Author Archives: Stressed Techy

Good books, young and adult.

Good books can be for both young and adult reading.

One thing I’ve been reminded of through reading (and enjoying) the Harry Potter books is that just because a book may be written with a young audience in mind doesn’t mean it’s not a good adult read.
Modern-day authors like Pullman and Paolini have written some hefty-sized ‘teenage’ books which I’ve found quite captivating. The Narnia series by C. S. Lewis seemed to me, when reading them during my childhood, as a good, fun, adventure story involving the fight of good and evil. However recently reading them again as an adult, although not a particularly intellectually demanding read, the interplay of the various characters can take on a far greater meaning when viewed from an adult perspective. (Now I think about it, I really must read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland again.)
Eoin Colfer’s Artmis Fowl books have always entertained me, though I do think his latest in the series, The Atlantis Complex, a little bit weak. I’ve also enjoyed following the adventures of Howl and his Moving Castle. (Diana Wynne Jones.) Another favourite has been the Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve.


I suppose it all depends what you want from a book. Sometimes it’s nice to have something that taxes the brain and is a demanding or challenging read. Something that really makes you work and in turn can provide a tremendously rewarding reading experience.
Other times though, it is nice to be able to relax and allow yourself to flow into the story without too much effort, where it’s easy to allow ones imagination to head off into another world. Life without this bit of escapism would be a so much more stressful place.

Final Cut Pro X

 Final Cut Pro X

It’s now around six months since I got my copy of Final Cut Pro X.

A bit of history. My first video editing experience started off with Windows Movie Maker, but I soon wanted something that could do a bit more, and could also do HD. I mucked around with the 14 day trial versions of various programs and eventually settled on getting CorelDraw’s VideoStudio Pro X2. Cheap ‘n’ cheerful and did a competent job.

It didn’t take long to settle down to some basic YouTube video editing, and I could see that this, for the money, was quite a powerful editor. However it’s one thing to be a powerful editor, it’s another for the user to know how to use these powerful features, and perhaps its one biggest weakness was lack of availability of really good on-line tutorials.

I must have had it about a year (6 months of getting to know it, then 6 months of getting frustrated with it!) when I decided it was time to move on, with the priority on not just finding a good video editor, but an editor with good tutorials!

It was then by chance I came across Izzy Hyman and his www.izzyvideo.com web site. Here was a place with some really well presented tutorial videos on 1) making videos in general; 2) using Final Cut Pro 7; 3) using Final Cut Express. This was exactly what I wanted. The cost of Final Cut Pro 7 was way out of my budget, but Final Cut Express, at student price, was affordable. This also meant a shift from Windows to Mac (which was something I’d been thinking about anyway), and through the help of a friend I got hold of a 2nd hand MacBook Pro. This MacBook was a couple of years old and not exactly ‘high spec.’ but ran Express quite nicely.

It was about 7 or 8 months after this that Final Cut Pro X came out – and met with a very errrr…. ‘mixed’ reception! The pre-release press comments had been quite favourable, however when it came out they gave it a serious slagging. A lot of this was because they had thought that all the new features in FCP X would be in addition to / on top of all the existing Final Cut features, but on release they discovered that quite a few features considered important by the film making community were now missing. However for my use these missing features were not important and Apple had priced it very competitively. Izzy Hyman very quickly got onto his site some really good Pro X tutorials, so upgrading for me was an obvious thing to do.

The install went without a problem and it appeared to run smoothly, however the window that displayed the actual video stream only displayed it in what looked like 16 colours (the editing & other windows were still in full colour). After a bit of investigation it turns out that my MacBook had a compatible graphics card, but Pro X wanted 256 meg of RAM minimum where my machine only has 128 meg. Though a pain, this was not the end of the world, I was surprised though that the Apple app store / iTunes had allowed me to install it on a below spec. machine.

After using Pro X for a while I also realised another reason why some of the ‘professional types’ didn’t like it – it was too easy to use! Here was a powerful bit of software that had, with it’s new drag ‘n’ drop interface, taken out a huge amount of the mystique of video procuction, and at a cheap price too. It really has speeded up my routine of processing a video. Selecting which bits from different clips and adding titles and effects has not just become easier, but so much quicker.

I have since upgraded to a MacBook Air which runs it very nicely, this now means I can get most of my editing done on the train journey back from things like YouTube gatherings, which is nice.

So if anyone is thinking of a move from their basic editing software to something a bit more powerful, check it out. I certainly have no regrets, even though I had to change operating systems too.

What next, 2012.

So, what next for 2012?

Am writing this sitting in Starbucks, Christmas 2011 has come and gone and New Year will be with us shortly.

It’s been a year of mixed fortune. A time when one or two who I would class as close friends seem to have drifted away, and though one or two acquaintances have become good friends, there is still a feeling of overall loss.

Finances have been tight, so a lot less adventuring out to things like YouTube Gatherings and those other social events that happen around the place.

This time last year I felt reasonably secure in work, but that has changed over the last few months.

It’s not all been negative; so glad I went down to the Summer in the City YouTube gathering and I’m very happy with my new lap-top and camera. New friends have been discovered (do you ‘discover’ friends?), however I won’t be sorry to see the back of 2011.

As for next year, that all depends on work. If the job security situation improves, then this will provide the foundation for rebuilding a more positive outlook on life. If the job situation deteriorates, then who’s to say what may happen.

Apple thoughts

Apple Thoughts post iPhone 4S.

It’s now a few days since the new iPhone 4S was announces by Apple, so a few ‘Apple thoughts’. A variety of improvements compared to the iPhone 4 but in the same case, and I assume, because they have retained the case, calling it the 4S rather than 5.
However lots of unhappiness at no iPhone 5, but how much of this unhappiness is hidden vanity. I want to show off that I’m rich (I have more money than sense), that I’ve got the latest new toy and you haven’t, that I’m cool and you aren’t. However by retaining the old case there’s no easy way of differentiating between the old and the new. Those who go for the new phone because of say the better camera and / or longer battery life will be getting a great new device (functionality over form). Those who wanted something new to pose with will be disappointed.
On the other hand Apple is not just a company producing new and exciting electronics, but a company of innovating design, a company whose products turn heads and grab attention. Have they missed something here by putting new wine into old skins. I suspect not.
Those who want the new features will get it, the Apple ‘must have’ fanboi crowd will, of course, go for it, the vanity crowd will have to wait (though of course they can always pretend their old 4 is actually a 4S).
What it does do is give Apple a huge amount of free publicity as speculation continues about an iPhone 5. Will there be one at the turn of the year, or not till the spring conference; will it have the features that were predicted for the 4S but not included, or will it be something totally new. By not drawing a line under all this speculation they have ensured countless more column-inches in the press that would have cost them a fortune had they had to pay for that amount of publicity.

On the subject of Apple hardware, I do use it but I’ve never been impressed with the early /first versions. My first Apple device was a G3 iBook to replace a Sony lap-top, however the Sony outlived it’s replacement and this experience put me off Apple for some time. It was only when I came across a ‘mature’ MacBook that I started seriously using Macs again. I really did not like the original iPad, but am very happy with my iPad 2. The first iPhone totally underwhelmed me, but when the 3GS came out I soon got (still use) one. The first MacBook Air I thought was a joke. Maybe thin but far too large, underpowered, and lacking in ports. The current ones with their i5 / i7 processors are awesome machines.

I guess there is one thing with all this Apple stuff, you can never really predict what they are going to do next, and when things do come out, quite how people will react to them.

London and SitC

A trip to London and SitC 2011.

Went down to London for a week recently. Got down there at the tail end of that period of rioting. However all I saw was Londoners (and tourists) all just getting on with life. The reason for heading down from Glasgow; to attend the three days of Summer in the City YouTube Gathering (SitC) and also have a few days in London of just being a tourist.

SitC was good. I don’t know how many attended over the week-end, perhaps six or seven hundred. A bit of Hyde Park, a bit of Regent’s Park and a bit of Jubilee Gardens; and in the evenings some music sessions. Nice to see some familiar faces and nice to make some new contacts. For a few people this is the only time throughout the year that they get the chance of face to face meetings with their internet social contacts, especially when these people are located in different countries.

One area that seem to have become a surrogate home for many YouTubers is Camden. An interesting area of shops and markets, lots of food places and the canal going through the middle. Walking around there the day after SitC had ended and I was bumping into many I knew, all just winding down. Although not really my style of clothing, heading off into The Stables market area and a wander around CyberDog is always fun. A few years ago if someone had asked me if I’d like to live in London I’d probably have said ‘no’, however I’ve going down there to Gatherings over the last three years my attitude to the city has changed, and if I could afford a property there, then I would happily move there now.

Back to SitC – an amazingly friendly get together. Yes, with that number there there will be personality clashes and the like, on the other hand it is so large it’s easy enough to avoid those you may not wish to see. No barrier to gender or age, many there in their early teens, others there retired. Spread across Friday – Saturday – Sunday some just turned up for one day, but what did surprise me was the numbers there at the start on Friday lunchtime. Walking into Hyde Park and seeing in the distance this huge crowd of people was just amazing. I’d expected (and we got) large Saturday numbers, but to see so many there so early at the start was great.

This was the third SitC and at least this time YouTube bothered to send some representatives which was nice. Provisional dates for 2012 are for the 17th – 19th of August. I hope to go.

Arrietty

Just seen the film Arrietty, a Japanese anime film from Studio Ghibli.

Ever since seeing Spirited Away in the cinema some years ago and being totally blown away at the quality and drawing style of the art work I’ve been a fan of Ghibli. Don’t expect anything too dramatic or shocking from their films, they are not ‘action films’ in the way of a typical Hollywood blockbuster (though many of the films do involve violence and war), but are more films that make you stop and think – and you’re still thinking days after watching!

Arrietty is a Japanese take on The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Enjoyed the film and though
I’ve not read the books this has certainly encouraged me to look out for them the next time I’m book shop browsing. (One thing Harry Potter has done for me is to alert me to the fact that may books classed as for children are perfectly adult compatible.)

The showing of the film was in English, and this is one thing that I felt let the film down. Usually I’ve been quite happy with the English language versions of the Studio Ghibli productions, sometimes watching the DVDs I have in English, sometimes in Japanese but with subtitles. However I think in this case they got things wrong, they made to too English. It may be based on an English story, but like it or not this is a Japanese film, the principle building has an oriental feel to it, the characters may have a western style of dress, but they are still oriental characters, the whole visual style of the film is of a Japanese Studio Ghibli film, you know you are in the East. Yet they’ve given the characters such extreme and so stereotypical English accents that it’s totally out of place with the rest of the atmosphere and of the setting, and made it a bit disjointing to watch.

In all the other Ghibli films I’ve seen the English language version may not have been perfect, but it has never distracted me from the film. This time I really did find it failed to blend in, but sat separate / on top of the visual storyline. A shame, I’m sure I’ll see this film again and will get the DVD, but will definitely be going for the Japanese language version with English subtitles.

What to do now post-Harry Potter?

What to do now post-Harry Potter?

At the time of writing this the final part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has just come out in the cinema. This brings to an end an amazing Harry Potter journey that started in 1997 with the publication of the first book of Harry and his adventure concerning the Philosopher’s Stone.

However my discovery of the world of Potter started at Christmas 2000 with a radio broadcast of the first book. (This was at a time when books 1 to 4 had been published.) This means for me Potter’s been around 11 years, or for those who got in at the start, 14 years.

Let’s look at it another way, as an adult it represents an 11 year chunk of my life, but it’s still just a chunk out of middle age. For someone who started at book 1 and at age 9, 10, 11 sort of area, then for them it’s been a 14 year period which now brings them up into their mid 20s, so their whole ‘growing up’ part of their life has involved Harry Potter (whether with book publication or film release). That’s puberty and adolescence, that’s teenage years and growing up, discovering girlfriends and boyfriends, that’s leaving school, college, university, finding work and becoming an adult. All with Harry Potter there growing up with them.

So I was not surprised to see some emotional people leaving the cinema after the midnight showing ended. It’s finished. Something that’s always been there for them now is not there. Emptiness.
I’ve uploaded a YouTube video commenting more on things:-

One thing about the books, they need re-reading. I don’t know how many times I’ve read them, but each time I see things I missed before. Until fairly recently I’d thought of book 2 as being one of the weaker ones, however a friend suggested I read it not for the story-line, but specifically to look to comments and references that have some significance in the future, and doing so totally changed the way I saw the book.
A few examples of things to look out for. Fairly early on in the book Harry hides in a cabinet – one end of a pair of vanishing cabinets, and later Peeves drops a cabinet (the other one) when Harry is in Filch’s office. (Is this how the link between them got damaged which then leads to Malfoy wanting Borgin & Burkes to repair the link.)

We meet Dobby and learn of house elves special magic, there’s a couple of light-hearted comments about Percy potentially being rather ambitious. We see our first Horcrux (though we don’t know it) and that Harry has the impression that Professor Snape can read minds. There are hints about Ginny and her future relationship to Harry… and so the list goes on. All the earlier books refer to future events, but book 2 has something on almost every other page!

Anyway, the books are done, the films finished, but then as they say, all good things must come to an end sometime. However it does leave me thinking, what to do now post-Harry Potter?

Camera Thoughts

Some camera thoughts.

It was a while ago when I started looking around for a nice but basic camera. I wanted something a bit better than point & shoot, but did not have the money for a digital SLR, so was looking at one or two of the cross-over type cameras.

I was in the city centre about to go into a camera shop (possibly to actually buy) when by chance I ended up talking  to someone I knew a little bit from internet / social networking but had never met in real life till now. In conversation he said he has a Canon 400D dSLR, two years old but hardly used which he was willing to sell. We came to a mutually agreeable price, and so began my love affair with Canon cameras. That was about 3 years ago.

Moving forward a bit, it was about this time last year I started seriously thinking about replacing / upgrading this 400D; the Canon range had progressed from the 400 to the 450 to the 500 and now everybody was raving on about the 550D. My old, second hand 400 was starting to show its age, technology had moved on, especially with the ability of these newer dSLRs to be able to do good quality video too. A 550D was quite tempting.

Then last summer the 60D came out, which though expensive, seriously got my attention. Then earlier on this year, the 600D.

So decisions and arguments with myself last autumn over wanting but not really having the money for a 60D. Then when the 600D came out do I go with it as a cheaper but similar specification alternative to the 60D. More arguments, more procrastination, and an eventual decision to go for the 60D. Physically more robust, a faster focusing system, faster frames per second, better viewfinder and a few other things tipped the scales in its favour. The one thing that made me hang back was its bulk. These digital SLRs are getting bigger and bigger. Compare a current high spec. dSLR to its equivalent spec. old style 35mm film SLR and the size (and weight) difference is considerable.

Then by chance I was looking at the Digitalrev.com site where they were comparing the micro four-thirds Panasonic GH2 to the Canon 60D. Both had their pros and cons, both produced great pictures (and video). The 60D had a slightly larger sensor, but the GH2 had more advanced electronics for processing the sensor data. However the GH2 may be digital but it is NOT an SLR, it does not rely on a mirror to reflect the light up to a viewfinder which then has to be flipped out of the way to let the light get to the sensor. Its viewfinder is electronic,  this image being fed directly from the sensor. Eliminating this mirror system really reduces the size and weight of the camera (and lenses) considerably.

This changed everything for me. More research done, more reviews read, more camera shops visited and now I am a happy Panasonic owner.

So a few camera thoughts for you. If someone wants to go the route of a dSLR, then get whichever of those Canon cameras you can afford and you won’t be disappointed. However just remember that there’s more out there than just dSLRs.

Kindle Thoughts

Some Kindle Thoughts.

I got my Kindle as a late Christmas present for myself (Jan 2011) so I’ve had it for a few months now and am very impressed with it. As for why did I get it – my local Borders bookshop closed and I hand’t realised how much I had got used to sitting in the Starbucks inside the book store reading, and I was missing that experience.

Having that Borders there, with the ability to browse the shelves and then sample a chapter or two of the book over a cup of coffee had resulted in me buying far more books than I ever used to. On-line stores may have cheaper headline prices, but for me the advantage of having the book in front of me where I could see it’s condition, not worry about hidden postage costs, no having to wait in for any delivery service or have the problem of wrong item sent, all that sort of stuff meant that I was a frequent Borders visitor. (Also met some amazing people while there.)

Anyway, back to the Kindle. It’s only designed to do one job and it does that job very well. It is light weight, including the fancy cover I’ve got for it it’s no bigger than a paperback, and the claimed one month battery life I’ve found realistic. As for the ‘reading experience’, it’s excellent. When reading off my iPad or computer I’m always aware I’m reading from a computer screen, but when using the Kindle then I’m just ‘reading’ and can happily get fully immersed in the book. It may not have the same feel (or smell) of a paper based book, but if something like this can encourage more people, especially children, to read more, then great.

Whether the older generation like it or not, the younger generation is a technology aware generation, so if you want them to read then accept the fact that electronic rather than paper reading will be the preferred route for many of them. Better Kindle reading than no reading!

As for available material, almost everything written before the 1930s now out of copyright which means there’s a vast amount of free material available. For the first time ever I’ve found myself reading Dickens. We all know the films such as Oliver Twist, but how many have actually read the books. I’m currently part the way through Darwin and On the Origin of Species and also Knowles and The Legends of King Arthur. I’ll shortly download some more Jules Verne.

So I’ll definitely give my Kindle a big thumbs up. I got my device from a local shop and headed straight down to my favourite Starbucks to investigate it. I was disappointed to find there was no pre-installed reading material so you couldn’t just take it out of the box and start reading, also the ‘getting started’ instructions I found feeble. However those problems were soon sorted and I am now a very happy Kindle user.

AV and FPtP referendum

Some thoughts on AV and FPtP referendum

I can’t say I’m that keen on the first past the post voting system for our current multiple-party setup, however I’m not impressed with this ‘alternative vote’ setup being offered. So what I hope to see in this oncoming referendum is that the first past the post will win, but only just. In other words we don’t get this AV system, but people are saying that they do want change from the current system.

What I would like to see is a ‘two vote’ system. First you would vote for your local MP, the idea being you’d choose the person you thought would be the best to represent your local constituency regardless of their political party. So if you happen to have relatively left wing views but your local left wing representative was a bit of a dick-head then it would not matter that much as you were voting for the best person to look after your interests at a local level.

However you would also then vote for which party you would like to be governing the country. Once these votes were counted, then the voting power of each MP would be allocated in proportion to this percentage vote, such that if one party got 25% of this vote, then regardless of the number of individual MPs they had in parliament, this group of MPs would have 25% of the votes in parliament.

Can’t see this ever happening, but could be interesting.