Author Archives: Richard Anderson

Apple is falling farther and farther from the tree

My first blog post in 2012 (my how time flies) was titled “What’s up with Apple” and was about Apple’s failure to address the needs of its Pro users with a timely Mac Pro update. The next year Apple did put out an update but it wasn’t what I needed or wanted, or even wanted to look at for the next who knows how long. I mean it was ugly in more ways than one. I mean it looked ridiculous, was not modular in the way Pro users would want. It had no internal storage to speak of, no PCI slot expandability, no easy way to connect to my eSata boxes, no good GPU upgrade path. I mean this thing was a complete disaster. I took a pass on it. Phil Shiller crowed about it, making his famous stupid comment “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass”. What’s that saying, “Pride goes before a fall”? Anyway, Phil has been eating much crow lately. He pretty much admitted that the 2013 Mac Pro was a mistake and that it wasn’t upgraded for over 3 years because its fundamental design concept was wrong. Perhaps the newest MacBook Pro failure was the tipping point where Apple realized that all was not well with the computer division and that maybe they should start paying some attention to what Pro Users were saying…or at least those who had not already left for Windows 10.

Meanwhile, I stayed with the 2010 tower, replaced the dual processor tray with a custom 12 core 3.46 GHz processor, a Quadro 5000 GPU and 64GB of RAM plus a USB 3.0 card. Ironically it looks like I can use Nvidia’s newest GPU while “trash can” Macs can’t. Oh the irony…

Apple’s problem now is that they really can’t innovate in a way that is meaningful to pro users, despite what Mr. Shiller says, because that light went out at Apple October 5, 2011. Tim Cook may be a lot of things, but he is no Steve Jobs, and neither is Phil Schiller.

Anyway, Apple now says they will produce a new more modular Mac Pro, but not until 2O18. That is somewhat good news, but I am skeptical about how that will work out and perplexed that it would take them that long. Basically if they took the old tower design, added USB 3 and Thunderbolt ports, maybe added a PCI slot or two, miniaturized as much as possible without hosing functionality, then they would have something good. How long can that take? I mean my son built a killer gaming PC in one day after waiting 2 days for the parts to arrive. I mean, really! How dysfunctional has Apple become?

Apple Yearly OS Updates

Although Apple’s zeitgeist in the past has been “less is more” they seem to have pivoted to “more is more” when it comes to OS updates. Before 10.7 (Lion), OS updates were usually an every other year occurrence. Since then, Apple has put out a new OS every calendar year. Unfortunately, this is too often because it has become painfully obvious that Apple’s engineering Core (pun intended) is unable to deliver a finished product free of serious flaws that fast.

In fact, in my opinion, 10.8 (Mountain Lion) was the last relatively trouble free OS and each version since then has been worse than the one before.

If it was just flaws in the OS, that would be bad enough, but there are other effects. Apple has become like an out of control dance band making everyone dizzy by playing too fast.

Since I do video production, I constantly feel like my Mac Pro workstation is like a house of cards that every OS update threatens to topple. I have to check on or update drivers for all the video related stuff like Matrox cards and Nvidia cards, not to mention all the Premiere Pro issues and Premiere Pro plug-ins. It can take up to 2 weeks of constant tweaking to recover from an OS release. Even then, some issues linger for months, and some never get resolved until the next OS release, which unfortunately often breaks something else.

Who does Apple think they are serving with this OS update schedule? It certainly isn’t a customer like me. I’m pretty sure Adobe would be just fine without having forced updates due to OS issues. My guess is Nvidia would be just fine with not having to update their drivers every year (and sometimes even more often).

I’m hoping someone at Apple will rebel. It might just be the folks in tech support, because the last few times I’ve dealt with them they seem about as frustrated as I am, which is a dangerous place for your customers and especially your tech support folks to be.

 

 

A Scary Adobe Premiere Pro Story for a video editor’s Halloween

Video editing is not for the faint of heart. Being somewhat masochistic, my video editing workstation is an older tricked out Mac Pro. I like the fact that I can have 6 hard drives in it (although I have two 5 bay Burley eSata boxes attached as well).

I’m not sure if having an older Mac adds to my problems, however, as the tales of woe are equally heard from all corners of the Mac and Windows world, and in fact maybe more so from the newer Macs. I do know that the Achilles heel of the older system is the lack of development of graphics cards, and that fact will most likely be the reason I will have to get a more modern machine at some point.

The challenge video editors face is the constant barrage of updates from both Apple and Adobe. I’m not sure if either company is aware of the mayhem they create when they constantly release inadequately tested software out into the world. It’s gotten to the point where I keep both a separate daily operating system clone and an hourly Time Machine backup, because you never really know when the bad stuff is going to happen, only that it will, and often. I delay updates as long as possible and surf the Apple and Adobe complaint forums regularly before committing to updates from either company. Even with that strategy, things can go seriously haywire at almost any time.

I had maybe the scariest experience I’ve ever had with video editing just the other day. I was finishing up an Adobe Premiere Pro project, just tweaking a few things here and there and doing some final vimeo targeted exports when Premiere crashed for no obvious reason. I got the usual message that Premiere would attempt to recover the current project, which it does by making a copy. OK, been there before many times, but this time when I opened the copy project, I got an error message that the current project was “unavailable on the disc”. I clicked OK, not really knowing what this meant (or how this could be) and the project opened. I soon discovered (there should have been “Jaws” theme music) that apparently the dynamic link scenario had become corrupted because every project opened as the crashed project, not the named project. It appeared that Premiere was methodically trashing every project I had ever done! Even the auto saved copies were opening as the crashed project in its current form, so it appeared that all the backups were hosed as well. Fear and loathing really set in when this behavior was repeated when opening projects from my current video projects backup drive.

Although it is hard to stay calm when something like this is happening, I did have the presence of mind to do a restart from my clone drive. I let out a huge sigh of relief when Premiere Pro worked normally when I was booted from the clone. I realized that Premiere Pro had corrupted itself and the dynamic link as a result of the crash, so the path became clear, I’d need to uninstall Premiere on my boot drive and then re-install it. I had the uninstaller trash the preferences while it was at it.

After the reinstall, everything was back to normal. I felt like the character in “Occurrence at Owl Creek” where he says “I’m a living man…”

Afterwards, however, I was having less charitable thoughts about Software that has the possibility of doing such a thing. The main issue with both Adobe and Apple is that they don’t seem to have very robust testing in place. So this Halloween, in addition to things that go “bump in the night” one must always be ready to deal with murderous software…

OS X recovery “gotcha” when using (most) clone apps

An integral part of any digital workflow are applications that move data from one hard drive to another with  more control and reliability than either the Finder on the Mac OS or Explorer on the Windows OS. Many of these also create bootable clones, an important safety net in the event that your main hard drive fails. I have used 3 versions of these over the years, SyncProX, Carbon Copy Cloner, and Chronosync. I usually recommend Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) to my less tech savvy friends because it has the easiest interface to navigate. SyncProX is an excellent software, but it is relatively expensive at $99 compared to $39.95 for CCC and $40.00 for Chronosync, (all single user prices). Mostly due to my friend Peter Krogh’s recommendation (The Dam book author), I’ve been using Chronosync both for moving files and for doing nightly automated backups of all my working drives as well as maintaining a bootable clone of my main hard drive. A recent experience with a corruption of the mach kernel brought to light an interesting vulnerability in my clone backup system. I don’t know how the kernel corruption happened or when it happened, and it didn’t even impact my system until I did a restart on the computer. I don’t restart my computer on a regular basis, but every once in a while, I think it is a good thing to do, particularly if you have been working in Adobe Premiere for an extended period. I often clean the Premiere cache and then do a restart to keep the disk clutter down. In any case last Monday (I hate Mondays) I did a restart and when the computer came back up, I was looking at Mac OSX utilities instead of my desktop. If you’ve never seen this before, you are faced with 4 options:

• restore from a Time Machine Backup,

• Reinstall OS X,

• Get help online, and

• Disk Utility.

In my case, Disk utility did not reveal any disk problems- so it was purely a software issue. Then that’s when things got interesting and I learned something. I tried a boot from the clone- thinking that a restore from the overnight clone would be relatively quick and easy. Trouble was, whatever had become corrupted had been copied over to the clone. Here is where a Time Machine Backup can be a benefit. The only problem with that is how far back do you have to go? And if you have to go back more than a day or so, too much work might be lost.

Before going back to the main drive and doing the inevitable OS X reinstall, I decided to look at the reinstall OS X recovery option on the clone drive. Here is where I got a surprise and learned that my clone backup system was not fail safe. The version of OS X that the clone was offering was Lion (10.7) instead of Mountain Lion (10.8) which was what I was running on the main start up drive. As it turns out, the reason was that Apple started installing a hidden recovery partition with OS 10.7. If you remember, that was when you no longer got an installation disc, the OS was downloaded from the App Store. Not having a disc meant that Apple had to have a scheme whereby you could recover your system without having a physical disc. The recovery partition is exactly that, an approximately 650MB actual partition of the main drive. Normally this partition is hidden from view. You can unhide it by following the instructions here: http://osxdaily.com/2011/09/23/view-mount-hidden-partitions-in-mac-os-x/.

Anyway, back to the clone drive, the reason that the recovery partition contained code for reinstalling 10.7 and not 10.8, was because the clone drive had originally been the main drive and the 10.7 recovery partition was created during the 10.7 installation. What I learned from Chronosync support, was that “…ChronoSync does not create nor copy the Recovery partition when creating a bootable backup.” OK, so why might this be important? Let’s say that instead of a software glitch, you actually had a hard drive failure. No problem, you say, you will install a new drive, clone to it from the clone backup and be good to go. Except, in this case, you would have the wrong recovery partition. You could go back to 10.7, or you could then go to 10.9, but there isn’t any way you could restore to 10.8.

In another scenario, let’s say you are running 10.8, and you decide to make a new clone with Chronosync. You would think that everything is fine, even if you do a test boot from the new clone, but if you hold down the option key on restart, you might notice that the new clone doesn’t have any recovery option at all.

The work around, which is what I did, was to create a new clone drive with a recovery partition by formatting and partitioning a drive. I created 2 partitions with the first partition as small as Disk Utility allows, which happens to be just over 1 GB. The other partition is all the remaining space. Then I copied over the recovery partition from the main drive (after I made it visible and mounted it as per the instructions above) to the small partition. Next I ran Chronosync to create a bootable clone from the main drive to the larger second partition. Once all that was done, I did an Option/restart, and verified that the clone drive now has a 10.8 recovery partition.

Further research revealed that the same work-around is necessary with SyncProX. SyncProX’s response outlined yet another way to get a recovery partition installed ”…Synchronize! Pro X does not create a recovery partition. You can have a recovery partition on a disk by doing a standard install of Mac OS X on a disk, and then using Synchronize! Pro X to make a ‘Bootable System Backup’ to the normal partition on that disk.”  What they leave out here is that you may not be able to find the particular version of OS X you want to install if your main drive is dead.

OK, so what is the easy way to do this? Buy & use Carbon Copy Cloner instead. One of CCC’s features is to “Clone Apple’s proprietary “Recovery HD” volume (Lion+).” Clearly CCC has pulled ahead of its rivals in this case.

Why, you may ask, is it important to me to stay with OS 10.8 instead of going to 10.9? Well there are several reasons. One is that Apple dropped support for all PCI slot E-Sata host cards on the 17” MacBook Pro with 10.9. The other is that Adobe Encore has stopped working in 10.9. Adobe doesn’t seem to have any plan to update or replace Encore. Seems that both Adobe and Apple have decided that optical media is an obsolete notion. Meanwhile, if you are a filmmaker, you have plenty of reasons to still want to produce DVD/Blu-ray discs. Film Festivals and sales of your output on DVD or Blu-ray are just a couple of them.

New eBook from Peter Krogh – Organizing Your Photos with Adobe Lightroom 5

Peter Krogh has just followed up his Multi-Catalog Workflow with Lightroom 5 with an impressive new book, Organizing Your Photos with Lightroom 5. Both books share as their foundation Peter’s earlier works, The Dam Books 1 & 2 and the dpBestflow.org website.  The choice to use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom as the featured application in these new works is based on the popularity and feature set of Lightroom 5. If you use Lightroom and want to improve the organization of your photo library, this is the book for you. There is simply nothing better out there.

Organizing Your Photos (OYP) is very clearly written and comes with 7 hours of excellent explanatory videos. Since the videos are made with screen capture recordings of Peter pulling the Lightroom levers, you can see exactly how to make Lightroom do what you want it to do. Keep in mind that since the whole point of Peter’s book is using Lightroom as an organizational tool, you won’t find very much information about the Develop module (other than noticing that Peter knows how to use it very well for his excellent photography which illustrates the book). You will however find a ton of information about the Library module with some forays into the Map, Book, Slideshow and Web modules.

The underlying concept of OYP is that making the best use of your photos requires understanding how to store them for the long term, how to tag them with information, and how to create projects that can be viewed and shared. Peter refers to this as the three layers of organization. Storing and preserving your images is of course the foundation of DAM. Tagging your image collection with metadata makes it searchable and more useful. The payoff for the first two layers of organization is that it becomes easy and enjoyable to create collections, web galleries, books, slideshows, and published works which can be viewed and shared with clients, family and friends.

ALL of us started generating digital images before we fully understood how to organize them, a fact that Peter acknowledges. In fact he mentions some recent changes in his own procedures as software and technologies have changed. Consequently, strategies for how to organize your photo library retroactively are woven throughout the book. I have found this information to be very helpful in in tidying up my image library as well as in helping me streamline my workflow. Particularly useful in my view, is Peter’s thorough explanation of how best to work with Lightroom Collections. Used in the way Peter outlines, I find Collections to be an invaluable workflow tool that I had not previously used to full advantage. Whether you are just starting out with Lightroom, or have been using it since version 1 or 2, you will benefit from this book. It is available at:

http://thedambook.com/organizing-your-photos-with-lightroom-5/

 

Canon 70D DSLR for filmmakers

Although I switched to Canon from Nikon before the DSLR video revolution, I’ve generally been well served by Canon’s offerings as I moved more and more into documentary films. I currently use 5D II cameras with Mosaic video aliasing filters, a 1D IV, and now a 70D (also with a Mosaic filter). Although the 5D II has slightly better video quality than the 70D, the 70D has a killer app with the new dual pixel auto focus, which is coupled with an articulated LCD with touch screen functionality. The Mosaic filter, in my view, is a necessity since moiré in video is really unattractive.

What is exciting about this new technology is that, in general, you can forget about needing any kind of follow focus device. The focusing is accurate, smooth, and most importantly, doesn’t hunt. There are 3 focusing modes. The first two, face recognition+tracking and FlexiZone AF [ ] (Canon’s terms), are great for shooting movies where you let the camera keep the main subjects in focus. You would choose one or the other depending on whether faces or whether objects are the most important. The really interesting mode, in my opinion, is the third one, which Canon labels FlexiZone☐.  The little box represents the focus point and the best thing about it is that you can touch the articulated screen to change that focus point. If you are shooting video, this results in a smooth rack focus effect from one focus point to another. This same feature can be use in the face detection + tracking mode if for instance you wanted to rack (and then track) focus from someone in the foreground to someone in the background, or vice versa.

One instance where this auto focus ability is really key is when I have the camera mounted on a Jib. Instead of having to rely on depth of field, or even having to climb up on a ladder to check focus, I can now move the Jib all over the place with no focus worries.

Another instance is when I want to run two (or more) cameras by myself. I can manage focus pulling on one camera and I can let the 70D track focus on its own. So far, it has done a great job of that.

The only wish I have now is for Magic Lantern to create firmware for this model so I can get all those ML functions I use on the 5D II back. As a side issue, it kind of boggles (my mind at least) that Canon hasn’t opened some line of communication with the Magic Lantern folks, or even licensed the technology. It’s great that they have done the innovations that they have done, but the slow pace of innovation over at Canon hints at a corporate culture that isn’t particularly clever about certain things. And while they’re at it, maybe they should speak with the Mosaic Engineering folks as well…

Highly Recommended: Peter Krogh’s Adobe Lightroom Multi-Catalog workflow e-book

My longtime friend and colleague (UPDIG, dpBestflow), Peter Krogh is a brilliant thinker and accomplished teach of digital imaging workflow.  Following up from his highly acclaimed Dam Books, Peter is at it again with his release of the Lightroom Multi-Catalog e-book.  Clearly and concisely written, the e-book also contains 47 short how-to videos which show Peter’s workflow recommendations in action.

I have been advising folks for some time now that if they shoot lots of photos and are not using Lightroom, then in my opinion, they are making their life more difficult.  The caveat is that it takes some time and effort to learn all the nuances of this surprisingly deep program especially with regard to managing multiple catalogs.

Peter’s book is divided into 2 sections; 4 chapters which will deepen your understanding of how Lightroom works, followed by 5 Workflow sections that show how to execute the multi-catalog workflow that is right for you. If any part of the written explanation leaves you unsure or scratching your head, just go ahead and watch the excellent demonstration video that accompanies the chapter or section and you will understand what you need to do and how to do it, guaranteed.

Although I have been using Lightroom since version 2, I still learned a few new tricks from this e-book that have benefited my workflow. Keep in mind that this e-book focuses on image file management and Lightroom catalog management and not on how to develop image files. There are other books and tutorial videos for that. Those other books and videos, however, don’t address the nuts and bolts of organizing and preserving your digital images and preserving the work you do to them. Peter’s book is unique in that respect- which in my mind makes it uniquely valuable to amateur and pro alike.

 

Adobe Creative Cloud did not cause the sky to fall

Most of the dust has settled around Adobe’s announcement that CS6 would be the last non-subscription version of it’s software and would be replaced by Creative Cloud (CC) which is subscription only. There was a lot of concern in some quarters that this was anti-consumer, or anti-consumer choice, but I don’t see it that way. Much of these opinions seemed to come from two factions, those who are running marginal businesses and who tended to buy upgrades only every few years, and the Luddite faction that have a hard time with change.

In my view, $50.00 per month for EVERYTHING ADOBE MAKES is a DEAL. If your creative business cannot support $600 a year for critical software, (without which you could not even be in business), then you should probably consider doing something else with your life.

A big advantage to the subscription service is that updates can be rolled out continually. We accept this for almost all other software, including the OS, so it makes sense here as well. Speaking for myself, I find that small incremental updates are a lot easier to deal with then the 2-3 days of installation/learning curve that used to happen under the old regime of 18-24 month major updates. Hopefully this aspect will encourage Adobe to be more assiduous with bug fixes as their software is buggier (but also more complex) than most.

Part of the concerns that people had hinge on some other things, such as Adobe’s very bad reputation for customer service (it sucks), and with concerns about how CC works with regard to your internet connection (or lack of in certain cases like extreme travel). Most of these concerns go away when people come to understand that the software is local on your machine and that it doesn’t stop working if you are not connected to the Internet, even for extended periods. There have been a few hitches/glitches with the authentication process. I, myself, had a bad day where the authentication server was down just as my CC called home, causing my Adobe Premiere Pro to lose all its presets making it unusable. However after only two hours on hold, I was able to get customer service to fix the problem. Adobe does seem to be fixing these issues and making the authentication process more robust.

It would be nice if Adobe would improve it’s customer service, however, and I have a few ideas about how they can do that- stay tuned.

Adobe Premiere Pro cut & paste bug & the work-around

When I started to experiment with shooting and editing video, I researched the various editing programs and decided to focus on Adobe Premiere Pro. That was about 3 years ago and the version was Premiere Pro 5.0. Most everyone I knew was using Final Cut 7 so I had no one in my circle of friends who could provide any kind of instruction or tech support. Being on my own, I have relied on Lynda.com for the core information, and that has been supplemented by various YouTube videos and Google searches.

Although the learning curve has been steep, I am generally happy with what I can do in Premiere Pro. I’m also happy to report that each new version gets better. However, a nasty (and shockingly obvious) bug emerged with the latest version (6.02). If you are working, as I am, on large documentaries, you often wind up with a series of smaller projects, which will be integrated into the larger project. I had used this workflow quite successfully on my first documentary film, The Sudden Pianist, with no problems.

Although Premiere doesn’t allow for two projects to be open at the same time, I found that if I opened a project, selected & copied a sequence (or portion of a sequence), I could open the main project and copy that section into the timeline. In the project panel, the relevant bits and pieces would appear along with the copied sequence or portion of sequence. Brilliant!

However, after the latest update, I was working on a new commercial project and discovered that while copy & paste seemed to work as before, when I saved and closed the project and then reopened it, the imported sequence audio had a strange appearance. It had turned all red, and worse, it had no visible waveform and even worse, didn’t play back. It seems the Adobe Dynamic link had broken somehow.

At first, I tried taking the audio offline and manually re-linking in the project panel. No Joy. Then I discovered that by right clicking on the red audio, I could right click to “reveal in project” which selected the audio track in the project panel, and then I could right click again, select “replace with clip” and select “from bin” in the drop-down menu. This fixed the audio, so Big Sigh of Relief. However, I found that you have to do that 2-step process clip by clip. This can get really tedious very quickly.

Finally after a bit of Googlizing, I ran across this YouTube video.  Following the link posted under the video took me to this discussion. A poster named d_rob outlined a quick and easy solution which is as follows:
• select ALL the affected audio
• Right click and select “Audio Channels”
• Change the “Source Channel” drop downs to either right or left channel to match the original assignment.

Here is a screen shot:

Adobe Premiere Pro cut & paste bug

Adobe Premiere Pro Screenshot

The current bug is for the source channels to get changed to “none” when the clip is pasted into the other project. Changing them back to match the channels in the track fixes the problem. Although this is clearly a bug and Adobe will probably fix it, at least this work-around will save you much consternation (and time).

How Adobe can let such an obvious bug out the door is a subject for another time.

Vimeo, the service you love to hate.

Video and The Internet have formed a symbiotic relationship, each one driving the other. The rampant success of You Tube created a need for more sophisticated video hosting, and vimeo has gained a lot of traction as the arty alternative for many of us photographers turned filmmakers.

The great thing about vimeo is the community that has sprung up around it.

The bad thing about vimeo is that, although they have three levels of service, (free, Plus and Pro levels), they don’t make any provision for enhanced customer service with the extra money paid for the Plus and Pro accounts.

This would not be a problem except that hosting video content seems to have quite a few technical pitfalls. Things go wrong with uploads and streaming quality on a fairly regular basis and when that happens, you are at the tender mercies of a small handful of folks who address your concerns through an online forum: https://vimeo.com/help. Unfortunately, vimeo doesn’t provide telephone or even online chat support.

About six weeks ago, I began hearing from viewers that some of my vimeo hosted videos were not HD by default even though they were all HD in size. HD could be turned on, but you’d rather not have your viewers have to do that, besides, many might miss that, and go ahead and view the video in SD.

As soon as I realized there was a problem, I went on the vimeo help forum. One of the disconcerting aspects of this help forum is that you will get several people responding. Some of them seem to have read the previous posts on the issue, but not always, so you feel like you have to keep explaining the problem and all its nuances. It would be far better IMHO if vimeo would put one person on the issue and have them stick with it until resolved.

The second disconcerting aspect is that the default response assumes that you did something wrong or have some incorrect setting. It usually takes a few rounds of posts before the vimeo “problem sorting team” actually does some testing on their own. In fact it took three weeks before vimeo acknowledged that my issue was an actual “bug”.

The third disconcerting aspect is that vimeo seems to be constantly overwhelmed with technical issues. Reading through their help forum makes it clear that they play “wack-a-mole” with technical bugs day in and day out.

As of this writing, vimeo still doesn’t have an answer other than to say “This is one of the more challenging bugs we’ve been trying to sort about because there are just so many variables. Our developers are in fact trying to pluck away at this issue and we’re moving as fast as we can to have it sorted out. We know how frustrating this must be, and I do sincerely apologize.”

Oh, and they gave me one free month on my Pro subscription, so maybe they do get customer service after all.