Media Theory Reviews

2019 Existentially Reviewed

I originally wrote this in early January but decided to shelve it because this post felt too personal and off-topic for a blog (mostly) about post production. What a difference eleven weeks can make, right? I don’t have anything to say about the ongoing global pandemic, but something about this post feels of the moment and worth sharing now.

In 2019 my wife gave birth to our second child and I became a father again. Parenthood is amazing, and beautiful. But that’s not what this post is about, because being a parent is also an endeavor filled with an existential anxiety best expressed by a quote from Elizabeth Stone:

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

It is through this lens of existential anxiety brought on by parenthood that I want to share with you my three favorite pieces of media from 2019: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, Inside Bill’s Brain by David Guggenheim, and Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang.

“Forget your hopes. They are what brought you here.”

— Clive James translating Dante

If you think you know what Wallace-Well’s book is about without having read it, you’re wrong! The Uninhabitable Earth is to climate change, as The Omnivore’s Dilemma was to food: a framework to think about its respective topic and a survey of the best thinking in the field.

Just as Michael Pollan set out to explore the complex multi-faceted ways in which we grow and consume food from fast-food to farm-to-table; David Wallace-Well examines all of the ways our climate is changing (rising sea-levels, reduced air quality, more extreme weather, etc) and more importantly, how we as a species are coping with it. His chapter on how Cognitive Biases prevent us from effectively grasping the problem is a worthwhile reason to read this book.

I don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that my children may very well live to see a world where humans abandon coastal cities like Miami and Venice. But neither do I know how to reconcile how much I love my kids with how much I dislike people. Humans aren’t good at much, but we are certainly good at holding opposing values as equally true.

“Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. But from the same point, take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary.”

— Herman Melville, Moby Dick

David Guggenheim frames his wonderful portrait of the brilliant Bill Gates through the work he and his wife, Melinda, are accomplishing through their foundation. Let’s just get this out of the way: Guggenheim tries to paint Gates as complex, but his documentary series is really an indictment against the rest of us. Bill and Melinda Gates want to give us clean water and eradicate polio, and they are willing to spend Billions of dollars to do it, but people just can’t stop being people. We reject the vaccines and the cheap clean energy and good money continually gets thrown after bad.

Watching the Netflix documentary series made me feel two things: firstly, Bill Gates was born a genius and was given every opportunity to succeed. His success doesn’t feel like much of an achievement as it does an inevitability; it would have been reprehensible had his life turned out any other way.

Secondly, that most all of humanity has relinquished so much power to so few makes me feel sad for the future. We, the people, no longer believe that government can do something like eradicate polio through smart public policy, so instead we wait for billionaire overlords to hand out a disease free future when they feel like it. Because as much as Bill Gates wants to help humanity, he’d prefer not to pay more taxes.

“What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.”

— Seneca

The wisest of us know that if there is any comfort to be found in this world, it is to be found in art. Ted Chiang’s recently published collection of short stories Exhalation are transcendent. “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” and “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom” are beautiful explorations of regret and the triumph over it.

But in my opinion, the best of Chiang’s short stories is, “The Great Silence,” about the parrots who live next to the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and lamet humanity’s inability to see what’s right under their nose. It’s heartrendingly beautiful and is the perfect coda to a post about existential dread. If you only read one of my links, go to Electric Lit and read his story here.

Reviews Software

Learning Python

I’m finally teaching myself Python! I’ve wanted to re-learn computer programing almost since I stopped learning C in high school.

I’m using Ali Sweigart’s excellent book Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. I can’t recommend it enough!

There are two things that have made this the book for me. First, Automate starts at the beginning and building a solid foundation. For example: most of the other resources I’ve tried (and I’ve tried many in the past) don’t explain the difference between the Interactive Shell and the Launcher. Or how to even check that you’re running the most current version of Python in the Command Line. Maybe it’s so basic that most resources just assume that the reader will know how to do this. But this starting from the beginning approach has made the world of difference for me.

I also like the practical aspect of the book. It’s not working towards abstract computer theory, it’s building towards enabling you to use a computer as the most powerful tool mankind has even invented. In other words: how to stop wasting your time repeating unnecessary tasks.

I’ve supplemented my learning with two additional online resources: “The Hitchhikers Guide to Python” and “Think Python“. These two resources fill out and expand upon the knowledge I’m learning in Sweigart’s book.


The new Media Composer at Key Code Media

Great event at Key Code Media Burbank last night. Avid gave a 30 minute presentation of the new Media Composer interface, Tridib Chakravarty of StorageDNA gave a (too brief) presentation on the different Nexis cloud storage options, and there was a brief panel about the ‘reality’ of reality television post production. You can watch a stream of the event with my thoughts below:

I’m excited to work with the new Media Composer interface. Full stop.

…but I firmly believe that Avid needs to open up the “.avb” Bin file format. The future of the NLE is extensibility. One look at Premiere’s integration with or Transcriptive is enough to show you how far behind Avid Media Composer is. This gap is only going to accelerate as the practical application of AI/ML increases.

Even if Avid Technology opens Media Composer up, it could already be too little, too late. The editor who only edits is becoming rarer and rarer these days. The new generation of editors are fluent in the peripheral tools like Photoshop and After Effects. Adobe clearly has the advantage here with their Creative Cloud offering. Premiere is the Final Cut Pro 8 we wanted but never got. The financial equation is very much Adobe + Avid. So what is Avid really bringing to the table?

The storageDNA presentation was much too short, but clearly described the differences between all of Avid’s Nexis cloud offerings. Avid really needs to make this stuff clearer if they want to help migrate our workflows into the cloud.

Finally, the panel discussion evoked the following thought: scripted production is the triumph of production management, reality production is the triumph of post production management.


Why the Roman Empire taught me about the importance of Diversity! (review)

I love learning about ancient history. So I am delighted to recommend Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete’s The Great Courses on audible: Rise of Rome and From Augustus to the Fall of Rome. But what truly surprised me about Dr. Aldrete’s thoughtful lecture series were what they taught me about the importance of diversity in today’s society.

It’s easy to think that we know so much about Roman History because so much of its history survives in the written form. From Julius Caesar’s account of the Gallic Wars, to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (a favorite of leaders from Churchill to Bill Clinton); it seems like every word Cicero uttered was written down, and even Rome’s poets like Ovid influence our ideas about art today.

Featured image by Mauricio Artieda on Unsplash.

But in reality our knowledge of the Roman Empire is limited to the extremely narrow focus of (1) Roman Citizens, who were (2) wealthy, (3) political active, and (4) men. A group that represented less than one half of one percent of the most diverse Empire of its time.

During his lectures, Dr. Aldrete brilliantly uses the few sources we have – tomb stones, graffiti preserved at Pompeii, letters from a Legionary found in Egypt – to try and tell us the stories of the rest of Rome’s citizenry. And through his grasping we feel the true tragedy of that lost knowledge.

Marble portrait bust of the emperor Gaius, known as Caligula, A.D. 37–41 Roman, Early Imperial, Julio-Claudian Marble; H. 20 in. (50.8 cm) length 7 1/16 in. (18 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1914 (14.37)

It is easy to be cynical about Vice Presidents for Inclusion and Diversity Initiatives. And we are right to be cynical! (I’ll let a much smarter man, David Foster Wallace, explain) But it’s a start; and if humanity makes it to the year 3,000, or 4,000, or beyond, it would be a real tragedy to deny future generations humanity’s collective perspectives. I’d even argue that the only way we’re going to make it there is by including everyone’s diverse points-of-view.


NAB 2019 Wrap up

Oliver Peters wrote the NAB wrap up I wanted to write. I completely agree with his assessment of this year’s show overall:

This year the NAB Show seemed to emphasize its roots – the “B” in National Association of Broadcasters. Gone or barely visible were the fads of past years, such as stereoscopic 3D, 360-degree video, virtual/augmented reality, drones, etc. Not that these are gone – merely that they have refocused on the smaller segment of marketshare that reflects reality. There’s not much point in promoting stereo 3D at NAB if most of the industry goes ‘meh’.

Like Peters, I was also very impressed with Cinamaker and hope to use their product for one of my upcoming presentations. I think they need to offer a turnkey kit that includes everything (tripods, cables, travel case, etc) to further simplify the process. But they were definitely one of my favorite booths this year.

I was also impressed by how far all of the cloud service providers have come. Make no mistake, the future of collaboration is going to be software run in the cloud. I think the biggest short coming is that these services don’t know how to speak to Producers. It’s great that Sony Animations is partnering with Google Cloud Platform, but as an independent producer I’m used to working with a post house and saying, “I need five edit bays for six weeks.” None of the cloud providers I spoke with understood that … by a mile. I think the next step for these companies is going to be some User Research into this area.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The Birds of a Feather ACES 2.0 event was aces all around.
  • My thoughts about Avid’s huge changes to Media Composer remain the same since my “Opening Salvo” live post.
  • Resolve 16 looks sweet but that keyboard…