Virtual Worlds

Virtual Worlds have existed in various forms since computers could network. whether it was a dungeon walk through game or a interactive chat room that charged by the hour simulating CB radio.bouncy castles for sale

some of this got thought up before it actually happened in fiction. we’ve all read Snow Crash or Necromancer. both of these books seemed like the stuff of fiction at the time. yet we’ve seen so many of things come true.

[list of links goes here]

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Your Hard Drive is going to Fail

your hard drive (no not the big box that sits next to your desk) is going to fail. it will fail sometime between tomorrow and the future. it’s a fact of statistics that it will happen. thing is, you don’t know when it’s going to go away. that’s why you need to have copies of everything important to you. this includes pictures, writing, art, 3D, music and everything else. lots of things take multiple days to create that if you lost could not easily be recreated. you have no choice but to fight the future.

Craig has an incredibly redundant redundant back up system. SuperDuper, CronoSync, Dropbox, ExpanDrive and BackBlaze is part of his system.

Backing up is something that everyone needs to do.

How to back up your Mac with RSYNC
Jungle Disk
Carbon Copy Cloner
Backup Simplicity
Apple Backup
Data Backup
Deja Vu
Dobry Backuper
File Synchronization
Flash Comet
Keystroke Recorder
PSU Blast Image Config
Synchronize! Pro

Windows has lots of solutions.

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Great Skype

Hi Know Tech,

I know you’re busy as heck so I’ll keep this brief. I’m an audio engineer for a small internet broadcaster in the East Bay called the Brewing Network and I really want to pick your brain about remote interviews.

We’ve been broadcasting live and podcasting shows for four years and our sound quality in-studio has gotten better and better, but phone interviews and Skype calls seem to suck no matter what gear we send the interviewee.  How do you guys get such great Skype quality on your shows?

Any insight you have to offer is much appreciated. Even if you just have a moment to jot down a quick list of your signal path it would be great.

Thanks, Know Tech!  All the best,
Push Eject

there are many factors that you have to control to get Skype to sound better for your calls. some of these things are are very simple to fix and others take a higher level geek to get working. everything in this podcast applies for Skype, SIP, Gizmo5 and other peer to peer Voice. even if you do all these things the quality of this stuff isn’t stellar. the biggest problem is the delay they have is the round tripping causes people to talk over each other. that said, I find Skype hit or miss for all things. here’s my list to get things to sound better:

0) there cannot be ANY other traffic on the Skype connection. a caller downloading a web page on a different computer will cause farts (distortion specific to Skype) while talking.

1) use the Windows version on a separate computer for incoming calls.
Windows development is WAY ahead of all the other versions. it’s up to v4.2.

2) use a direct (wired) connection instead of a wireless one. however. this means you won’t be sharing that wireless N or wireless G with other computers around you. you’ll have 100megabit all the way to the router.

3) if you can control the QOS on your router you can tweak it to make sure Skype’s ports have priority. you can also define a specific amount of bandwidth and latency. if you have a newer Linksys just select Skype from the QOS tab.

here’s how to control QOS if you installed DD-WRT on your router.

with DD-WRT you can prioritize by Applications, IP address or by MAC address:
fixed IP for the skype computer
port forward 1023 to that IP
set the priority to HIGH or PREMIUM

4) get a newer router that can run something like DD-WRT (the USR one for $40 is nice) then you can packet shape to your hearts content. we like the ASUS 20WL-520GU and here’s a review.

5) you might need a gay shirt.

6) using the latest (Skype 4 or later) you can turn off SuperNodes explicitly.

7) look into getting more bandwidth or newer “business class” bandwidth.
old, old DSL has lots of traffic shaping built-in.
servers were not allowed. Skype is acting like a server.
your old contract may cost more then newer better service.

8 ) Comcast biz class for example is very cool with all kinds of overhead
you can run servers.
they give you real IP addresses (block of 5)
you can get 16Mbs down and 2Mbs up (or more) for up for $80.

9) recording the call
skype based tools. there are lots of choices.
wire it into your board.
we do this.
use WireTap, Sound Flower or
the equivalent on Windows.

10) echo, echo, echo…
everyone has to wear headphones.
AKG K-240’s SUCK
they aren’t closed
ear buds work better!

$90 for 5. send them to people!
Audio Technica


bottom line:
don’t do anything else but TALK. not YouTube, email or chat on both sides
have a good microphone.
use a Skype on Windows on your side.
where headphones.

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we’ve seen in history that events seem to repeat themselves as if we’ve never learned from the past. but no matter how long ago you go you will always find a need for getting a message from here to there. that message might be sent to a single person or it has to go to many people. no matter how many people the message goes to people have been looking for a better way to send and deliver the message.

messaging has been powered with everything: smoke, light, drums, pigeon, horse, person, bottle just to name a few of the contraptions used over the centuries. electricity is the most recent change to this. it’s what put guys riding on horseback out of business 150 years ago.

we know that Twitter has a limitation of 140 characters. which historically is a lot of characters. telegrams charged by the character making every messages exactly to the point. the limitation of the message size is best on TXT messaging for phones which has a limit of 160 characters. this limit was based on research that found that most postcard contained about that many words. “weather is here. wish you were wonderful. always sarcastic J”

Movable Type – sudo standard
Morse Code – 1844
Baudot Code (data transmission “baud” rate came from this) – 1870
ASCII – 1960 to 1963

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Single App mode in OS X

there are lot’s of odd leftovers inside OS X that can actually be useful. take Single App Mode for example. useability studies showed that new users were often confused as to what window was what when using a Mac for the first time. and out of that study came a feature that made it less confusing. the solution was that as you switched from App to App the old app would automatically hide uncluttering the screen allowing you to totally focus on your task. but Mac users are a picky lot meaning that long time users complained about app hiding as default behavior meaning it didn’t make the 1.o cut. for whatever reason the feature can be turned on using a command line incantation. it turns out to be useful! and it’s very easy to turn on allowing you to try it for yourself.

you need to open the Terminal then copy/paste these two CLI incantations to turn on Single App Mode

defaults write single-app -bool true
killall Dock

if you decide you can’t take it anymore use these to commands to change it back.

defaults delete single-app
killall Dock

here’s the Tidbit’s article.

the other tool that Kenji talked about is called Hyperspaces. it let’s you choose the background image for each one of your spaces. this is a can help you recognize what space is up more quickly.

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Learning the Art of Video Editing

video editing has two parts: mechanical and cerebreral. learning the mechanical part is easy. like any other program these are the keyboard commands and gestures that you are required to know to use it. in the case of video it’s a requirement to know these commands so that can works as fast as possible. almost all of these key commands are left overs from ancient video tape editors like AVID or Grass Valley. once an editor learned a system like these they insisted that every thing that came afterward use those commands exactly like they worked on the older systems.

you can learn the mechanical by taking a class or reading books and manuals. but we’ve found the best way to learn is to just use the NLE. don’t be daunted by the insane interface and the thousands of keyboard commands. eventually it will look like it makes sense. and don’t try to learn all the command keys all at once. instead learn them over time so you will pick up things that work for you. here’s four keys you need to know to start things off: ABMN. A is the pointer, B is the Razor, M adds a marker, N is turns Snapping on and off.

one thing to note is that the editor you ultimately decide to use really doesn’t matter. why? because the act of editing isn’t defined by the tool. it doesn’t matter if it’s an AVID running on Windows or a Final Cut Pro on an Octo Mac. the tool is not the editor because editing is defined by you. I’ve found that my style has been consistent across 6 different editors that I’ve used in my career as an editor.

a better way to think about editing is that it’s really just messing with Time and Space. and that’s why it can be so hard to learn. here’s a foundation of story telling: every story has a beginning, middle and end. but with your NLE the middle could be the beginning and the end might come abruptly.

video is has lots of parts that make up the total story. you can think of it as just sound and video. but sound is more than just sound. it’s emotion made from voice, music, foley and effects. a visual story just pasted on top of sound won’t work because our eyes are tricked by our ears to want to see things around a beats of the sound.

learning the art of this will take time. there is so much to learn.

here’s four books that we like:

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

In the Blink of an Eye Revised 2nd Edition

Apple Pro Training Series: The Craft of Editing with Final Cut Pro

Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player

here’s four movies that we like because you can learn from the Director commentary:

The Core (Widescreen Edition)

Robert Rodriguez Mexico Trilogy (El Mariachi / Desperado / Once Upon A Time In Mexico)

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (Widescreen Edition)

Saving Private Ryan (Special Limited Edition)

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the Mackie 1202

we joke about how the Mackie 1202 is a standard issue garage band audio mixer. it seems like everyone we know has used one. it’s a little mixer but it’s every bit as useful as something much larger. you may eventually out grow it replacing it with something that has FireWire or has more channels. but chances are you will hang on to your 1202 long after you’ve upgraded to something else.

the 1202 gets it’s name from the total number of it’s inputs and outputs. which is 12 inputs and 2 outputs. this breaks down to 4 mic/line inputs and 4 stereo line inputs. this adds up to 12 because you count the stereo lines as 8 not 4 even though it’s only got controls for 4. there’s marketing for you. it’s small. like 12″ by 12″ small. meaning you can put it in a backpack, briefcase, or rolling suitcase for traveling to locations. and because it’s small it won’t look like you are moving in when you get there. the small is also good because you can mount it in a rack using the ears made for the job (ears sold separately).

the 1202 behaves like a big mixer. it uses high-quality preamps like more expensive mixers. if you look at the graph for the preamps you’ll see that they are indeed impressive. keep in mind that it’s very hard to hear the difference between these things. but some people can. every mic input has an insert. this allows you to “insert” an effect or audio processor immediately after the preamp. just about anything can go here including a compressor/limiter, EQ, echo/reverb or something weird like a guitar pedal.

the very same things that don’t make sense on your 1202 will also not make sense on a larger board. just the same, once you understand how to hook things every mixer will work like that. you will find that the 1202 has enough features to learn the ropes that will help you around any other mixer.

simple signal routing
channel inserts
tape input/output
gain and trim for Mics
phantom power
main and control room outputs

as simple and small as the 1202 is you will find it works well for small live set-ups. it’s also great for a submixer for a keyboard player. you could also use it as an auxiliary mixer. for example mixing four mics on stage and sending the output to the main mix. we’ve used a 1202 to bring CD, DVD, BetaCam and other audio sources into a computer which allowed us to fix levels as it was being captured.

here’s the thing to remember: a bigger board isn’t necessarily a better board. sure, it looks impressive but will it really help you? usually the answer is no. other mixers in this category may have more bells and whistles. and you may actually need some of those features like faders instead of knobs, EQ with sweepable mids, more bands of EQ, more inputs, more outputs. just don’t let a need to fuel an ego cloud your decision. also remember that Mackie isn’ the only game in town. we’ve used all of these boards at some point.

Alesis Multimix series
Behringer XENYX series
Yamaha MG82CX

as you shop you will find all different sizes of mixers. there’s a board that has just 1 mic input which might be perfect if you monolog. for not much more money you can get two mic inputs which is potentially more useful. the 802-VLZ3 is a single AUX send making it useful for Skype/Phone patching. one thing that is consistent is the smaller the board the fewer features it has.

buying used
there isn’t much risk in buying used audio gear. mixers, microphones and effects pretty much work like they work their entire life. while most gear holds it’s value nobody is going to pay nearly what it’s costs for new. if you bought something used and outgrow it or need something different you can resell it for no loss compared to selling new-ish gear. your $100 purchase won’t lose that value even if you use it for a year. look for deals on eBay, craigslist or local musician hang out. please keep in mind what a brand new mixer costs.

since the 1202 shipped in the early 90’s there have been 4 revisions of the board.

1202 – 2 bands of EQ
1202 – VLZ – 3 bands of EQ, balanced main outs, Mute and Solo buttons,
has more outputs.
1202-VLZ Pro – improved the Mic Preamps. added the word Pro.
1202-VLZ3 – improved Pres. removes the head phone volume knob.

from a podcast production point of view the 1202 is nearly perfect. it has 4 microphone inputs with Inserts, there are two AUX channels so you can patch into a phone call or include Skype, and it has lots of outputs to capture sound. here are three examples of why it’s the 1202 is cool:

mix-minus for Skype patching. feed the Skype caller into the board so everyone can hear but mix out their voice so they can hear everyone with the echo of their voice.

use inserts to patch in other processors or pre-amp’d mics. a processor could be an EQ, Compressor or Voice Processor.

the MUTE button allows you to have your caller ready and listening without having them in the conversation.

wrapping things up
look, as much as we love our 1202’s it’s not the best mixer in the world. but then what mixer is the best? every thing we’ve considered has some fatal flaw. like no Inserts, only one AUX bus or all the knobs are the same color. it’s the little things. some people would say that the 1202’s flaw is that it uses knobs instead of faders making it harder to see where the levels are. I know I’ve wished for a MID EQ knob. you may find that you need features found on a bigger board. in talking with people about this project we’ve heard more than one person say, “I have one of those. I’m never going to give it up.” same here. we think it’s pretty awesome for what it does. our 1202 is 15 years old. it’s still in service.

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here’s some graphs that tell you a story about head room.
the original 1202
the 1202 VLZ Pro
the 1202 VLZ3
guide for hooking stuff up

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Transparency aka mask, clipping path or Alpha Channel are all ways to describing a way that allows an images to have appear on top of a background.

dropping an image onto a page will more often then not place the graphic in the middle of a white or black box. this usually doesn’t help you as you want it to merge into the background so text or other objects can flow around it’s edges. this could be for your logo, an object, text or photograph where you just want the object and nothing else. fortunately, there are lots of ways toadd transparency to any image.

here is an example of an image that has a Alpha Channel. it allows the character to be on top of any background. you don’t have to do anything to make that happen if the software you are using supports the format. in this specific case the file has been saved as a PNG. this format is one of several that supports alphas. if the software doesn’t support it then the image will still appear in the dimensions of the image.

if you search for “background remove tool mac” or background remove tool windows” you will either find very few solutions or lots and lots of solutions. part of this is because Mac users are generally graphic artists or designers that know without thinking how to use Photoshop to get this job done. on Windows side of things PowerPoint is the reason why there are so many solutions for knocking out the specifics.

the cool thing about the techniques that we talk about in the podcast and also list here is that it works everywhere. you don’t have to be on a Mac or using Windows. the techniques apply for photographs, 3D, filmmaking, game creation, print no matter what kind of tools you are running or OS you use. the show is slightly partial to Mac but that’s because of where it was originally going to run.

transparency’s technical term is Alpha Channel. it’s just another layer on your image. the layer is usually invisible to you and it can be ignored by your software if Alpha Channels are not supported. an Alpha defines the edges of your art. it tells the app what can show through even if it’s an area in the middle of the image. Alpha Channels can do other tricks as well. the best part is that once you have one it’s usually automatic to use where ever your image ends up.

there is one very simple rule about transparency as defined by Alpha. and that is
Black shows Through

the easiest (and possibly worst) way to make Transparency is to use the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop. it’s problem is that it makes a gross selection based on how similar colors are to each other. it can work well enough when there is a very hight contrast between the background and object. the problem is that lots of detail can be lost in the select because of subtlety. the Magic Wand will cut off hair leaving what looks like a hair helmet. here’s are the steps:

  • open Photoshop
  • make your image a layer and not a background by double clicking the layer in the palette.
  • select the background using the Magic Wand tweeking the Tolerance
  • delete selection
  • note the checker board
  • save as PSD
  • import into another app
  • ick!

it’s pretty easy to make “make a mask” using Photoshop. the idea is that you can capture all the subtle details using a check list of steps. the thing is these steps are not obvious. and it requires some practice to get really great results every time. here are the steps more or less that you will DIY a channel mask:

  • pick the most contrasted channel
  • could be R, G or B but most likely is, umm, R G or B
  • depends on what colors are in the object
  • duplicate it
  • get rid of the noise around the object
  • now make a selection
  • invert it
  • shrink by 20-30 pixels
  • make it black
  • deselect
  • use levels to bring up the rest to black
  • use the burn tool to bring up the fine details

modern software has “smart” tools built-in to help you remove the background from an image. Photoshop Elements has a Magic Eraser. it works remarkably well but problem is that it’s not awesome. Photoshop Magnetic Lasso needs doesn’t like dark and dark. the Pen tool in Photoshop is an exercise in tedium.  the CS4 Masks Panel is Magic Eraser plus plus.

and then there are more than a few plug-ins that help you remove backgrounds. these tools can do a remarkable job in a short time. don’t let the price be a factor in making a selection. the time savings of doing using it compared to doing it manually may totally offset the cost.

color theory

Color on computers have always been limited by memory and the displays themselves. B&W by comparison is really easy and cheap. a raster display has a limited number of lines vertically that contain a few hundred bits of data. all the bits or rather dots drawn on the screen every 1/30th to 1/60th of a second. in the case of an Apple II it could draw 280×192 which translates into an 8K memory footprint.

the problem was there were only a few colors that they Apple II could display in this mode. there were 6 total. Woz tricked NTSC to display them using these rules. any pixel could be black or white. odd coordinates could be green or blue. even coordinates could be violet or blue. drawing green next to blue would change the color to orange. meaning this is “not really any bit graphics”!

the Apple II GS took advantage of a more modern display. which allowed it to, in addition to supporting all graphics modes of previous Apple II models, display 4096 possible colors. this is a 12-bit palette. this was a big big improvement over what the IBM PC had with it’s CGA dislays. CGA used NTSC tricks to get more colors. but CGA color text sucked. it flashed when it redrew.

the Mac II (and somewhat later on other PCs) was the beginning of modern graphics on computers. when the Mac II came onto the scene only 8 bit color was supported at first because of limitations with the video card speed and limited memory. two years later Apple released 32 bit QuickDraw that supported 24 bit color cards. these could be very expensive costing nearly the price of what the Mac cost. Color in QuickDraw defined the future. it supported 1, 2, 4, 8, 24, 32 bit screens.

1 bit is black and white
2 four colors
4 supports 16 colors
8 bits gets you 256 colors
16 is 16K (thousands of colors)
24 allows for full color aka Millions of colors
32 adds the alpha channel to the millions. known as Millions +

You don’t need to know this:

color is made up of three colors: red, green and blue. each channel is a 8-bit layer. if you look at the R, G or B layer it will be a gray image. combining the layers makes the color. the display using the gray layers to change the intensity of the light emitting from gun or LED.

the forth channel called Alpha is also a 8 bit gray map. it can look gray like the other layers but usually it looks distinctly BLACK and WHITE.

there are two types of Alpha channels. straight (usually from the midwest) is the type of Alpha Channel we’ve been taking about this whole time. the other type is a Pre-Multiplied alpha which takes into account the RGB channels. this type of Alpha can eliminate the “edge” you might see on on some backgrounds.

which brings up edges you might see when you drop an image on a background. there are reasons why edges appear: it’s a badly made alpha, it’s the wrong alpha, straight Alphas sometimes renders wrong. or in the case of a 1 bit alpha (aka mask like we used to make for Director) there are pixels outside of the actual image.

sometimes an image will looked “washed out” when it’s dropped in. the problem might not be evident as “it looks good in the 3D program!” most of the time when you export it will do it correctly. but in After Effects you have a choice. and if you choose wrong (aka guess) it won’t look right. for example if you need to render PreMultipled if you are making Gas Clouds.

if you are making an image with an alpha you need to save it into a image format that supports a transparency layer. lot of formats that support transparency. but what’s import is what DOESN’T: JPEG doesn’t have a clue about 8 bits of invisibility.

but no matter, because there are lots of other choices.

  • PSD (photoshop)
  • note that Keynote can deal with this format for the most part.
  • Photoshop PDF
  • TIFF
  • BMP
  • PICT
  • Pixar
  • Targa
  • PNG

of all of those choices PNG is your format of choice for multimedia delivery. PNG is supported by “the web” so you can use it in your web pages without fear of it looking wrong.

if you have to support older browsers you have to use “fake channels” to get a knocked out background. the venerable GIF (pronounced GIF as in GIFT) lets you define a color that is trasnparent.

for Quicktime Movies only a few CODECS support saving an Alpha channel! Animation and PNG both support color space of Millions of Colors +. to this day none of the play back CODECS support alphas.

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