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Week of 7 July 2008


Latest Update: Sunday, 13 July 2008 08:50 -0500

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Monday, 7 July 2008
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10:45 - Barbara stayed with her dad last night. She called this morning to say that the doctor thought Barbara's mom was doing so well that he was sending her home today. She'll have to return later for tests, but things are looking pretty good right now.

The dogs will be happy to have Barbara back on her usual schedule. They're used to her leaving in the morning and returning at dinner time. They're even used to her leaving for a few days to a couple of weeks periodically. But they aren't used to her coming home for a short visit during the day or evening and then leaving again and remaining away overnight. They've behaved better than I expected, but they sure will be glad to have Barbara back on her regular schedule.



Today, I'm reviewing the video footage before I burn the files to DVD and send them to Phil Torrone at O'Reilly/MAKE to edit them into finished videos. The problem is that, by necessity, we shot stuff out of order. I need to do a timeline, so that Phil will know which .dv files belong to which videos, and what order they belong in.

I'd edit the footage myself, but I have no clue where to start. I've tried several Linux apps, including Kino and Kdenlive, which appear to have the capabilities necessary, but I have no idea what to do with them to get from raw footage to a finished video. My first thought was that Linux video editing apps just weren't good enough to do what I needed to do, but that turns out not to be the case. There are Linux-based video editing apps that are good enough for professional use. High-end Linux video editing apps have been used to produce feature movies, so clearly they have the capabilities and performance needed.

The real problem is that I simply don't know what I'm doing. It's kind of like a newbie sitting down in front of Photoshop expecting to use it to produce professional results. The learning curve is simply too difficult for casual users, and I don't have the time to master the skills needed. So I'll send the raw footage up to Phil, who already has those skills.



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Tuesday, 8 July 2008
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08:59 - I got five DVDs burned and off to Phillip Torrone. It was almost four, but then I realized after I'd sealed the envelope that I'd left out three of the video segments from the second video. So I ripped open the envelope, burned the fifth DVD, and repackaged everything. Barbara's dropping it at the post office today.

Ron Morse posted the following over on the messageboard:

If you were me, you would fight your spouse for the MacBook Pro and use iMovie.

Set up a new project which gives you a blank timeline, drag and drop your segments from the desktop onto the timeline in the correct order, use the druids to automagically equalize white balance, color levels and sound levels across the entire project, waste^k^k^k^k^k spend a couple of hours finding snazzy transition effects and then click to burn the entire thing to disc. My learning curve was about 25 minutes, most of which was spent on, "I wonder what happens if I..." 

Actually, for your purposes, since Phil has to finalize the production anyway, all you would do is drag the segments onto a new project in the correct order and burn that for transport.

I know you have some philosophical problems with Apple and their business practices, and I won't take issue with those, but when it comes to s*it like this nobody can touch 'em.

As you mentioned, there is quite a bit of stuff for Linux that will edit video and some of it even works for people who are not certified video editors (and the good stuff REALLY is pro-level), but I haven't seen anything that comes close to iMovie on any platform for quick and dirtys.

Actually, I can do most or all of that with Kino, but I'm sending it to Phil as raw .dv footage because I'm afraid that anything I do to manipulate it will cause data to be lost. I should probably take the time to try out the Mac Mini that my editor sent me. If it turns out that I can do this stuff reasonably well on a Mac, I'll start doing at least the preliminary work myself.

And Edmund Hack added:

A slightly different take from above. You have two learning curves to traverse - the easiest is the tool. The harder is learning the "language" of film. A good editor can make a good film great or find a good film in a mess. A bad editor can make a great film a mess. Stories abound in the business of all three.

A show I'd recommend as a model for your videos: Good Eats on Food Network. The show is science oriented, concentrates on one technique or ingredient per show, and is pretty straightforward. The props are amusing and the show's creator/host Alton Brown has used some pretty amusing and informative ways to show the chemistry behind things like protein coagulation, how emulsions work, etc. After all, cooking is a craft - a melding of science and art.

Good point, and one that I'd already considered. Of course, even a great cook can't make a decent meal from bad raw materials, and I'm not sure that the raw footage I'm shooting qualifies as good raw materials.



Here's one of the raw video segments, with no color correction or anything. I just called up the raw .dv file in Kino and told it to export as MPEG. This is Dr. Mary Chervenak doing the intro segment for the first video. Click on the screenshot to grab or view the .mpeg file, which is 32 MB. 


Interestingly, the raw video appears very overexposed and with a strong yellow bias, but when I told Kino to grab a screenshot, it provided this still, which is much better exposed and without the yellow bias. I'm assuming that the raw .dv data is kind of like digital camera .RAW files--all of the data are there and it's up to the person processing the data to make adjustments for brightness, contrast, color balance, etc. At any rate, I hope that's the case.

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Wednesday, 9 July 2008
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08:24 - Regarding the questions about Mary: Yes, this is the same Mary who ran around the world last year. Yes, she does have a great voice, but as far as I know she's never been a radio DJ. No, she is not looking to meet a guy. She already has a husband, who's larger than some NFL defensive linemen and has no sense of humor.

Yesterday, I wrote up some production notes for the video files that I sent to Phil Torrone. Then I decided that it was time I shot a video segment with me as host, so I wrote up notes for a segment where I'll use three chemicals commonly found around the house to make a powerful drug used against rheumatoid arthritis. That drug, dicopper 2-acetyloxybenzoate, is also known as copper aspirinate. Barbara will be behind the camera for that segment.

And now it's back to working on the home forensics lab book, which'll occupy me for the rest of the week. Except Friday, when I have to go to the dentist to get my fangs cleaned. Don't expect much here for the next few days.


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Thursday, 10 July 2008
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10:18 - Heads-down writing interrupted by some lab work as needed. Today, I'm dissolving fabrics in different solvents as a means of discriminating between different artificial fibers, such as nylon, acetate, and polyester. If the readers of Illustrated Guide to Home Forensics Investigations have even half as much fun as I'm having, this should be a very popular book.


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Friday, 11 July 2008
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09:57 - Still doing heads-down writing interspersed with some lab work.

I haven't heard from Phil Torrone yet, but I'm going to assume that the footage I'm sending him is usable. This weekend, if Barbara has time to handle the camera, I plan to shoot the fourth video in the HomeChemLab.com series. I'll host this one.

I'm also trying to come up with some videos for the home forensics lab book. At first, I thought that'd be difficult, but after thinking about it I concluded that it won't be any harder than doing the chem lab videos. I'll have to use a lot of still images shot through the microscope and embedded in the video, but that shouldn't be difficult.

Someone over on the messageboard suggested doing an outtakes reel with the leftover footage from the chem lab videos, which I may do. We've had some pretty funny stuff happen.

My favorite so far was when Mary was weighing out potassium iodide to the hundredth of a gram and transferring it into an Erlenmeyer flask. As she talks about quantitative transfers and taps the potassium iodide from the weighing paper into the flask, a big chunk rolls off the paper, bounces off the rim of the flask, and lands on the counter. "Oops," says Mary, who proceeds to pick up the chunk with her gloved fingers and drop it back into the flask. In the background you can hear me say "quantitative transfer", and we all start giggling uncontrollably. And if you don't think that's funny, you're not a chemist.

And then there's Paul lighting the guncotton we'd made. Some of the cotton balls were obviously better nitrated than others. The first one, the one we'll use in the video, was perfect. Paul just touched the flame to it, and it ignited in a ball of flame that lasted about a tenth of a second, and was bright enough that the autoexposure of the camcorder couldn't keep up with it. When the flame disappears, there's almost no residue visible.

Alas, we didn't leave well enough alone. Paul proceeded to ignite the other nitrated cotton balls, none of which was nitrated anywhere near as well as the first. They burn, but not all that much faster than a regular cotton ball would, and they all leave a lot of residue. You can hear Mary and me in the background giving Paul a hard time about his pathetic guncotton. At the end, you hear Paul saying, "I'm Dr. Paul Jones, and I suck at making guncotton."


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Saturday, 12 July 2008
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09:53 - As everyone knows by now, Apple yesterday utterly botched the attempted roll-out of their second generation iPhone. And, unlike the botched roll-out of their first-generation iPhone, which affected only the US, this one was a world-wide botch, rolling across time zones. Talk about a world-wide iPocalypse.

Let me be the first to suggest a new slogan for Apple: It Just Doesn't Work™

You can't say Apple doesn't learn from its mistakes. Their first-generation botch affected only newly-purchased products. This one killed not just new iPhones, but existing first-generation iPhones as well.

It's stunning how much abuse Apple customers are willing to accept. It's bad enough that the product is grossly overpriced--on the cheapest plan it's something like $2,000 for phone plus the required contract--and lacks even something as essential as a replaceable battery. But many of these idiots who stood in line for literally hours only to find that Apple wasn't able to provide them with a working phone will return sometime in the next few days to hand over their money anyway. Geez.



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Sunday, 13 July 2008
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08:50 - For years, I've used K3b for burning optical discs on Linux. I've been completely happy with it, with one exception. K3b simply won't let me duplicate a CD.

I'd forgotten about that problem when Barbara brought a stack of audio CDs into my office yesterday. These are commercial pressed CDs that won't play in her car CD player. She asked me to dupe them for her. I fired up K3b, chose "Copy CD", and immediately remembered the problem.

Ordinarily, on a system with one optical drive, one would expect to be prompted to insert the original CD, have the software make a copy of it, and then have it prompt to insert a blank CD-R. K3b doesn't do that. Instead, whether I start K3b with an empty drive or a drive with an audio CD in it, K3b immediately prompts me to insert a CD-R. It's very annoying. K3b obviously recognizes the audio CD in the drive. It even displays the name of the CD that it apparently can't otherwise see. But there it sits, displaying the prompt to insert a burnable CD and with the start button grayed out. There's no way I can find to force it to read the source disc, so it's obviously impossible to copy a CD.

After screwing with it for a few minutes, as I always do when this problem rears its head, I gave up and did what I always do, which is use a different burning app to copy the disc. This time, I didn't have any other burning apps installed--I obviously hadn't needed to dupe any CDs since I installed Kubuntu 7.10 back in November--so I grabbed Brasero and used it to copy the CD. That's one very nice thing about Linux. If one app doesn't do what you need to do, you can simply download and install a competing app with only a couple of mouse clicks.



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