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.

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) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/248851

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.

Opening Salvo (Updated)

Bravo Avid! You really made a bold statement on Saturday, announcing the next version of #Mediacomposer featuring a major UI overhaul just two days before Blackmagic Design will unveil Resolve 16. The last time the “NLE Wars” ran so hot Apple had the largest booth at NAB.

The infrastructure changes to Nexis are also big, (I mean, cloudspaces!!!) but beyond the scope of this particular post. Right now we are going to focus on why the UI overhaul is so revolutionary.

A curmudgeon’s meme.

Avid Editors will swap tales about which version of Media Composer was the most stable. ˆMeridien vs. Post-Meridien; the fabled 4.6.2 that never crashed … with SD; and 8.9.4 was pretty good until 2018. when Avid tried to be all like Adobe.

Part of Media Composer’s speed and stability is the enduring nature of it’s interface. Avid has changed MC multiple times in the past: Think AMA, and the dynamic timeline. But since the interface remains consistent an Editor’s valuable muscle memory doesn’t need to be retrained. An experience Editor and MC is a form of an existing BMI between man and machine.

Changing the interface could effect muscle memory, which in the Avid world could cause riots. Therefore every change needs to carefully weigh the costs and benefits. So this is a big gamble for Avid.

The advantage of taking this risk is that Avid is looking to tackle the widespread problem of non-editor usability. Avid isn’t Discoverable and it’s interface is very dated in the age of the single screen workstations (iMac, laptop, story producer screening station), iOS-era interactions, and the continued drift away from Log and Capture metaphors. Avid is gambling that making custom interfaces depending on “role” and with tailored toolsets is the way to go. Agitating a few to the benefit of the many.

From the website MC will support Resolve-style roles: Edit, Color, Finish, etc. But Avid is also introducing roles like Producer, Assistant, Logger. These interfaces will put the tools these roles needs front and center while hiding the more esoteric buttons. This would enable larger teams to collaborate more efficiently and within the Avid (Microsoft) eco-system.

Last year you would have barely realize that Media Composer as a product of Avid Technologies. I bet that’s going to very different this.

There is is. Media Composer does Premiere meets Resolve

Update: Just had a hands on demo with 2019.5 and the new interface is a big deal. I think Bin management is going to require a rethink of an AE’s/Editor’s habits. The demo is running on a MacBook Pro, Avid is definitely trying to show off interface efficiency.

Update: Media Composer is just a small slice of Avid’s booth.

DaVinci Resolve (an awkward review part 1) DRAFT

Note: Blackmagic Design was kind enough to send me a copy of their training book “The Definitive Guide to DaVinci Resolve 14“ back in February. Although Resolve 15 was released in April, none of the information below is affected by differences between versions 14 and 15.

In addition, since I’ve clearly been working on this review for a looong time, I thought I’d share with you, my loyal readers, the current draft of my review, as well as my notes here.


There is SO much good and free information (here is just 1 example) about Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, that it is difficult to think of ways to contribute to the conversation. However, here is my attempt to cover some of the philosophical questions introduced by such a comprehensive software program. My point of view is as a producer and a teacher, and less as a day-to-day user; so let’s see where this goes!

Age of the NLE virtuoso?

The most interesting question posed by DaVinci Resolve is: who is this software for? By incorporating NLE editing, Audio Mixing, industry leading Color Correction, and node-based Compositing; you’d logically think that Resolve’s ideal user is the one man band. However, unlike a plugin such as Colorista or Adobe incorporating Machine Learning to automatically match shots in Premiere, Resolve does nothing to hide the inherent complexity of each discipline.

Resolve Color
Mastering this one interface could take an entire career.

People often ask me which program they should use if they want to edit digital content for the web, and without hesitation I almost always say, “Adobe Premiere”. Let’s not mince words here. I understand that the question could be interpreted with nuance and subtlety. But the question doesn’t warrant the effort.

Media Composer is built around the heritage offline/online workflow model. Avid can bolt-on and bulk-up AMA all they want, but MC wants to manage your media for you. The interface is practically begging you to let it.

When your digital content is a few dozen clips hastily copied off of a camera card onto the desktop; the ability to drag a file from the Finder into a Timeline is undeniably superior.  Not from a media management point-of-view, but from a just creating an edited video to share with the world is huge accomplishment point of view.

If you have to ask “which program I should use,” then you’re using Premiere. The people and projects inclined to use Avid Media Composer already know that they’re sending their audio to be mixed in ProTools etc.

Which leads us to this: The Resolve interface is so sweet I want to lick it!

Resolve interface details
Look at those track selectors! And the beautiful rounded corners of those clips!
Resolve trim details
Trimming so smooth it could double as a slip-and-slide.

I know that it sounds like I’m conflating interface and task complexity, and I kinda am. But as I’ve observed before, I think there is a relationship between the complexity of an task and the complexity of a program’s interface to achieve it. Clearly Blackmagic’s designers have been working on overdrive, but who can truly master DaVinci anymore? As a producer should I feel dubious of an Resolve 15 expert? Who is the virtuoso who’s mastered Editing, Compositing, Color Correction, and Audio Mixing; and interfacing with software at its most sophisticated level?

The Definitive Guide to Visual Literacy?

I think Blackmagic’s guide to Resolve 14 is very well written. There is so much to like here. Paul Saccone’s writing style embodies the best of Strunk & White’s rule about clarity. Complex concepts like trimming and handles are explained (and illustrated) in a straightforward way that make it easy for a novice editor to understand.

IMG_1047
IMG_1048

Saccone’s writing is so clear that when you stumble upon something obtuse, you realize the inherent complexity of nonlinear editing. A good example of this are the JKL scrubbing instructions on pages 56 – 59. You can only learn so much about surfing from books; eventually you have to get out there and get thrashed by the waves.

Although written with pristine clarity, here again we have to consider this question of: who is this software for?

Saccone will remind the reader that: “It is also important to understand that the clips are not copied, moved, or transcoded when you import them. DaVinci Resolve is completely non-destructive; it simple links to the unaltered files in their current locations on your hard drive.”

Or: “Don’t worry, changing the Display Name does not change the filename on your hard disk.”

And yet he never explicitly explains the difference between media files and the representation of them in the NLE. Something you’d assume would need to be taught to someone who doesn’t understand the non-consequences of changing a clip name.

The Left-brain Right-brain Problem

Perhaps my favorite insight so far has been Saccone’s description of the effect of the auto select button: “Keeping audio and video in sync is always a concern (and chore) for editors.” I know that the terms left-brain and right-brain are incorrect, but editing is a unique blend of the technical and creative, and here we have a perfectly succinct description of an editor’s cognitive load.

Editors can be a curmudgeonly lot of people when it comes to their tools. Who can blame them? On one hand you have the computer, a rigidly logical device with a very low bandwidth interface. On the other hand, you have the task of creatively juxtaposing motion pictures in a mentally taxing work environment. Then, much like a chef that can only make a meal as good as his ingredients, editors can only work with footage given to them from “the field”.

It is no wonder an editor will clutch their favorite (or only) NLE so tightly. Their hard won muscle memory reduces the cognitive load of interfacing with the software. A skilled editor can be equally creative in Media Composer, Premiere, Resolve, or Lightworks; but they won’t be as effective stumbling over unfamiliar keystrokes.

work1
If only xkcd would consider the NLE.

To be continued…

Airtable (TL;DR review)

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of being a tech savvy person working in the entertainment industry is all of the almost but not quite right software on the market. For example: you have Asana’s anti-freelancer friendly pricing. Misguided attempts at analytics. And shoehorning Trello into an indie documentary productivity tool.

Today’s entry into the almost but not quite right category is Airtable. I know this startup is hot right now. But sadly it misses the mark for me. My TL;DR review is this:

Airtable offers neither the design flexibility of a spreadsheet, nor the customized reporting of a full featured database.

Here is an example of the dashboard I use to manage my shows:

Dashboard view
The Post Supervisor’s “Dashboard“.

And here the best Airtable can do with its Record List “block“:

Airtable Dashboard Record List Block .png
Awful on so many levels.

I was hoping Airtable would make it easier for me to keep a Dashboard version of the schedule in-sync with a Calendar view. And it did show potential. Changes made in the calendar show up on the record list block. And changes made to an episode record, show up on the calendar. (See the embedded example “base” below) But without design tools to provide contrast and emphasis, Airtable can’t make the cut into useful. The per user pricing doesn’t help either.

https://airtable.com/embed/shrjp3ssjvpDhrFHl?backgroundColor=red&viewControls=on

I have a few more complaints about Airtable, as a company, as well:

  • They advertise Airtable as a spreadsheet alternative, but on their community forums repeatedly say that Airtable is not a spreadsheet when users ask for features that Airtable can not do.
  • Screenshot-2018-6-6 airtable block at DuckDuckGo
  • One much requested feature is a “record updated” trigger for Zapier. Despite an employee saying that this feature is “coming soon“, there is now just radio silence on this front. Just say that it’s not on the API roadmap anymore. Your silence is deafening.
  • Glacial response from the support team. Plus blocking a paid user for 1,000 years seems like an excessive and silly policy.
  • IMG_0827
    3018… I mean really?

I’m extra hard on Airtable because I’ve never wanted a service to work SO badly.Screenshot-2018-6-6 Post Production Scheduling Survey

 

The potential to save hours of work each week is sooo close, but too far. Perhaps if Airtable engaged with their customers as opposed to ignoring them, they’d create a product that would appeal to even more users.