I will simply ask of you to go shopping at Amazon and buy stuff (you’ll be using a customized link to get there). It will help support my efforts. Thanks and I hope you enjoy it.

Psycho macguffin

psycho macguffin

Originally uploaded by rushaw.

First Hitchcock macguffin?

Bullit Macguffin

Bullit Macguffin

Originally uploaded by rushaw.

A contribution to DS106

Punch and Judy Show

Swanage Punch & Judy

This post is apropos of nothing, but Jim Groom’s The Shining commentary got me interested in Punch and Judy after what might have been a throw away comment at the end of his analysis. Of course, I loved that he was talking about what is probably MY favorite movie. And I must admit I love the “labor” theme that Jim talks about. I think many times about that fine line between how much work and play I do. My DTLT colleagues cut a little close to the bone sometimes as well when they make jokes about my work ethic (such as it is).

The Punch and Judy reference also reminded me of one of my favorite bands songs, Punch and Judy, an obscure one by XTC. It’s a song about a couple who are married and a baby comes along to ruin the potential dreams of the father, which leads to violent behavior. Sound familiar? Maybe that resentment is the key to Jack Torrence’s violent behavior. Don’t worry I’m not going to take this very far, but watching the build up to extreme violence in The Shining does expose Jack’s simmering hatred for his responsibilities.

Again, not related seemingly is the knowledge that all Punch and Judy shows used a device called a swazzle that changed the “Professor’s” voice. It was a “reed” that was placed deep in the throat to make Punch sound more, well, frantic and annoying. It is interesting to me that before violent video games and violent cartoons before that, Punch and Judy shows have existed for over 300 years and probably at various times they have been blamed for encouraging violence in our society.

Finally, my last disconnected thought is of my first exposure to a Punch and Judy show was from one of my favorite Marx Brother’s films Monkey Business. Harpo is a stowaway on a ship along with his brothers and hides from the authorities by playing Punch in the puppet show. The annoying, and yet funny sound of his voice was obviously changed using a swazzle of some sort. Thanks Jim for conjuring up all these thoughts and leading me to greater knowledge!

“The Boss” is gone

It is fun to listen to William Nack. He is a great sports storyteller. UMW has had the great pleasure of hosting him at least a couple of times for our Great Lives Series. A few days before Steinbrenner’s death I was editing one of the talks that Nack gave in 2008 on Babe Ruth. He also did a talk on Muhammad Ali in 2006. I am in the process of re-doing the videos in a modern format (Real Player doesn’t cut it any more).

Associating Nack with the Great Lives series, and then seeing him eulogize Steinbrenner, makes Steinbrenner seem a little more special.

I was never a big fan of George Steinbrenner. I was 9 years old when he bought the Yankees from CBS in 1973. I did love the Yankees (my father and older brother were big fans), and at the time, they were not a very good baseball team. They certainly had been, but the lack of a World Series win since 1962 meant that I had never seen my beloved team win it all.

Steinbrenner died yesterday from a heart attack. He had heart troubles before. He is known for ushering in what we call “free agency” in sports with the signing of “Catfish” Hunter. After the ugliness of the Lebron James fiasco, that’s not a particularly great legacy.

The Yankees did win championships in 1977 and 1978, but then suffered some more lean years with lots of turmoil, and lots of different managers. It wasn’t until he ceded control of the day-to-day operations that the Yankees became winners again. However, this seems to be the time when Steinbrenner showed that he was the most human. I remember tears and hugs for Joe Torre when they won the Series. William Nack does not varnish over Steinbrenner’s fallibility, but his remembrance drives home that human quality.

The iPhone 4 Defect

I feel lately like Apple is the genius younger brother in the computer world. You know, the one who doesn’t get blamed for bad things that happen, because he is so smart, even brilliant, and innocent. He’s always got a plausible excuse for why something bad happened. Then people pat him on the head and say, well, it’s OK young man, just don’t let it happen again.

With Apple’s iPhone 4, the cute answers have been “don’t hold it that way“, and “we’re stunned that blah blah blah” when it comes to a reception issue that many people have reported. I’ve been saying for several months now that Apple is at a crossroad. These kinds of answers won’t cut it because they’re an adult company now. What they’re telling their customers is bullshit. There is no other word for it (well there is, but this one has the best bang for the buck).

Steve jobs reportedly told people not to hold the iPhone 4 a certain way, you know, the same way that virtually all of their advertising demonstrates to hold the phone, and the way Jobs himself held it at its introductory keynote. Then there was the letter that admitted that they we’re “stunned” to find the way they measured signal strength be wrong. In other words, they were lying all along about those signal strength bars. They were making it look like they had more signal than they actually did. They just said they didn’t know, or think it was possible, that they were lying.

Well, today, none other than Consumer Reports called bullshit. They said the phone, by bridging the gap in its new antenna design, could lose -20Db in signal, and that could lead to dropping a call. Unlike what Apple has said in their letter, the other iPhones did not lose the signal like the iPhone 4. Antenna experts reached slightly different conclusions. Then they acknowledged a problem.

OK Apple Genius, your move.

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