Monday, April 30, 2012

Day 20: Video Star

So, I left my laptop in my office.  I was out of time and I didn't want to stop what it was doing. 

On Mondays, Wednesdays ans Fridays it's my job to pick Oliver up from daycare.  In the past it's been my responsibility every day of the week; this semester I have an evening class on Tuesday and Thursday or it'd be that way this semester as well.  I absolutely don't mind it, and I'm very used to this schedule; I love seeing his eyes when he knows it's time to go home, (even if the real reward is seeing mommy :-) ).  But, the daycare doesn't take kindly to parents who are tardy and charge a steep per-minute penalty after 5:30.  One of the things we most like about this daycare is that it is close to my work and our home, so I don't have to travel far.  Nevertheless, if I don't leave within a few minutes of 5 to start the trek up to my parked car in the lot overlooking campus ( often the closest I can find; a frustration for a different day's post) then I run the risk of not making it on time.

I'm never done so in a very real way it's good to have a hard deadline that means that I have to leave regardless of other considerations or I'd likely be compelled to sacrifice important time with the family for the sake of whatever thing I'd been hyper-focused on that day. 

Today's area of hyper-focus was the technical aspects of running my planned YouTube channel for all things computer science and computer and electronics development.  I can't have been said to even touch, much less own, anything that could be remotely called a camcorder since probably the mid 90s.  Like most people my age, my internal clock thinks of the 90s as being ten years ago, but the truth is that was TWENTY years ago.  Ten years is bad enough, but with twenty years of technological development between me and the state of the art in video capture and editing I am like a primordial monkey-man dancing around a giant obelisk whenever I try to use the Sony Handycam I have access to.

The basic user interface hasn't changed much: record, zoom in, zoom out, playback... check.  But what's so different in the design seems to be how the camera is designed to be your one-stop device for storage, display (even to the TV or other devices) AND editing on the device.  It's basically a powerful computer built for a small domain.  That's totally different from the late analog/early digital conversion days of the 90s.  The thing has 250GB of internal memory, more than many modern laptops, but it does need it given how much memory it eats up in storing high-quality video.

I want to do what I had thought would be a simple thing.  Move the videos whole-clothe from the camera to my computer.  For me, that's got to be step one in editing and delivering content.  It's not easy; not yet anyway.  In fairness, one major complicating factor is that I want to function in a Linux environment and the video manager software that Sony intended for people like me to use does not function outside Windows.  Still, you can see behind the scenes and mount the cameras internal hard drive in Linux.  What you see is cryptic to say the least.  The file structure is anything but user-friendly and once you do find the actual video files you can't watch them in the format they're saved in.  Applications exist to make handling their conversion relatively painless, but this is complicated by the fact that longer videos (of which I have taken several in the form of student presentations), are automatically chopped up every 2GB into separate files.  Though it isn't obvious at first, the conversion software has a problem with these arbitrary divisions.  One thing is clear, the average user was NEVER supposed to look under the hood and was meant to stick strictly to the provided software abstraction.  I live and teach software abstraction, but your lower level abstractions should at least make things usable (looking at you Sony).

The truth is, I STILL don't know if I've got a workable solution because the encoding process I finally worked out after hours of searching was still grinding after many minutes when 5 o'clock rolled around.

Long story short, rather than kill the surprisingly (to me) lengthy process in the middle, I walked out and left it running.  I left my laptop at work, and that left me with a  really weird feeling; I always have my laptop with me.  I decided to leave it because I new I'd have my Xoom android tablet at home, but that didn't keep me from leaving and reentering my office three times to assuage the uneasy feeling in my gut. 

I am using my tablet to compose this blog post right now.  I downloaded the Blogger android app (a thing I hadn't thought to look for before tonight) and I am so far pretty happy with it, but I still feel the touchscreen keyboard IS sowing me down.  I can't get used to editing on a tablet; code, blog post or otherwise.  Still, it's a workable solution and that's good to know for when I go on the road and I'd rather cart the tablet instead of the laptop.

Still, I find myself hoping that leaving the laptop at work is revealed tomorrow to have been worth it in that the conversion process was successful.  To say that working with a modern camcorder is more complicated than I thought it would be for me is an understatement.  I think I'm on a learning curve though, dragging myself out of the 90s, and I hope to be on the downward slop of that curve pretty soon.

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