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Exhibition Video

The first Ultra Wide Views exhibition is over. Held at École Polytechnique de Montréal in the context of the Libre Graphics Meeting (LGM) 2009, it was a great success. Thanks to the hard work of  the Vision3D Lab at Université de Montréal; and of Mardigrafe Inc.; and thanks to the infrastructure kindly provided by École Polytechnique de Montréal; and last but not least thanks to the many participating artists.

Panoramic artwork has been shown on two state of the art projecting displays (a 360° cylinder and a high resolution array of projectors) and in the form of two dozens of high resolution giclées. The general public has seen images in a quality never seen before. The developers and artists participating at LGM where inspired and entertained by this display of practical applications of their work.

I look forward to continue collaborations with these artists and partners on more bleeding edge panoramic projects; and I look forward to LGM 2010 hoping that exhibiting art along the conference will become a tradition.

Upgrade: 9.04

Today I upgraded my last box to Ubuntu 9.04. It’s my test box and media player, an energy efficient Intel Atom motherboard in an old Mac Quadra box sitting next to a color calibrated 47″ LG LCD TV (the easy way to get an S-IPS flat panel without paying the Apple tax or playing the panel lottery). It was a pleasant surprise: previous versions had issues with the Logitech diNovo Edge keyboard, requiring me to unplug and re-plug the USB-Bluetooth dongle after booting. Now it works like a charm with Kubuntu.

After the glitches I experienced a year ago upgrading to 8.04 my share of time spent in Ubuntu has diminished considerably and for all practical purposes I skipped on 8.10. Kernel upgrades broke VMWare; driver upgrades broke my dual screen display configuration; Wine upgrades broke emulation of Photoshop/Windows. Nothing that can’t be fixed, but every minute spent maintaining the system is a minute of lost productivity. I needed remarkably little effort to keep Windows XP going on my workstation, despite repeated abuse such as booting it from within the VMWare environment.

With 9.04 the glitches seem to be a thing of the past, at least for now. I replaced VMWare with Virtualbox and it has withstood a kernel update, dual screen works like a charm. We’ll see how long I will last this time.

In the end, the choice of system is driven by the use made of it. And for most applications there are solutions on every major platform. I favor platform-agnostic software whose behavior is 80%+ consistent across systems: learn once, use everywhere.

For basic office work, email and web access, OpenOffice, Thunderbird and Firefox feel pretty much the same on Ubuntu and on Windows and are mature, production grade tools. Free software works, and in some cases it can even be the 800 pound gorilla in the pack.

So the choice of system boils down to the infamous “killer apps” – applications that are so desirable that they determine all other choices:

  • Photoshop is a killer app for me. Not because what it does is unique, but because I know it so well that I am now faster than on any image retouching application. I’ve tried to use the GIMP to produce the upcoming group photo for Libre Graphics Meeting and failed miserably. I spent hours trying to figure out how to do things that in Photoshop are instinctive to me. After wasting a weekend trying hard, I realized that the result is more important than the tool.
  • SONY Vegas Platinum has become a killer app for me in the past few months: I love my camcorder but the bundled software is useless. Looking for usable software to edit AVCHD videos (mostly home videos) I found that SONY Vegas Platinum had all I needed with an intuitive user interface and at a reasonable price tag. It’s cool to edit movies rather than fiddle with system libraries and other stuff to try to make something work. The downside is that it is available only for Windows. Bassam’s speech at LGM inspired me to try Blender. Blender’s user interface may seem intimidating at first, but dip the toe in the water and you’ll find that it is very consistent, well thought through, and connects efficiently the user with an extremely broad and complex set of functionalities. And, oh, it’s platform agnostic!
  • And so the killer app that got me onto Ubuntu again? MathMap. Although a Windows alpha version is out there, it is much easier to build and install on Ubuntu. And I was going to use the notebook for a presentation at LGM.

MathMap motivated me to refresh the Ubuntu installs on my workstation and on my notebook and to give myself another chance at trying to make the switch to Ubuntu. And on the server? FreeBSD rules!

Vimeo vs. YouTube

The first time I needed video broadcasting service it was for a screencast of Hugin’s fast preview functionality, developed as a Google Summer of Code project by James Legg. I went to the GSoC mentors mailing list for intelligent advice and made an informed choice: Vimeo had the better conversion quality. A few month later I needed broadcasting services again and I kept using Vimeo to share with family and friends the exploits of our son. I like the service, its clean look and most of all its outmost respect of privacy and of content ownership.

When I applied for the best job in the world, I knew they were partnering with YouTube. I also knew that in the meantime YouTube upgraded its encoding quality. Is it good enough to motivate me to switch? YouTube is the most popular and has become synonymous with online movies like MP3 has become synonymous of digital music files. There are better formats for digital music files than MP3, like the lossless Monkey’s Audio APE or the Open Source OGG-Vorbis. So how does YouTube compare to Vimeo today?

Find it out for yourself below, where the two services are side by side. In the process of producing my video, I ran it through Vimeo to control rendering after conversion before submitting. Note that for HD playback you’ll need to click and go to the respective YouTube/Vimeo sites. This article is not really in my interest as the contest is still on and my interest is to direct traffic to my 60 seconds clip here, and for you to vote for it and to talk about it with other friends so that they go watch and vote too. If you care about VR and want to see this big PR-event showcase VR as well, you have an interest to vote for me too since you know that I will have all of my pano gear with me and will put it to good use, promoting the techniques that you too are using and promoting.

A few more details of the video. I usually render in FullHD but I ended up rendering this one in “simple” HD because of the weight limitation (my 60 seconds video clip ended up at 45MB). Below are, side by side, the Vimeo-encoded and the YouTube-encoded versions of the clip. Up to you to judge which quality you like most.

Audio

ccAudio has been conspicuously absent from my VR productions, with a few exceptions. But since I started video, audio is an integral part of it and I have to deal with it all the times. Initially I got away with the background sound, but for my last video production I’d rather call it loud background noise. So I lowered the volume of the original soundtrack and looked for an embellishment.

I do have some basic notions of music (as in: I play Beatles songs on my guitar and my cats run to hide), but I have no music of my own and performing somebody’s else music requires a license.

So I started to look for a source of music that I can legally use in my movies. Back in the last millennium there was royalty-free music: buy a CD and use it according to license. The business model is still present on the internet, and I was willing to shell out a reasonable amount of money, but all I found was a cheap cacophony with complicated licenses.

Licenses? a light went on! Creative Commons. I googled for creative common music and bumped into Jamendo. Free and legal music downloads of good quality and many styles. The style is a matter of taste. I liked this particular song, and the whole album. The license a matter of use and Creative Commons’ modularity makes it easy to choose a work with a license compatible to your intended use.

In my case, of the four limitations (or freedoms, depending on whether you look at it from a licensee’s or licensor’s perspective) there were two which did not make a difference to me, one that I needed and one that I wanted to avoid:

byAttribution (BY) does not make a difference. Giving credit to the artist is the least I can do. In this case, I went to his myspace page (no login required, f**kbook) and donated some money, and of course, you’ll see proper attribution in the movie’s credits.

ncNon-Commercial (NC) does not make a difference either. My movie is not commercial. If you have a commercial project, make sure you use work with a license that does not include the NC condition.

ndI needed the freedom to make derivatives. So I had to avoid content with the No-Derivatives (ND) condition. The ND condition is a roadblock to the remix culture, but there are sometimes good reasons to use it, like on this site.

saI wanted to avoid Share-Alike (SA) because the content of the movie is very personal and I prefer not to license it under the same terms. I retain an “all rights reserved” – you can watch it here, in the context and form I choose to make it available.

Copyright, complemented with Creative Commons, is a fantastic enabler of creativity.

The Most Beautiful Smile In The World

You will forgive me if I state so bluntly that to me this is the most beautiful smile in the world. It was worth it to spend some money on a really good camcorder.

Unfortunately, support of the AVCHD movie file format is still mostly lacking in Linux. For simple playback, none of the usual media players available in Ubuntu seems to work at the time of writing. For editing, there are workarounds, but I end up fiddling too long with conversions and not enough with the actual editing. Video editing is a time intensive task. You want the most comfortable, intuitive, easy and fast to use software. Real time editing must be fluid when cutting and fading. Rendering of the final movie can happen overnight, so speed is not critical there.

I did not like the software that came with the camcorder. I’ve tried a few budget products and the most usable one I found was from SONY. Quite hard to swallow given my intense allergy to the brand and its proprietary shenanigans. But in the end, pragmatism wins, especially when time flies and the parents overseas want to see the offspring growing.