Category Archives: Workflow

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.

 

 

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/

 

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 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.

YouSendIt sucks Bandwidth & the work-around

Seems that living the digital life, as we must do now, requires us to deal with a steady stream of curve balls. When digital delivery of image files became mainstream a few years ago, I was very happy not to have to make those end of the day screaming runs to the nearest FEDEX box.

All was good until recently I noticed that when I sent files via YouSendIt, a popular FTP utility service, the rest of my internet activities came to a halt. YouSendIt (YSI for short) would max out my upload bandwidth and the result was that I couldn’t even send or receive emails, much less follow up on Kim Kardashian’s latest fashion mistakes while idly waiting for files to be delivered.

If it was just my digital life that was on hold, it wouldn’t be so bad, but I share the network with my web designer wife, and she gets in a really bad mood when the Internet shuts down. At first, I blamed Comcast, my ISP, since they have been implicated in nefarious plots to “shape” web traffic. Maybe they had me figured for a uTorrent type and threw a switch every time I hit “send”. Hours of tech calls convinced me that Comcast wasn’t to blame, so I turned my attention to YSI. Their tech people finally admitted that it was possible that their express service, with its increased upload speed, could use up all the available bandwidth.

What YSI really needs to do is either limit the upload speed to something like 80% of available bandwidth, or better yet, provide an upload throttle -much like vimeo does- so that the user can choose the ratio of speed vs. lack of internet for him/her self.

Since that though hasn’t occurred to the YSI folks yet (or maybe they don’t want to go to the trouble to implement it) I searched for a work-around. I found that web based FTP utilities, including the YSI web based utility sent files at about 50% of the upload speed of the YSI Express application so the problem was avoided, but at the cost of double the time to send files.

My current strategy is to use the web based YSI during the day (especially if the web designer was online) and to use the Express application late at night or when the resident web designer was taking a lunch or gym break.

If anyone out there has other thoughts or solutions, I’d love to hear them. You can email me at: richard@richardandersonproductions.com

What’s up with Apple?

Way back when, my first computer was a PC running Windows 3.1. By 1999, I was ready to get a “real” computer, meaning something I could use for Photoshop, so I bought my first Mac. It was an OS 9.0 G4 tower. Ever since then I have bought a new tower every 2-3 years. I currently have a 2010 2.4 ghz 8 core machine. Its been great for Photoshop, Lightroom and everything else. Now that I have moved into video production, no amount of tweaking has given me the video editing machinery that I really need.

It’s sort of like upgrading a bicycle. You can hang all kinds of fancy parts on it- but if the frame isn’t up-to-date, you are throwing money down a rat-hole.

Over time I have added large fast drives, upped the RAM to 36 GB, and installed an NVIDIA Quadro 4000 graphics card to take advantage of the CUDA acceleration built into Adobe Premiere Pro. I also upgraded to Premiere Pro 6.0 since Adobe has been improving performance with each new release. The last thing I did was add a Matrox Mojito card in order to speed up exporting .h264 files and also to add a calibrated LCD TV monitor to do color grading.

I have been able to get by hanging new parts on the thing, but the bottleneck is clearly the out of date processor- the “frame” so to speak. I keep the Activity Monitor app open constantly as I work in PP, and usually see a solid cube of green as all 8 cores are at the limit. “Riding on the rivets” in bicycle terminology.

In previous years, whenever this happened, I’d splash out for a new tower, and enjoy 2-3 years of (more or less) smooth workflow. Now Apple has let me down. Even a laptop or an i-mac has more modern processors then a new Mac Pro. These newer intel CPU’s have circuits specially designed to unwrap .h264 codecs. This has become an essential feature, largely because of the DSLR video revolution.

Although there are many variables to consider when designing a video editing workflow, the root decision is whether to edit a large lightly compressed codec, or a smaller (in terms of disk space) more highly compressed codec- such as one of the .H264 variants. Apple developed their Pro-Res codecs at a time when computers really couldn’t handle editing the highly compressed .H264 codec. Over time, it appears that Apple became wedded to the so-called transcoding workflow, while Adobe became the innovator with Premiere Pro designed to playback & edit .H264 in real time. The advantage is that you save the time it takes to transcode footage, and you save considerable disk space since Apple Pro Res creates a disk footprint 1.6 x greater than the original footage. If you are like me, you’ll probably want to hang onto the original footage as well, so you are looking at storing and backing up almost 3 times more data than if you used the Adobe-decode on the fly-workflow. Final Cut 7 users didn’t really feel the pinch of not having 64 bit processing so much because they had to use Pro-Res for editing anyway. Sure 64-bit would have made things better, but 32-bit still worked. On the other hand, putting the footage on a fast RAID 0 arrangement was one way to speed things up because Apple Pro Res is disk intensive rather than processor & RAM intensive. Adobe Premiere Pro is just he opposite, being mostly processor intensive, then RAM intensive and then GPU (graphics card) intensive, in that order.

OK, so where does that leave us with the Mac Pro? Maybe folks at Apple don’t even consider the needs of folks who use Adobe Premiere Pro, but it has become painfully obvious that the need for a multi-core, high ghz, modern CPU with .h264 decoding built in, is not being addressed. You can still buy a new Mac Pro, but it won’t have what you need for native DSLR video editing.

The need has become so great that many previous Mac folks are switching to HP workstations and others willing to suffer in other ways are building “Hackintoshes”.

I’m still holding out hope that Apple will build a new Mac Pro, perhaps using the new Ivy Bridge processors. Unfortunately similar rumors surfaced last year after the release of the Sandy Bridge processors and nothing materialized.

All of this wouldn’t be quite so bad if Apple had chosen to create a Final Cut 8, designed for 64-bit processing and therefor suitable for .H264 editing. Instead they came out with Final Cut X, which by all accounts, was not what video professionals had been looking for.

Clearly Apple has turned it’s back on the creative community that put the panache in Apple’s reputation to begin with. After years of creating a strong niche market in the video community, Apple has seemingly treated that niche market with a corporate shrug.