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I feel like I haven’t been posting much here about my podcast, The Optical, aside from the link in the header and footer, but believe me, I’ve been hammering away at it.

Just last week, I launched a new website for the podcast that I’ve been stumbling through learning Django to produce. It’s not 100% there yet, but the front page is awesome, and the episode pages are 90% there. I’m writing this all myself instead of using an existing podcasting package because it’s leading up to something I’m calling the “Cinedex”, which will be an index of not only the print edition of Cinefex magazine, but also things covered on the podcast, and the history of VFX in general. I have big plans, and I’m chipping away at the Big List of Website Stuff slowly but surely.

I’ve also just been accepted to SoundCloud’s beta podcasting program, and posted all of the podcast episodes there, which makes it super easy to embed them everywhere (as you’ll see below).

In addition to all of that, I’ve been able to interview some fascinating people, and on the latest episode, I got to speak with a personal hero and VFX legend, Douglas Trumbull. We discussed a ton of history, and we’re leading up to Part 2, where he’ll talk more about his love for immersive cinema and his new process, Magi, which allows for recording and presentation of films in 3D at 4K resolution, at 120 frames per second. I got to see the Magi projection in person at the Seattle Cinerama Sci-Fi Film Festival back in May, and it’s crazy impressive, almost like looking through a giant window.

Please give the podcast a listen. I’m super proud of the work we’re doing, and while there’s room for improvement, I think it’s going to grow into something big. You can easily subscribe via iTunes on your computer, iPhone, or Pad, or follow the podcast on Soundcloud. Let me know what you think!

trackFinger recording touch on an iPad

I missed this massive post on Pro Video Coalition earlier this year, but it talks about a ton of techniques for screen replacement, including an iOS app called trackFinger that you can use to put a green- or bluescreen on your iPad or iPhone, and also have it track any touches on the screen for import into After Effects. With this, you can animate based on the touch motion, and composite the video into the greenscreen on the video.

I’ve tried it myself, it doesn’t really lend itself to doing demos of real iOS apps — it’s a little difficult to match up where the real tap targets are when you can’t see them. However, the color keys out just fine for compositing animated and futuristic interfaces for your next sci-fi short. Just be sure to turn the screen brightness down to match the lighting in your scene, because that greenscreen is going to spill like crazy on your talent’s hand if the brightness is up too high.

The PVC article goes into more depth on screen replacement techniques, many of which I use, and embeds several how-to videos on the subject. If you want to play around with Trackfinger, there’s also now a free “lite” version of the iOS app.

I am on hold with a well known cable internet provider, and they’re playing a tape with promos on a loop, and that tape is constantly being interrupted by another tape telling me how important my call is, back and forth and back and forth, until all of that is interrupted by a person who sounds exactly like the person on the tape, only it seems like it might be a real person, but I’m really not sure, because my brain’s attention centers have been completely burned out by interruption after interruption, all in the same pleasant yet unremarkable female voice.

After a much longer pause than usual between messages and another “Hello?” from the phone, I finally realize that it is a real live person. A sigh of relief.

I tell her this story. She is polite enough to seem amused, and she’s very helpful, and actually listening to the issue that I actually called about in the first place, and then her whole department’s computers crash as one, rising up against their masters, and so I get the choice of going back into a different queue of customer service representatives who won’t be able to help me, because I just came from nearly two hours of back and forth and transfers and being hung up on and apologized to and sorry-we-can’t-help-youd there, and they’re the ones who sent me here, or… I can call back in half an hour.

I stare into the abyss and hang up, defeated, knowing that it will be much, much longer than thirty minutes before I can regain the strength of will to enter the labyrinth again.

Update:

I just called again, got through immediately, got a helpful person who quoted me a price $5 cheaper than my previously quoted price, and literally said, “Hold on a moment while I upgrade your service… you have your own modem, correct?” — and then I GOT DISCONNECTED.

So, I called back immediately, and now… on hold forever. Again.

[exasperated sigh]

I’m beginning to think that Comcast has been taking customer service tips from Brazil.

Update update:

Eventually (after 45+ minutes), I had to hang up, because I had to go to aikido.

After, I called back again. Was put on hold and then a few minutes later, disconnected.

Called back again. Was put on hold — this time, no music, just a hissing static sound. Someone picked up, started to help me, but before she even opened the details of my account, I was disconnected.

Called back again. I got a rep on the phone right away, and for the early part of the call, when she needed to ask her boss something, she simply muted me, and did NOT put me on hold, which was a nice change after the previous three calls. She found the deal I was originally offered, got me a discount on my service call, and got me all set up. Yay! I had a question about what would happen during the service call, and so at the end, after ensuring I was completely set up otherwise, transferred me to the tech support team, where I was back to the two tapes interrupting each other, fighting to assure me that my call was important. After half an hour of that, I hung up. Hopefully I get a knowledgeable tech at the house next week, and my question wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Le sigh.

So… At least I finally got someone who was very helpful and willing to search for the deal that I had been quoted. Sounds like she has a great, helpful boss too. Comcast, I’m glad you have people like these, but they are literally 15% of the total number of people that I talked to , who bounced me from department to department, disconnected me repeatedly, and took me nearly four hours on the phone (wait time included) to get to this resolution. Your system is broken.

Netflix started auto-playing TV shows on the iPad last year — if you have episodes left in the series, it would cut out about 30 seconds early from the end credits of your show, and jump to start playing the next episode (often also skipping the “previouslies” at the start of the next episode, which can be helpful). With the most recent update of the AppleTV firmware, this autoplay behavior came to the big screen as well.

Now, this completely drives me nuts. I’m the kind of person who watches the movie credits all the way to the end, because that’s how I respect the hard work of the people who created the film. Plus, I get to hear the theme music, and for a guy whose CD collection was once half comprised of movie scores and soundtracks, that’s an important part of the experience. Great TV shows, for me, really aren’t much different.

I realize it’s probably a matter of “this is what most people want”, but I like the credits. I like the music. I like the little kids shouting “bad robot!” I also like deciding whether I play the next episode, or whether I really ought to go to bed because I actually have work to do in the morning.

Yes, you can swipe down on the iPad to keep watching to the end, and you can use the AppleTV remote to cancel out of this, but remembering to leap into action in the five seconds it gives me every time I watch an episode isn’t my idea of fun.

Thankfully, as I discovered last night, Neflix finally did give us an opt-out back in late January. Judging by the response I got on Twitter this morning, a lot of other people had been waiting for the same solution. Here it is:

To disable Post-Play’s autoplay feature on a Netflix profile, navigate to Your Account, click Playback Settings, then uncheck the option to Play next episode automatically. Other Post-Play features will still be enabled — this setting simply turns off automatic playback of the next episode.

So, on the Netflix website, go to Your Account:

netflix-no-autoplay_01

Click “Playback Settings”:

netflix-no-autoplay_02

And uncheck the option to “Play next episode automatically”:

netflix-no-autoplay_03

I did this last night, and once I had, both the AppleTV and the iPad immediately obeyed the settings. The iPad still shrinks the video and shows you the thumbnail for the next episode, but at least it plays all the way through and doesn’t auto-play the next one.

An independent American-Brazilian research project is attempting to measure English vocabulary sizes according to age and education, and whether or not you’re a native speaker.

I tested myself, and they estimate my vocabulary size at around 33,000 words which, according to them, is upper range of average for native English speakers.

Interestingly, even they say the results may be skewed at the moment, with people who have participated in the survey so far being quite a bit more literate than the wider population average, and with an average self-reported language SAT score of 700. (With the cheeky comment in the FAQ that “Basically, we need more YouTube commenters participating. :)”)

They’re still looking for more results, especially from children and teenagers, if you’re so inclined to contribute.

The missus and I saw Veruca Salt at Tractor last night, and it was a blast! I think I’ve finally seen all of my 90’s band obsessions live in person now, aside from Curve, which will be some crazy miracle if Toni and Dean reunite and decide to tour the west coast of the US.

If someone enterprising soul updates the setlist, you should see it below. Unfortunately, I was too busy enjoying the concert to write it down myself. I will say, though, that it was pretty cool that the first song that they played was the one that had been stuck in my head all day.