Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2009 (Page 1 of 2)

Something New from the FCC: An Answer

We’ve been waiting for it for months; most of us with baited breath. What is the deal with the 700 Mhz band? Specifically, when do we have to be out? We’ve known it was coming, but we haven’t known when. Well, now we do. June 12, 2009. The “final” day for the DTV transition. The FCC promises there will be no more delays, no more date moves, nothing to stop progress. Not even if Aunt Mabel in East Briarpatch can’t get her DTV. No sir, this is the final countdown (cue the music!).

I’d write more about the details of it, but frankly I’m out of obscure pop culture references, and having been so hard at work lately, feeling more run down than snarky. So I’ll pass you off to my favorite observer of the boondoggle known as the DTV Transition, Jason Cole. Jason has a good post with the pertinent details on his blog. Read it and weep (especially if you have a large collection of 700 Mhz gear).

Bridge–The Cinderella of the Creative Suite

Sorry this is a day late…I had some, uh, technical difficulties. Church leadership scheduled a surprise day away on Monday, which was much needed and much appreciated. However, it did interfere with my ability to grab screenshots for this article. Anyway…

Bridge–if you have any of the Creative Suites from Adobe, you have it. But what is it? What does it do? And more importantly, why do you want to use it? Bridge is one of those odd programs that you don’t really need, but does some things really well. It’s kind of a file browser, organizer and launching off point for the rest of the CS products. And like Cinderella, it’s often relegated to the unheated room in the tower of the castle where it’s forgotten about. But take some time to get to know it, and you’ll discover a pretty useful product.

Back a few years ago when I was doing time in the land of Windows, I used Bridge a lot more than I do today. Basically, since my sentence was commuted and I’m back in the land of OS X, I don’t need it as much. In Windows, Bridge is a much nicer way to browse through a folder full of images, Illustrator documents, PDFs and other digital media (including sound and video files). It does that fine on the Mac as well, but we Mac users have two aces up our sleeves. The first is Cover Flow.

Just like iTunes, only with files. Just like iTunes, only with files.Cover Flow is my new favorite way to browse through a folder full of images. It makes it quick and easy to spot the one I want. And if I want a closer look, hitting the Space bar will bring up Quick Look.

Now that was easy! Now that was easy!Quick Look works on images, video, sound, documents, spreadsheets, you name it. It will even preview Illustrator files if you include a PDF preview with them. It’s fantastically useful. But that’s not what this column is about. We’re here to talk about Bridge.

bridge-interface Click to enlargeBridge offers a very smooth interface for browsing through folders of digital media. You can sift and sort by keyword and other metadata. You can edit said metadata. You can preview images, sound and video. And if you double click on a file, it will open it in the most likely CS editor (.psd & .jpg files open in Photoshop, .mov files open in Premiere, etc., and that’s editable). If you have a boat-load of digital media you need to organize, Bridge makes it easy. You can drag, move, copy and rename files from one folder to another right in the interface. You can create folders. You can even delete the bad stuff. On a big monitor, it makes quick work of organization.

I use Bridge right now for 2 main tasks. The first is batch re-naming of files. Every week, we have a volunteer artist create our worship lyric backgrounds. Sometimes the naming conventions don’t match what I like them to be. Now, I could go to the Finder and rename them all there, but that’s a lot of typing. It’s easier in Bridge.

Under the Tools Menu is Batch Rename Under the Tools Menu is Batch RenameSelect the files you wish to rename. It can be 10 or 100, doesn’t matter. Select All to grab the entire contents of a folder. Choose Batch Rename from the menu and prepare to be amazed.

click to enlarge click to enlargeUnless the market turns against you, everyone loves options. The Batch Rename dialog has a bunch. There is almost no end to the combination of filenames you can come up with with these controls. You can also re-name in the same folder, or move or copy the files to a new one. Sweet.

click to enlarge click to enlargeIt even shows you a preview of what your new files names will look like. Play around to your heart’s content then hit “Rename.” In just a few seconds, your work is done.

batch-rename-results

There…just the way I wanted them. It actually takes more time to explain how to do it than to actually do it. Really, it’s worth the launch time (which is a bit longer than it should be, but that’s another column).

The other cool thing that Bridge does is preview After Effects animation presets. I’m a big fan of the myriad of animation presets Adobe included with the latest versions of AE. However, trying to figure out what they do is not always easy. What’s the difference between Kinematic and Mechanical for example? The names are not always descriptive of the effect. However, launch Bridge and it’s easy to get a preview.

click to enlarge click to enlargeSimply navigate to the Presets (Applications/After Effects/Presets–at least on a Mac) folder and start selecting presets. A preview of each one shows up on the right. You can even Favorite the Presets folder so you don’t have to go digging for it each time. It’s a huge timesaver.

Bridge is really a powerful program that is mostly underutilized. One day, I plan on spending a day or two with our digital image library and Bridge to keyword, organize and classify the hundreds of images we’ve collected over the years. It will be a lot of work, but when done, it will make it easier to locate pictures of the outdoor baptism, 2006 when I’m asked.

Photoshop Time Savers

I’ve been using Photoshop since around 1991. I don’t even remember what version that was, but it’s capabilities pale in comparison to CS3 or CS4. Through the years, Adobe has thoughtfully added a ton of features that actually save digital artists time (along with a lot of bloat–but that’s another column). I’ve been using these two tricks for quite a while now, and over the last few weeks, I’ve found they aren’t necessarily well-know. Both of these functions can be found in the Automate menu. Automation is a great way to handle repetitive tasks. I can remember spending an enormous amount of time building photo-slide shows from scanned photos 10-12 years ago–not because they were hard, but because each photo had to be scanned, re-sized, tweaked and finally dropped onto the timeline. These two tricks will save you enough time to enjoy a leisurely lunch and get home early.  So here we go.

Crop and Straighten Photos

If you’ve ever had to take a stack of printed photos and make them a digital slide show, you quickly learned that scanning each picture individually will drive you insane. Instead, we stack as many pics as will fit on the glass and hit scan. But then, you have to select each individual shot, copy it to a new document, touch it up and save it. Or do you?

Enter Crop and Straighten Photos.  

The starting point... The starting point…This is how the scans come in. Actually, for the purposes of illustration, I made this one worse than normal. But you get the idea. Instead of using the measure tool to figure out the angle you need to rotate, selecting and copying and all that, go to File –>Automate –>Crop and Straighten Photos.

Your new best friend. Your new best friend.The progress bar appears and a few seconds later (depending on how big the image is, how much RAM you have and how many cores of processing are available) and you end up with this:

I know...sweet, right? I know…sweet, right?It selects the individual photos, cuts and pastes them into new documents after cropping and straightening them. How cool is that? If you have a copier/scanner/fax/coffee machine multi-function unit in your office that will scan 11×17, imagine how many images you could process in a short time? That stack of photos doesn’t look so daunting now, does it? So that’s the first tip.

Batch Processing

Sometimes, you need to do the same thing to a ton of files. For instance, yesterday, I had a folder full of digital photos that I needed to shrink down to 800×600 for presentation in ProPresenter. Now, I’ll admit, I really didn’t need to do that, Pro will re-size them on the fly. But that’s inefficient, and I can’t stand inefficiency. So I set out to re-size them. In the olden days, we would have to open the file, select Image Size (or hit shift F3 in my keyboard-shortcut world), type in 800, hit return, then hit clover-S to save the file. And that’s if we wanted to keep the same name. If we didn’t it was Save-As, rename the file, then repeat. Not bad if you have 3 photos, but 300? Not so much.

Enter the batch.

Step 1: Create the Action(s) you need to run on each image. Step 1: Create the Action(s) you need to run on each image.The first thing you need to do is create an Action which includes everything you need to to do the image. In this case, it’s a simple re-size, save and close. In the days of interlaced TV, I would routinely create an action that would re-size all my images to around 1200 pixels wide (so I could zoom in without going past 100%), run a levels control to limit my white point to NTSC legal 100 IRE (235 on the White Output Level) and run a slight Gaussian Blur of .5 pixels to limit the jittery lines that happen when you zoom in on a high resolution picture in an interlaced system. The options are limitless. Whatever you need to do to all your images, you can set up in an action. Next up, open the Batch control.

Found in the Automation Menu Found in the Automation MenuThe Batch window has many options, and it may take a few tries to get it right. I always recommend copying your folder of images to the desktop or somewhere else safe, just in case. Which brings up a good point I should have mentioned earlier. The Batch process will process every image in a folder. So make sure you actually want to process all those images. 

Click to enlarge Click to enlargeIn this case, you can see at the top I’ve selected my Resize to 800×600 action. I’ve selected my folder full of images and set up my destination and file naming options. You can get really creative with your naming if you want to. In my case, I just wanted to save and close, so I built it into the Action. The way the dialog is set up here would actually throw an error, but I wanted to illustrate some of the options. Like I said, it may take a  pass or two to experiment and get it working the way you want (which is why it’s a good idea to have an extra copy of the source files).

When you’re done, hit OK and grab a latte (or Starbucks Signature Hot Cocoa, my personal favorite). You’ll see your images flash before your eyes and before long, all your files will be just the way you wanted.

Tomorrow, I’ll throw out some tips for working in Bridge, the oft-forgotten stepchild of the CS Suite.

Church Tech Matters Re-Launches

Church Tech Matters, a site for church tech volunteers, by church tech volunteers is back. This is good news to anyone who works in the technical ministry at a church. Having spent a lot more years as a volunteer than a staff member, I know full well the challenges that face volunteers. I’ve seen well meaning but ill-trained volunteers get chewed up and spit out by churches who didn’t really have a clue. I’ve watched highly qualified people offer to help and also be chewed up and spit out. It’s not always easy, but when it’s your calling, it’s what you do.

Church Tech Matters, the brainchild of Jim Walton, closed down a few months ago when Jim felt he needed to regain some balance in his life. Can’t blame him for that. Thankfully, some folks launched an “intervention” and were used by God to persuade Jim to re-open the site; this time calling on a pool of, you guessed it, volunteers to generate content. 

One of the greatest benefits of the technological age we live is that we can use technology to connect with one another, encourage each other and share information and ideas. This is a primary purpose of Church Tech Matters, and I encourage you to check it out, especially if you volunteer–there’s good stuff there.

Nine Reasons I Twitter Pt. 3

Wrapping up my series on Twitter with the final three reasons. Number seven…

Twitter Reminds Me I’m Not Alone

When someone tweets about forgetting to unmute the audio for a video roll (no names this time…), I’m reminded I’m not the only one who makes mistakes. When someone writes about having a really rough day, I think, “Ah, it’s not just me!” When I hear about a crazy request from senior leadership, I’m encouraged I’m not the only one that’s happened to. When we think we’re the only one with a problem, the problem tends to seem pretty large. When we hear others struggle with it, too, the problem shrinks. I’m not the only Tech Director that’s made a bad call during a service (duh!). I’m not the only one who doesn’t like sitting through 3 hour staff meetings (duh!). I’m not the only one who has way too much work to do before Sunday (duh!). It’s good to keep this in perspective.

It Makes Me Feel Important

This one may be a bit narcissistic, but deep down, I think we all would like to think we matter. We all do, of course, but in the daily grind of life, sometimes we forget. I’ll admit to really liking it when someone responds to one of my tweets. That means something I said was important enough for someone else to respond to. Someone across the country, someone I may not even know, thought something I said was important. Maybe I’m just insecure, but I like that feeling. 

Twitter Keeps My Mom Up To Date

This may not be why I Twitter, but it’s a great side benefit. Like many, I’m not really good at keeping in touch with my mom. I don’t call or e-mail enough. However, she can drop in on my Twitter feed and see what I’m up to. I’m amazed at how many times she’ll drop me an e-mail and say, “I saw on your Twitter that you’re…” She really follows it. So does my mother-in-law. They like to keep track of what’s going on in our lives, and when I update my Twitter feed, they feel closer to what we’re doing. Since we live half-way across the country from both of them, that’s important.

Those are some of the reasons I Twitter. Now I’ll grant you that Twitter isn’t a substitute for real, flesh and blood interactions. I think we still need to have plenty of people in our lives that we can see and feel and touch. I don’t think Twitter will replace those people. However, Twitter is great at expanding the circle. It’s especially great if you work in a field where you don’t connect with others who do what you do all the time. Most churches don’t even have Technical Arts Directors, let alone more than one. There are only and handful of us in any given city. Yet I know 30 of them through Twitter. That’s cool. Were I an accountant, it might not be so important.

Still, just keeping up with people on a regular basis through Twitter has been great fun, and I’m looking forward to expanding the circle further. Not on Twitter yet? Sign up. Follow me at @mikesessler. See who I follow and follow them, too. Pretty soon, we’ll all have new friends. That’s the power of Twitter.

Nine Reasons I Twitter Pt. 2

Back to my series on why I Twitter. Coming in at number four…

Twitter Helps My Prayer Life

I know I should pray more, but honestly, I’m really busy and have hundreds of things swirling around my head at any given moment. That makes it tough to “pray without ceasing.” However, Twitter helps me with this. A few weeks ago, Jason Cole (@jasoncole) had to put his dog down. That was really hard, and I prayed for him. Last week, I heard Dave Friss’s (@dfriss) sister was sick–I prayed for her. When Van Metchke (@vanmetchke) was sick earlier this week, I prayed for him. When I was sick last Sunday, I mentioned on Twitter that I wasn’t “feeling particularly well today.” Within minutes Jason & Colin tweeted back that they were praying for me. When someone tweets that they are going through a rough time, I’m reminded to stop for a second and pray.

Twitter Encourages Me

Along the same lines, I’m amazed at how people respond to my missives. Back in November when my dad died very unexpectedly, I Twittered about it and asked for prayer for me and my family. Within minutes (literally), I had at least a dozen responses from people all over the country that were holding me up in prayer. Brian Davis (@briandavis) even called me to encourage me (he lost his dad suddenly years before). Brian and I had never met, and we only knew each other through blogging and Twitter. That was a very powerful and encouraging moment for me to know someone all the way down in Texas was lifting me up in prayer and cared enough to call. When Brian and I met face to face later in the week at WFX, it was again like meeting an old friend. 

While I knew I had a bunch of people here in the Twin Cities praying for me and encouraging me (my church was great during that time), it was even more encouraging to know people all over the country were joining them.

Twitter Increases Knowledge

I’ve learned a lot from Twitter. Whenever Dave Stagl (@fohdave) tries something new in his sound system, he Twitters about it and often posts a picture on TwitPic. I’ve gotten a lot of great ideas from him. I’ve learned about all kinds of cool software and web sites from Twitter. Last month, I was researching church management software. I sent a tweet to Anthony Coppedge (@anthonycoppedge) to see what he might recommend. I learned about one that we will probably go with. 

Other times, people ask a question that I can answer. We all have experiences we’ve learned from and collectively we’re smarter than we are individually. Need a recommendation for a kick drum mic? Twitter it. A way to sync calendars and e-mail? Twitter it. Sometimes, these questions turn into full-blown conversations with many people contributing. That’s an increase in knowledge.

Tomorrow we’ll wrap my reasons for Twittering, and conclude with some thoughts on what Twitter is not.

Nine Reasons I Twitter

A few weeks ago Anthony Coppedge released an e-book entitled Why Your Church Must Twitter. That book and a few events in recent days got me thinking about why I Twitter–and by extension, why you should, too.

First, one has to ask, “Why don’t people Twitter?” I think the reason lies in how it’s explained. The original marketing premise of Twitter is to answer the question, “What are you dong right now?” When most people hear that, they say, “Why would anyone care what I’m doing right now?” It seems an odd concept to most that pounding out 140 character (or fewer) missives about the activities of their day would be interesting to anyone besides their mother. I’ve found that to be far from true, however. So in the paragraphs to follow, I’ll explain why I Twitter. Along the way, maybe I an encourage you to jump in and give it a shot as well.

Building Community

Many people laugh when I tell them this, but it’s true. Because of Twitter, I’ve become friends with people I never would have met. I started with Twitter because of Colin Burch (@faithtools) and Van Metchke (@vanmetchke). That came about because of a FaithTools episode I was part of (which is another story I’ll recount later). I joined the Twitter-verse in April of 08. Having followed Colin for almost 8 months, we met for the first time in November at WFX. Now, I’m an introvert who doesn’t do well with small talk. When I meet someone for the first time, it tends to be awkward because I’m not good at 20 questions (I’m in awe of people who are). Typically I stumble around for a while before I get comfortable with someone. When Colin and I met at breakfast, it was like meeting an old friend. We hung out for 2 days and had a great time. Why was it so easy? Twitter. We already knew a lot about each other.

Same thing happened the other night. Jason Cole (@jasoncole), Dave Stagl (@fohdave) and I hosted a TokBox session on wireless mics. Before the event started, I was getting my TokBox session set up and Jason rung me up. I’ve never actually met Jason, and we’ve never actually spoken before. But when we did, it was like talking to an old friend. Why? Twitter. We’ve been following each other for 8 or 9 months and know a fair amount about each other. 

I like to joke with people now that I watched the SuperBowl with my Twitter friends. There were about 7-8 of us all watching at home, all over the country, all Twittering back and forth the whole game. It was a blast. 

Twitter Shrinks the World

Thomas Friedman wrote The World is Flat a few years ago. In that tome, he talks about how technology is making the world a smaller place. Twitter advances that concept. Though I live in Minneapolis (which sounds better than Minnesota), I follow friends in Michigan, Maryland, Florida, Alabama, Tennesee, Texas (quite a few in Texas, actually), Arizona, California, and Minnesota. Throughout the day, I know what’s going on all over the country, and in the lives of my friends. When storms were raging across Texas the other day, I knew about it before the news reported it. Fires in SoCali last summer? Same thing. I learned of the plane landing in the Hudson via Twitter.

Chances are, without Twitter, I would never know most of the people I follow. Or if I did, I would not know them nearly as well.

Twitter Helps Me Bless Others

I’m blessed quite often by things other people Tweet. So it stands to reason that once in a while, I say something that blesses them as well. Instead of me simply thinking of something that might be a blessing, I Twitter, and the 100 or so people that follow me “hear” it. That’s pretty cool. 

Tomorrow, reasons four through six. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter at @mikesessler

Congress Tells TV Stations, “Stop!”

In a policy turnaround so crazy it’s sure to give someone whiplash, Congress has now passed a ruling barring TV stations from turning off their analog transmitters on Tuesday (Feb. 17, 2009). These would be the very same TV stations who were told to spend $10-20 million retooling their plants to be ready for the DTV transition no later than Feb. 17, 2009. These would be the very same TV stations who are mostly running both analog and DTV transmitters (and paying the electrical bill for both), to stay in compliance with the previous ruling.

It seems that Congress is afraid that tens or even dozens of people, having ignored the flurry of PSAs, newspaper articles and billboards announcing the transition, will be without TV. So now, after years of delays, a botched coupon program to subsidize the $50 converter boxes and a PR nightmare, they are under the assumption (delusion?) that another four months will fix the problems. Uh, pardon my sarcasm there.

Another part of the ruling also bars the new owners of the 700 Mhz spectrum from actually using that spectrum until June 12, 2009. The odd part is that public safety channels can go live starting Feb. 17. Go figure. Here is a chart showing the 700 Mhz spectrum, TV channels and who owns what, including the public safety bands.

What does this mean for churches? Well, oddly enough, it’s good news (mostly). It means users of wireless mics–churches, schools, theaters, etc.–essentially have another 4 months to migrate out of the 700 Mhz spectrum and come up with a plan to frequency coordinate around the new DTV landscape. If, however, you have mics in the public safety bands, I’d get out of them now. Not next week, or next month, now.

Given the government’s complete mis-handling of this transition, I fully expect another delay come June. I would not, however, advice churches to wait. Get on this now…it is coming eventually. Most of the wireless mic manufacturers rebate programs wrap up in the spring, so take advantage of them now. Talk to your leadership; determine the need; develop some budgets; and put a plan in motion to be ready for the switch whenever it happens. You really don’t want to have to explain to the pastor why you suddenly received an ambulance call during his closing prayer, do you?

DTV Transition Delayed (Again)

Honestly, I’m getting tired of blogging about this. So tired, in fact, that I ignored it for a week hoping it would change and I wouldn’t have to. So far, that’s not happened. Here’s a quick update. The House & Senate have both passed a bill, which the President has signed that will now delay the mandatory end of high-powered analog TV stations until June 12, 2009. Since this has been dragging out for 8 years, I guess they figured another 4 months wouldn’t hurt. On the other hand, I’m not sure how it helps. Be that as it may.

This ruling poses several interesting challenges for wireless mic users. First, it may lull some into thinking they have more time to get out of the 700 Mhz spectrum. It doesn’t. Second, since some stations will cut off their analog stations on Feb 17 anyway, it’s going to be confusing for a while until the dust settles and we see what is still on and what is off.

Third, and most worrisome is that while there are still going to be some TV stations broadcasting in the 700 Mhz spectrum, the new owners of that RF space really want to start playing with their new toys. As of this writing, AT&T and Verizon have said they will, out of courtesy, hold off on doing anything with it until June 12. Qualcomm has essentially said, “Whatever,” and planed to start using their space. However, Congress stepped in and passed a law that essentially keeps them from using their space until June 12, so we dodged a bit of a bullet there. 

Finally, and this is the wild card, are White Space Devices. These devices are going to be operating in the so-called “White Spaces” between TV stations. In a given market, there are only so many TV stations, and the spectrum in between them (where we’ve been operating our wireless mics) is now up for grabs. There is some good news; these White Space Devices or WSDs, will use a geolocation database to avoid interference with know wireless mic installations (provided you register), and are supposed to sense other devices operating nearby and avoid those frequencies. So far, the “sense and avoid” strategy has failed 50% of the time (or more) under real-world conditions, however. This means you’ll really want to register with the database once it gets built. Not timeline on that from our good friends at the FCC (shocking–I know).

There you have it. That’s what we know right now. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If it doesn’t absolutely need to be wireless, consider going wired. You’ll be glad you did. At least until the dust settles. In the meantime, be very careful about your frequency selection, and get out of the 700 Mhz band ASAP.

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