Editing Snapz Pro Source Files in FCP

At my current gig, I sometimes need to use videos generated by Snapz Pro. We recently ran into a problem where previously-working FCP timelines wouldn’t render and would generate the mysterious message “Codec not found. You may be using a compression type without the corresponding hardware card.” I had already found that capturing videos at 30fps in Snapz generally led to FCP reporting the frame rate as 10fps and resulting in generally unreliable editing. I could never be sure the in-point I chose in the viewer would actually be the in-point in the timeline. It’s important to run Snapz videos through Cinema Tools to conform them to 29.97 or whatever frame rate you’re working at. But the new problem seems to be related to resolution. With Snapz I invariably capture some bizarre resolution with the plan of re-framing it in FCP. These days there has to be a good reason for me to work in a codec other than ProRes, so I’ve been saving the Snapz videos as ProRes. Unfortunately, It seems that although Snapz can save the videos to ProRes, if it’s a weird enough resolution, FCP and Compressor  are unable to generate new video. Compressor says “Processing service request error: Codec not installed.” I didn’t have this problem in the summer, so I suspect it’s related to a QuickTime update. Between this summer and now, the computers we’re working with were upgraded to QuickTime 7.6.4. The solution I’ve settled on is saving the Snapz videos in the Animation codec. The Animation codec doesn’t seem to have any resolution restrictions, and it seems well suited to screen captures anyway.

Streaming Netflix on my Blu Ray?

netflix_ps3_1Look, I’m just going to admit this. I don’t use my Blu Ray player very often. Most titles that are available on Blu Ray are large, new releases, and if I wanted to see them I saw them in the theater. I watch a ton of HD TV on my DVR. The indie films that frankly I hardly ever see in theaters anymore (sorry, business I work in, but my TV is awesome and your theaters are a pain in the ass) are almost exclusively available on DVD. I pay the extra money for Netflix to send me Blu Rays, but I only have a handful of Blu Rays in my queue.

But like a lot of Netflix subscribers, I’m getting more and more accustomed to the instant gratification of “Watch Instantly.” The selection is growing, and it’s a wonderful rogues gallery of films nobody wanted enough to tie up with restrictive licenses. We even get movies that have been out of print for years. Hal Hartley’s Trust is only available in the U.S. through Watch Instantly. Unfortunately I don’t have an XBOX 360 or a Roku, but I do have an Internet-enabled TV, and of course the “let’s hope someone comes up with some interesting way to use this” feature BD-Live on my Blu Ray player. So far both the TV and Blu Ray player haven’t gotten much use from their Internet connections. I’ve been hooking up my Macbook Pro to my TV via DVI-HDMI cable and an optical audio cable, but that requires all kinds of plugging and unplugging and doesn’t allow HD streaming through Watch Instantly. Both my TV and Blu Ray player are Panasonic, and neither of them has partnered with Netflix to allow streaming on their devices. And I don’t want to buy another device right now.

Today I learned that Netflix will be sending out special discs to PS3 owners that will enable them to use Watch Instantly through BD Live. Now the obvious question here is: why not my Blu Ray player too? What does that supercomputer PS3 have that my Blu Ray player doesn’t? Well, obviously the large hard drive and massive processing capabilities, but neither of those seem particularly necessary. I have a small amount of storage space available for BD Live material, and my Blu Ray player can obviously handle the processing necessary to play back HD video. Is there a technical limitation here, or is it a business limitation?

Previously Netflix had an exclusive relationship with XBOX 360, so opening it up to the PS3 is a big step. But opening it up to every Blu Ray player would be huge. It would paradoxically create a larger market for Blu Ray players while simultaneously reducing the market for the overpriced discs. Anything that makes it easier to get movies in the hands of consumers (for a fair price) is a good thing.

Alternate Fay Grim Titles

I was looking for a particular Hal Hartley clip on YouTube and I came across an interesting video.

I vaguely remember this happening while we were working on Fay Grim. A bunch of CalArts students made their own titles for the movie as an exercise. I don’t think I ever saw any of them. In this one (heavily influenced by the opening titles for Seven) I somehow end up credited as the editor and Carlos Brooks as writer/director, although Carlos directed Quid Pro Quo, another HDNet Films movie I made the credits for.

Another Kind of 3D


I still haven’t shot a roll of 16mm on my Bolex Stereo system, but halfway through the (excellent) Toy Story 3D double feature yesterday I realized that I could retrofit my animation project for 3D. I spent today rendering left and right eye versions of the episode that I made almost a year ago. Unfortunately there’s no good way to distribute 3D video online, so we’re stuck with the old anaglyph nightmare. Back when I bought my linear-polarizing glasses for the Bolex Stereo system, I was sent a pair of Dr. Jacoby-style Red/Blue glasses by accident, which has come in handy today. If you happen to have some red/blue glasses, check out Time Travellin’ Episode 1: Robot Overlords (3D version) on YouTube. I recommend using the “Red/Cyan Glasses: Optimized (Dubois)” setting rather than the full color version. It makes things a little easier on the eyes.


Cloud Backups

So it appears that T-Mobile has lost all the Sidekick personal data stored on Microsoft/Danger servers. This is bad news for the Cloud. I always assume that my data is safer in the hands of professionals. But apparently the Sidekick data wasn’t backed up? It got me a little nervous about the status of my 5 years of Gmail data, which I’ve always been content to leave up on the massive Google server system. I imagined my Gmail data existing in multiple locations in massive data centers all over the world, and it could never be lost. But I’m in a backing up mood anyway, so last night I used Gmail Backup to download all my messages.

I was watching SNL (typical of this season so far, it was almost entirely bad) so I wanted to stay in the living room. But I wanted to download the data to the desktop computer in my office. I decided to use the Screen Sharing built in to OS X. I logged in to my desktop computer using my laptop. Everything worked perfectly right out of the gate. Nice work Apple!

Offsite Backup

Despite once having three hard drives fail within a month, I’ve never been much for worrying about backups. Sure, when I edit a movie I generally back up the FCP project every day. I used to burn CD-Rs (I know, so quaint!) now I usually put it on a thumb drive, or just zip it up (very important! you save a lot of space) and email it to myself. That way Google keeps a copy forever. Even in that instance of multiple hard drive failures, I managed to avoid actually losing any data because I got everything off the drives before they failed permanently. So I haven’t run into that terrible situation where you suddenly realize you’ve lost days or weeks or years worth of work.

But I am getting older, and I realize I’m not going to live forever. Maybe that recognition of my own mortality is leading me towards some concrete backup plans. That, and the incredible dropping prices of hard drives. My first step was to buy a 1TB USB/eSATA external hard drive. I picked up a copy of SmartBackup, which lets me chose exactly what I want to back up, and does incremental backups from then on. It also allows me to browse through the backed-up files in Finder, which is important. I had multiple projects on multiple drives, and it was a simple operation to pick the folders I wanted and send them all onto the new drive.

I’ve been doing this for a few months now, but the drive’s physical proximity to the other drives is making me feel less secure than I’d like to. If there were a fire or electrical disturbance that caused one of the drives to fail, they could all go. And if anyone set off a giant pinch as part of a scheme to rob a casino, I wouldn’t be very happy. Although, that last one is unlikely, because there aren’t any casinos close Brooklyn. I looked into so-called “fireproof” safes, which generally only protect paper from burning. In order to really protect hard drives, you need to spend a lot more money than I was willing to spend. I considered online backup, but a quick calculation informed me that with my slow DSL upload speed, it would take around 6 months to upload everything I wanted to back up.

The simplest solution, of course, is a sneakernet. I’m going to buy another $100 drive, back up my backup drive and physically move it to another location. Problem solved.

A Serious Man Is Absurd


I saw A Serious Man last night, and I can’t say I liked it as much as some of the Coens’ other films, but it certainly is a funny and discussion-provoking movie. I’ve seen some reviewers describe the film as Nihilistic, which is a philosophy I believe the Coens explicitly rejected in The Big Lebowski. The Nihilists in that movie are ridiculous crybabies. Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it’s an ethos. I’m not an expert in the philosophic arts, but I think a much more accurate description of the movie—and a term that I don’t see discussed very often these days—is Absurdist. Nihilism rejects the possibility of meaning in the Universe. Absurdism finds it highly unlikely. It’s hard to find humor or drama in an absolute certainty in the meaninglessness of life. In an Absurdist world, the search for meaning behind events is considered absurd, because a person is highly unlikely to find it. That perfectly describes A Serious Man, and pretty much the entire Coen catalog.

YouTube Goes Extra Widescreen


I don’t know what this is about, but when I watch 16:9 videos on YouTube, I have 50 pixels of black on either side of the video. You get the right aspect ratio if you switch to a smaller player by clicking on the –><– button on the upper right, but then the video is too small. I haven’t seen any announcement from YouTube about it, and only a few people around the Interwebs seem to be complaining. I would like to put my complaints out there. Widescreen was a good idea. Pillarboxing is not. It’s even worse with 4:3 videos, although to be fair, pillarboxing on 4:3 videos is expected and not a big deal for me)


A $200 Desk Chair


My mother bought me this $60 used purple foam desk chair my freshman year of college, and I kept it for 10 years. It was quite comfortable, but the springs were so worn out that it was almost impossible to keep it level. So I recently went on a quest to find a replacement that wouldn’t break the bank. Since most of you reading this are sitting on office chairs, I thought I would share some of the things I learned.

Herman Miller Celle

I started at the top. I’ve sat on my share of fancy chairs in fancy offices over the years, and I know how comfortable those Herman Miller chairs are. The Aeron is nice, but I spent this spring sitting in one of their newer and less expensive Celle chairs. Rather than a soft mesh they have an unusual network of plastic circles. Despite the harder look of it, it’s really quite lovely to sit in all day. I prefer it to the Aeron. I went to Design Within Reach in Brooklyn Heights to check out the other fancy chairs available. The Humanscale Liberty won Slate’s desk chair round-up a few years ago, and I can tell you it is quite comfortable as well. But at $1000 it was well out of my price range. Nothing at Design Within Reach was what I would consider “Within Reach” so I headed downscale.


I spent some time sitting on chairs at my local Staples, but nothing really felt sturdy and comfortable. It was also impossible to get a salesperson to help me out. I spent a lot of time online, and wasted a lot of energy trying to find an inexpensive all-mesh chair because I was sure that was the best option. I ended up ordering a Super Mesh Office Chair from Bizchair that was extremely solid, and well-constructed, but the metal frame around the mesh seat dug into the back of my legs because I was too short for it, and the mesh seat was surprisingly hard on the butt. The armrests also felt flimsy. They’re adjustable in a way that never really locks in place and they always jiggled a little when I used them to move the chair.

So rather than disassemble it and pay for the round-trip shipping, I sold it on Craigslist to a much taller man, for a slight loss.

At that point I realized that it is in fact necessary to sit in a chair before you buy it. So I headed over to Office Furniture Heaven on 19th St. in Manhattan. I spent about an hour moving from chair to chair, experimenting with every combination of mesh, foam, and mesh-foam. There was an inexpensive all-mesh Raynor Apollo chair with a plastic frame that appealed to me, but even though it had an adjustable-depth back, the frame on the seat still dug into my legs a little. It seems like cheap mesh seats are not a good idea. I could imagine what it would be like in 10 years. I suspected it would not hold up as well as the old Purple Beast did.

ErgohumanAlthough by that time I had settled on a $400 price cap, I did spend a lot of time sitting in a Raynor Ergohuman mesh chair. It is highly adjustable, comfortable, stylish, and feels like it will hold up well under lots of sitting. MSRP is over $1000, but you can get it online for less than $500. I probably would have bought the Ergohuman if Raynor didn’t also make an Apollo chair with a foam seat. It combined a surprising amount of adjustment with a comfortable seat and a $215 price-tag. In addition to the usual seat-height adjustments, there are very simple back-height, back-depth, and seat-tilt adjustments. The seat even tilts forward if you like that sort of thing. I’ve had it for about a month now and I’m very happy with it.