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.


Hard At Work

I’ve been getting a lot of paying gigs lately, but it’s no excuse for taking almost a year to finish the 2nd episode of Time Travellin’. In the past few weeks I’ve made some really good progress. I’m going for a much more complicated style this time around, including actual movement, and full bodies. Here’s a little taste.


In My Room

This is a short video I made in 2002 for a class called “Life Stories.” I thought it was lost, but I found it on a badly labeled tape today. It’s mostly of interest as a companion piece to The Epic Tale of Kalesius and Clotho (which I was shooting at the same time) and is another example of my inability to avoid fictionalizing even supposed documentary videos back then.

Apple and Arrogance


I’m happy to hear that new MacBooks will have Firewire ports. It was a dumb idea to get rid of them in the first place, and Apple seems to have listened to its customers in this case. A concerned customer emailed Steve Jobs last year about the lack of Firewire in the MacBook, and Jobs responded “Actually, all of the new HD camcorders of the past few years use USB 2.” which is patently false. What he was referring to were the  consumer HD cameras that are gaining in popularity, but leaves out HDV, which is also rather popular. What it also leaves out is the vast legacy of firewire cameras still out there, not least of which is the venerable DV camcorder. And what about hard drives? Sure USB 2.0 can hold up fine editing DV, but if you’re planning to edit HD, even if your camcorder uses USB 2.0 for transport, you’re going to want a firewire hard drive while you’re editing.

This argument is old now, and it’s not an issue for people who didn’t buy the sans-firewire Macbooks, but it’s the arrogant attitude of knowing what’s best for people—and dropping legacy support—that drives me crazy. It happened to my beloved Apple II in the early 90s (ok, that one might have been for the best) and now it’s moving into my beloved MacBook Pro.

Apparently the new MacBook Pros don’t have any expansion slots. The old G4 PowerBooks had PC Card slots, like everyone else. Those were great, and were awesome for P2 card loading. Then the MacBook Pro went for the ExpressCard, which meant I need a slightly dodgy adapter for P2 card loading, but still works great. And if I ever did any work with SxS cards, they would work without an adapter. But now the MacBook Pros have a……. SD card slot?

The only word for this is downgrade. SD cards are media storage devices. Sure, they’re very popular, but you can get a USB SD card reader for $6 at Newegg. You know what you can’t get at Newegg? A direct connection to the PCI-Express bus. That means you can’t put in an additional Firewire bus for peripherals that require a dedicated bus, and you can’t get eSATA.

I’m sure there are lots of uses I’m not thinking of, but the point of giving direct access to the PCI-Express bus is that developers can come up with any crazy thing they want to and get some serious speed. Do you know what you can do with an SD Card slot? You can put SD cards in it. Sure the 17″ still has an ExpressCard slot, but have you ever picked one of those things up? They’re monsters. They’re about as portable as my Apple IIc was (it had a handle). If I wanted something that didn’t fit in my laptop bag and weighed a ton, I’d carry around my desktop computer. Who is Apple to tell me I’ll be fine without ExpressCards? I want options!

And finally I want to complain about those charming John Hodgman/Justin Long ads. I think they’re really well made, and Hodgman is a blast, but this idea that Windows-based computers constantly crash, and Macs are impervious to lock-ups is ludicrous. On a bad day I can get Final Cut Pro to crash 10 or 15 times (that’s on a real Mac Pro, not my hackintosh. The hackintosh tends to be very stable). I’m sick of the false idea that Macs are perfect and worth the extra cost because they’re more stable, and Windows is cheap and you get what you pay for. I think this is the worst one:

Are there “Meghans” out there who are looking for “fast processors” and are disappointed by the speed of new PCs? My girlfriend just bought a netbook that’s significantly faster than her old Thinkpad, which did everything she needed already, but has a bad battery and weighs a lot more. Computers these days are incredibly fast as long as you’re not an FPS-obsessed gamer (who is going to buy a PC anyway) or a FPS-obsessed HD video editor (who is going to need a Mac).

And let’s talk about Vista. I installed it recently, and it runs great. It’s a lot better than the barely-alive XP install I had after I tried to upgrade to SP 3. The only problem I’ve had so far is a deadbeat peripheral-maker who hasn’t made a 64-bit driver for my firewire audio interface. I’m fine using my soundcard though. I only really use the interface with Mac apps. And I understand it’s tough getting everyone on the 64-bit bandwagon. Has Apple released a real 64-bit operating system yet?

Post with Canon 5d Mark II

I did some tests yesterday with footage shot with Canon’s fancy DSLR, the 5D Mark II. It records 1080p30 video, compressed with H.264. The look of it is incredible. Using a real, expensive lens makes a big difference. There are some minor compression artifacts, and some small, but ugly noise in very low light, but I generally can’t fault the quality of the image. Of course, there are some major drawbacks for anyone who wants to shoot a movie with it, and not just upload pretty shots to their Vimeo account.

The basic workflow is this: Copy the H.264 mov files from your CF card, then convert them to an editable codec. If you’re mixing footage with other cameras, convert it to that format. I’m going to be working in ProRes HQ, so that’s what I converted to. I used Compressor, and it went pretty quickly.

The big problem I ran into is the framerate. It shoots only at 30.0 frames per second, which is incompatible with every other video format I work with. If you’re going to finish in regular old NTSC 29.97, you can easily use Cinema Tools to batch conform the 30.0 files to 29.97 files. It’ll take no time at all. If you use onboard audio, everything will stay in sync. But if you’re shooting double system (which I would recommend) then you’ll have to slow the audio down .1% before you sync it up. You can read up on that process in another post. If you’re shooting the rest of your film at 23.98 like we are, then you’ll have to do some serious frame-rate conversion. Right now I’m planning to cut it with G Film Converter turned on for preview purposes, then we’ll pay to run the final cut of the un-effected 29.97 video through an Alchemist to get a sharper conversion.

This is Bolex Stereo

filter50_1When I graduated from college, my dad and his wife gave me a 16mm Bolex camera from the 1950s. It was a neat gift, but the really unique thing about it was the Stereo Kit that came with it. It was a complete set of stereo lens, projector lens with polarizing filters, and a small silver projection screen. The system works by putting two tall, skinny images side by side on each frame of film. Then when it’s projected, they are offset and overlapped with each one polarized differently, just like a fancy new 3-D movie. Rather than being widescreen though, the image is tall and skinny. Unfortunately in the past I haven’t had the time and money available to get the system going.

The major thing missing right now is a 16mm projector that will take the 3-D lens. I can’t quite figure out what kind of projector it even needs to be. And despite being completely obsolete, they’re not always free. In the research I’ve done over the years I’ve heard that the polarizing filters in the projection lens tend to degrade over time. The projection lens definitely looks a little wonky. If that’s the case, then I’m going to have to figure out how to replace the filters. I’ll have to figure out what orientation they go in since they have to match the orientation of the glasses. I have brand-new 3D glasses provided by Coraline, which I’m pretty sure works on the same principle as the Bolex system.

And of course I’ll need to get a 100′ load of 16mm film and run it through the camera. That’s not exactly free either. Being a wind-up Bolex, sync sound isn’t an option (I also don’t have a dual-system projector lying around, or a way to sync it up in the first place) so I’m thinking a series of silent sight-gags involving things flying at the camera. To save money I’m going to shoot reversal, which I haven’t shot since way back in the year 1999. Apparently Kodak stopped making the higher speed color reversal stock, so I’m considering shooting Tri-X 200D B&W reversal. I’m not entirely sure the system will work with color film anyway. That will be an additional experiment I’m sure. A 100 foot roll costs $25. Processing will probably run another $25. Oh, and I guess I’ll need a light meter. It’s also not clear that the camera will run well without repairs. Last time I looked into it I was told it needed about $200 worth of work on it.

Seeing in Three Dimensions


As long as I can remember I’ve had a bad left eye. With both eyes open I can see just fine, but if I close my right eye I can’t read what I’m typing here. I’ve gone to several optometrists over the years, and they all told me if they corrected the left eye then I started seeing double, so I shouldn’t worry about it too much since I can read and edit movies just fine without glasses.

In December I finally went to an optometrist who made a real effort to correct the problem, Dr. Justin Bazan of Park Slope Eye. He came up with a prescription that seemed to work for me, but he wanted to make sure so he sent me to the University Optometric Center at SUNY. I went there yesterday and was subjected to a battery of tests by a large team of optometry students and doctors. Eventually they had me wear a pair of ridiculous mad scientist glasses with the prescription they had chosen.

Sitting down everything seemed normal. It was definitely sharper than normal, but nothing special. Then they had me walk around and I realized I haven’t really been seeing the world in three dimensions. I’ve been ignoring most of the input from one eye, and flattening everything out. I suspect that has something to do with why I was so bad at baseball. And I don’t want to read too much into this, but I wonder if the fact that movies have apparently looked as flat as the rest of the world to me is part of what drew me to movies in the first place. If they don’t look any less real than the real world that could make a real difference in the way I connect to flat images. It’s something to think about anyway. I’m curious to see how things change once I get my glasses (specialty lenses like mine take a little time) and can actually see in three dimensions all day. It’s very exciting.