Archive for the ‘Kvetching’ category

Contributing to the War Effort: Gimp vs. Photoshop

July 6, 2009

It was recently suggested to a friend of mine that he try out Gimp on his newly upgraded Mac. This friend already owns a copy of Photoshop CS4 and thus has no compelling reason to switch. Good.

In many books on the subject, the claim is made that Harland & Wolff describes the Titanic as “unsinkable.” This claim is not true. They touted the double-hull construction, and then the media of the time took that ball and ran with it: it was the press that called the great ship “unsinkable.”

Likewise, the Gimp team has never suggested that The Gimp is a Photoshop replacement. Bloggers and the rest of the open source community did that for them.

They’re wrong, in any case.

I like the idea of open source software, but, taking Gimp as our example (and, by extension, Inkscape), its single biggest advantage is that it is free. That’s where the Yellow Brick Road ends.

So, as I said, Gimp is marketed – as much as anything open source is marketed – as a Photoshop replacement. Let’s accept that, then, midguided as it is, and look at a few key areas where such an assertion is patently wrong, and I’m going to do so with real reasons.

Today, July 6th in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine, if you do a Google search on “gimp vs. photoshop” you’ll get more than seven million results. Of those, let’s say half are legit and/or not repeats. Of those, let’s say that just over three-quarters are whining about how the interface is different. Well, no shit. Different software, different interface. Let’s get qualitative:

1. You can’t nest layers, so organizing your graphic is pretty tough. No, scratch that. In real practical terms, it’s impossible.

2. Adjustment layers. One of Photoshop’s most powerful features. Gimp doesn’t have them. Sure, you can add layers that adjust layers below them, but that’s every layer from the adjuster, down. To isolate the effect, you have to merge the adjuster and the target, at which point, your adjustments are done. Better get it right the first time…or duplicate your target and hide it so you can go back and try again, further complicating the document.

3. Stroked paths that curve, pixelate and do weird shit with the stroke width.  Gimp can make Web2.0 style buttons and frames, but only if you’re willing to put up with awkward looking corners.

4. Text rendering is sloppy, with similar symptoms as issue #3: curves pixelate. You can get around this somewhat by creating your text huge and scaling it down, but that’s a real pain in the ass. You can also drop into Inkscape* to do any work with curves, but then you have to deal with differences in scaling between the two applications, likewise a real pain in the ass.

These are HUGE failings that Gimp is going to have to overcome before it will ever seriously compete with PS.

…which it isn’t officially trying to do anyway.

* Inkscape is also a serious memory hog, and if you have anything visual going on – hulu.com in another window, for instance – the Inkscape interface just stops refreshing. Maybe that would go away with a better video card, though it irks me that I’d have to upgrade what’s already a higher-than-baseline PC.

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Thoughts on the Linux box.

April 10, 2009

Through the whole Church video project, the Linux box has been a real trooper, allowing me to do day-job work – or even blog entries like this one – while the primary box was rendering. I can’t work as fast or efficiently, but some of that can be attributed to unfamiliar software and workflow.

Not ALL, mind you: some of it is that the box is eight years old and software for Linux is sorely trailing behind what’s available for Windows. I’ve only found one code editor that allows remote open/save, Komodo, but it functions no better than Notepad in a lot of ways: no tag completion, no syntax hilighting (at least for classic ASP/VBscript), no Intellisense. Thankfully, I have most of VBScript, CSS and javascript syntaxes memorized, but I’m still typing a lot of stuff longhand and that slows a chap down.

Can’t do video on this box; it’s just too old and can’t handle the throughput. There are precious few software NLE offerings anyway.  (Kino? Please. It’s shit.) I got to thinking, though, that it would probably work just fine for audio recording, and there are good options for that for Linux. My first love is still the Windows box, but when it’s busy and I have a hankerin’ to lay down some tracks, why not plug in to ol’ Tux and go?

I need some additional cabling and I think I can make a go of it. It’s worth a try.

Finally.

April 10, 2009

After more issues that I care to deal with again, I’m burning DVDs. As it turns out, I have to split the video between two discs since the whole three hour session came to just over 9gb, and I don’t have any double-sided discs.

That’s okay though. I’m seeing the end of this project, finally.

TMPGEnc was just the software I needed, though after first use it started throwing errors – or rather, vsfilter.dll started throwing errors. I haven’t had time to really investigate and a cursory Google search turned up – surpise! – nothing. Okay, next to nothing. The only “solution” I found wasn’t really a solution, insofar as it didn’t work. Again, that’s okay. When this project is over, I’ll have time to investigate further.

The summary is that by tomorrow morning’s Easter festivities at church, I’ll have two discs – the second is in the burner right this minute – to give the pastor, and we can call this one done.  I need to invoice the church, even if it’s all donated: I want to know, come year’s end, exactly what I did this year.

OK, this is getting stupid.

April 9, 2009

I won’t lie to you: I’m a DIY videographer. Having shot my last reel back when Super-8 Kodachrome 40 was still available from Fotomat and Ektochrome 160 was all the rage, I’m playing catch-up. I admit it. But this is nuts.

Let’s begin with a quote: “I don’t want it good. I want it Tuesday.” Jack Warner.

The Church Video Project

I realize this is all growing pains. As I learn new tools and techniques and figure out what each piece of software does this will get much easier, but damn, folks. Who do I have to fuck to get this 16:9 DV project to render to elemental streams (m2v and mp2/wav) I can actually work with?

The first render blew up after six hours. Actually, the Adobe Premiere process just quit. Vanished. I’d have never known if I wasn’t looking at the screen at the time.

The second render, in five 1/2-hour pieces from Adobe Premiere, wouldn’t work because the DVD authoring software wouldn’t stitch the pieces together, and there was a slight delay while switching from one to the next.

Okay, so I’ve got a half-dozen different video conversion programs on my PC. I rendered to AVI – Premiere will do that to any length apparently – and started going through the options.

AVIDemux. No good. If they made a software called AVIMux without the “de” I’d have had better luck. For future reference: muxing is the process of breaking a video/audio stream into two “elemental” streams. Demuxing is the process of combining two into one. Plus, the damn software is written by the open source community, so the documentation is – to be charitable – shit.

Oh yeah: muxing is just a geeky way of saying multiplexing, and is presumably easier to say around a mouthful of Doritos and Diet Pepsi.

Handbrake. Nope. That rips DVDs to AVI.

MPEG Video Wizard. Nope. Same as Handbrake, just a whole lot less friendly.

Super ©. Shittiest software ever.

VSO. Only slightly behind Super ©.

It would seem I’m the only person on the planet who uses DVDLab Pro for DVD authoring since there’s precious little to Google when you start having difficulties.

Finally, deep in a video help website, someone mentions TMPGEnc (which supposedly is short for Tsunami MPG Encoder) in the same paragraph with the words “elemental streams.” Feeling a little out of breath with anticipation I break out Utorrent and pull the sucker down.

Sure enough, it worked.

It’s taken two more attempts – at twelve hours apiece – to render the project properly. TMPGEnc doesn’t read the aspect ratio from the source file and defaults to 4:3 output. My first render using the software was usable but the wrong aspect ratio. I think I’ve got it now. I’ll know in seven hours.

(And just so you don’t think I’m a total moron, I did all my testing using a fifteen second snippet, not the whole two and three-quarter hour seminar.)

TechInfoGroup.com…GoDaddy in disguise?

March 26, 2009

I have no philosophical trouble with adult pornography – as long as everyone involved is legal age and a willing participant then I say, write, photograph, video, and publish to your heart’s content. Or any other body part, for that matter. I’ll even help…I’ve got a camera after all 😛

I recognize that, as a business owner, some quantity of my customers do and will have a problem with it, and I already know from experience that both of my partners do too. So, when recommending websites and tech providers I have to keep that sort of thing in mind.

Ladies and gentlemen, I offer into evidence exhibit A, GoDaddy.com.  On their homepage, they feature pictures of Danica Patrick, among others, and links to videos promising “Too Hot For TV” (they aren’t, for the record.) I have also read that if one parks a domain on GoDaddy whose domain name could be a double entendre, the search terms are as likely as not to point to adult websites.

Like I said, I don’t have a problem with it in general. While nothing on GoDaddy’s website is truly pornographic in the general sense, to the truly conservative it might as well be.

In business that’s a problem.

I think Bob Parsons is making a mistake with his cavalier attitude toward the issue: if you read his blog, anyone who complains is dismissed as a prudish minority. What he forgets is that people are more likely to speak in support of something than against it, and those who are against it will simply take their money elsewhere. Like we are.

We’re migrating all of our online vendor activity for domains and SSL certs to TechInfoGroup.com. I pointed out, since no one else at the company noticed, that TIG is identical to the way GoDaddy was four years ago: the look, feel, terminology, menu structure, product offerings: everything is the same. Support emails for both come from starfieldtech.com. They both have a 480 area code. The voicemail system, with the exception of the company name, is identical, down to, “If you’d prefer to hold without music, press the pound key.” In the same voice.

So, while on the phone with TIG cert support yesterday, I asked, “What’s the relationship between GoDaddy and TIG?”

There was a long silence. The dude on the phone hmmm’d and welllll’d around for a while working out the answer, and finally offered up, “They use our templates and support system.”

Bullshit, I’m thinking, but I can’t prove it. Not and get my work done.

I did some research, but don’t have time to really delve. I was wonder if anyone reading this knew if there was a relationship between GoDaddy and TechInfoGroup?

Lessons learned…shooting stage shows, Pt 2

October 5, 2008

Recording audio using a DAT recorder is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. Granted, I’ve got a pretty good microphone on my “A” camera, and I’ve used it mounted on a boom to very good effect, but it still picks up room noise and, like any microphone, if you’re not right on top of the actor the sound gets a little hollow. Getting right up on top of an actor just isn’t possible in a stage show, and in any event, the shotgun mic isn’t that good.

The director told me in advance that the actors would be wearing body mics, and the board had enough “room” on it to plug me straight in. I just had to provide the recorder and the cables.

Okay, I have to admit, I don’t actually have a DAT recorder. I’m too cheap for that, and besides, it’s not necessary anymore! Got a laptop? Got sound recording software? You’re good to go!

(more…)

Lessons learned…shooting stage shows, Pt 1

October 2, 2008

Shooting for the high school, for church, for community theatre…it’s a pretty thankless job, even when (or especially when) you’re being paid. Directors are thinking of their stage show, not your video (imagine that) and put recording their production at the very bottom of the priority list.

The solution you see most often is the director will have someone – a relative, perhaps a brother-in-law – who owns a video camera sit in the middle of the theatre with the camera on a tripod, situated in such a way that the camera can take in the whole stage. If the director is lucky, the brother-in-law will zoom in on the action from time to time, pan the camera back and forth.

There are a few drawbacks to this method.

Zooming sucks. It screams “home movie”. In the hands of an enthusiast, it can be nauseating.

Panning sucks. Usually because the brother-in-law bought his tripod from Wal*Mart or Target and only paid $25 for it. Fluid head? What’s that?

Lighting sucks. Theatrical lighting lights the stage and the actors, and that’s typically too “hot” for the video camera to handle.

Sound sucks. With a camera sitting in the middle of the house several rows back from the front, the sound from the actors’ mics (assuming they’re wearing mics) echos all over. The ambient sound is dreadful!

So, what’s a guy to do?

I knew going into the shoot that there would be two run-throughs. I had it all worked out, and this was the plan: two cameras: one handheld and one mounted; a DAT recorder wired straight into the soundboard on one of the AUX SENDs. This setup would buy me a few advantages. I would have at least two angles of every scene. I could use the handheld camera for close-ups and drama shots, while my “B” camera would give me a steady establishing shot for each scene. Recording audio off the board meant no ambient noise.

The sound worked great. The rest…not so much.