Gila Monster

My first Final Cut Express video project.

After spending three days going through a tutorial to learn Final Cut Express HD, I was ready to create my first video project. I’m sharing it with blog readers so you can see how much effort a person can expend on 25 seconds of video.

About the Project

This particular project features a Gila Monster (pronounced “heela monster”), which is a rather large lizard that can be found in the Arizona desert. If I’m lucky, I see one or two of these in a year, so they’re not exactly common. They are, like so many things in the desert, poisonous, so you don’t want to get too close. But since they’re not exactly fast and they’re definitely not aggressive, you can get photos of them in action if you have equipment with you.

On a backroad trip with Mike and some friends, we happened to come upon one croassing the road. I had my video camera with me and whipped it out to capture some pretty decent footage. This Final Cut Express project cuts out the boring shaky bits, replaces our silly comments with music, and adds opening and closing titles. This is the first in a series of short videos I hope to add to wickenburg-az.com, so make the site more interesting to visitors.

But this is also an experiment to check out video formats and Final Cut Express’s export feature. I had great success when exporting to QuickTime movie format, for iPod, and for Apple TV. But the Windows Media Player export didn’t work right at all and the AVI format was extremely poor quality, despite the file size, so I’m not going to distribute them. I just spent another few minutes using the iPod version of the file to create an e-mail version using QuickTime’s Share command. That worked best of all for the Web view of the file. Only 3.3 MB (which is smaller than the iPod version, and it looks pretty good.

Getting it Online

XHTML purists will tell you that the EMBED tag is a no-no in Web development. I think it has something to do with Internet Explorer which, for some reason, can’t interpret XHTML and CSS like the rest of the Web browsers on this planet.

So this project is also an experiment to see if the QuickTime Embed plugin for WordPress will work. If you’re reading this article shortly after I put it online and there’s no QuickTime movie below (or if the whole site is messed up), it’s because I’m trying this out and debugging. (Check in again in about 30 minutes.)

That said, here’s the movie with a Poster movie. I think I’l leave the iPod file for wickenburg-az.com distribution.

Four Tips for Great Antelope Canyon Photos

You don’t need to be a professional photographer to get great shots of this incredible place.

This past week, I made my fourth visit to Antelope Canyon near Page, AZ.

Antelope CanyonAntelope Canyon is an incredible slot canyon cut through Navajo sandstone. At certain times of the day at certain times of the year, the sunlight enters the top of the canyon, illuminating it with a golden light. The canyon has been featured in many magazines, sometimes with shafts of light capturing particles of dust set in motion by the cool breeze. Everyone who sees these photos dreams of taking photos just like them.

The sad reality of Antelope Canyon is that it’s a major tourist attraction that has hundreds of visitors a day. The prime midday time slots are especially crowded, with dozens of photographers vying for position to capture the perfect image. Add to that the normal tourist crowd with their flash cameras and you have a less-than-perfect photo opportunity.

That said, I’m proud to say that the photo you see here was taken at about noon last Tuesday. I had never before seen so many people in the canyon. The “serious” photographers were especially obnoxious, blocking the narrow canyon with their tripods, making it next to impossible for anyone to move forward. Yet there was only one person within sight when I took this photo, and I did it with a point-and-shoot digital camera.

Here are my secrets.

  • Don’t be in a hurry. The tour groups visiting Antelope Canyon come in truckloads of 6 to 18 people each. In most cases, group members are in a hurry to get through the canyon. The truth is, the first two or three chambers are the most beautiful and usually have the best light. By hanging back in the group, you can have these chambers all to yourself — before the next group comes through. (That’s how I found myself alone with just one other photographer for a full five minutes with this beautiful scene in front of me.)
  • Turn off your flash. Flash illumination will wash out the colors and cast deep shadows where shadows simply don’t belong. If your camera has an “automatic” or “program” mode, it should be “smart” enough to get the exposure right. This photo was taken with natural light. And no, I didn’t use Photoshop to enhance it.
  • Use a tripod. This is must. Don’t trust image stabilization features. I mount my camera vertically on the tripod and extend its legs while I’m still on the truck, so I’m ready to go right away. Then all I do is spread the tripod’s legs, embed its feet in the sandy floor of the canyon, and fine-tune to frame my subject. And, in case you’re wondering, my tripod for this duty is a $10 model that was thrown in as a giveaway with my video camera — in other words, a piece of junk.
  • Use a cable release…or your camera’s self-timer. Pushing the button on your camera will shake it — possibly enough to blur the image. That’s why you should use a cable release to snap the photo. Your camera doesn’t support that? No problem. Set the camera’s self timer to one or two seconds and press the button. Your button-pressing finger will be safely out of the way when the photo snaps.

Been to Antelope Canyon? I’d love to see your photos. Use the Comments to link to your best shots and share them with the rest of us.

And if you’d like to read more about my visits to this wonderful place, read “Antelope Canyon,” a post I wrote here last year.

Buy on RedBubbleThe full-frame version of this photo is available for sale as cards and prints at RedBubble.com.

Apple Collectibles

1996 Annual Report, Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, and more.

Today, while filing away some old investment papers, I stumbled upon a copy of Apple’s 1996 Annual Report and accompanying Report to Shareholders. Still in near perfect condition, I did what any self-respecting computer geek would do: I put it on eBay:

1996 was not a good year for Apple Computer. Gil Amelio was Chairman of the Board and CEO. The company reported a net loss of $816 million. And the company was trying hard to maintain its ever-dwindling market share.

The 1996 Apple Annual Report offers a “darkest hour” snapshot of the now-thriving company with a solid reputation for creating innovative, easy-to-use products. 36 pages in near perfect condition, with the original 6-color Apple logo on the back cover.

Also in the package is the oversized booklet titled “Looking Forward: A Report to Shareholders.” This promotional document was Apple’s attempt to keep existing shareholders by painting a rosy picture of the company’s future. The booklet’s cover features a child holding an eMate 300, which is also illlustrated in the booklet’s centerfold. Other products featured in the document include the MessagePad 2000, PowerBok 1400, Performa 6400, and original Power Macintosh.

Do you collect Apple memorabilia? If so, don’t miss this chance to own a piece of Apple’s financial past.

After listing this item, I decided to see what else was listed in Vintage Apple/Macintosh > Other Vintage Apple category. A lot of old stuff. Very old stuff. Like Apple IIe disk drives and Prometheus modems and more than a few Apple Newton eMates (featured in my annual report!).

Twentieth Anniversary MacintoshThis got me thinking about my own Apple antique: a Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Yes, I bought one of those. No, I didn’t pay $8,000 for it. (That was the original selling price.) I got it for about $2,000 using a hardware discount I used to get as an Apple consultant.

The computer has been sitting on a sofa table in my living room for the past eight years. It’s really an amazing piece of work. It has a LCD monitor — a big deal in those days — CD-ROM drive, floppy drive, FM radio receiver, television tuner (really!), and removable trackpad. Oh, yeah — and a Bose sound system.

It has a PowerPC 603e processor and came with System 7.6 (if you want to get a real idea of dates here) but I think I have Mac OS 8 running on it. (Read more specs.) I used to use it to play music when I was working around the kitchen. I have since taught it how to display photos and play music from my iPod. The screen is small, but the sound system really is good.

For at least the past year, I thought it was broken. It wouldn’t go on when I pushed the power button. I had a sneaking suspicion that someone had spilled water into the subwoofer, which also houses the power supply. I never thought to check all the connections.

Until today. And that’s when I discovered that the surge suppressor it’s attached to is dead. Remove the suppressor, plug the darn thing right into a wall outlet, and it works! Woo-hoo!

No, I’m not going to put it on eBay.

But I do have a bunch of other old Apple stuff that will make its way to eBay soon:

  • There’s a strawberry iMac (a G3) that I need to restore to its original hardware and pack up. I don’t expect to get much for it, despite the fact that it works perfectly fine.
  • There are about 20 never-worn Apple-related T-shirts carefully packed in plastic in my clothes closet. Shirts from Apple’s heydays, when Macworld Expo was one party after another. (I remember seeing Jefferson Starship playing at one party while Chris Issacs was playing at another across San Francisco.)
  • There are Apple Marketing CDs, full of documents to help retailers sell Macs.
  • And then there’s my prized collectible: Two versions of the Mac OS 8 demo CD, released about a year apart. The first version had a lot of weird/cool/funky features that never made it into Mac OS 8. It’s amazing to compare the two.
  • And in my safe: a 50-share stock certificate for Apple Computer, Inc. stock, representing my initial investment in the company. It has the original Apple logo on it, too.

What brings all this up? I’m just so tickled that the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh still works! I couldn’t imagine where I might get the darn thing fixed if it didn’t.

Being a Responsible Blogger

With regular readers comes responsibility.

This morning, I noted that the feed for this blog has exceeded 100 subscribers. The 100 mark is a milestone for any blogger, and it’s no different for me — even though I’ve been at it for some time now.

I’ve been blogging for over three years and my blog doesn’t exactly follow all of the “rules” of blogging. I’m talking about the “stick to one topic” rule and “blog multiple times a day” rule. People say rules are meant to be broken, but that’s not why I break these rules. I just blog the way I want to blog and don’t really pay attention to the rules.

My Original Blog as a Separate Entity

My blog started out as a separate entity from my personal Web site, a way to share whatever I was thinking about or doing with people who might be interested. It was a personal journal, slightly filtered for the public. It was a way for me to record my life so I’d have something to look back on in the distant future. I didn’t care if anyone read it and was often surprised when someone I knew commented about something I’d written in my blog.

Back in those days, my blog wasn’t something I worked hard at; the entries just came out of me, like one-sided conversations with friends. Perhaps it has something to do with my solitary work habits — many people gather around the “water cooler” at work to trade stories about their weekends or opinions about world affairs. There’s no water cooler in my office and no co-workers to chat with. My blog may have been my outlet for all these pent-up stories.

Blog + Site = ?

A little over a year ago, I combined my blog with my personal Web site. I did it to make my life a little easier. I’d already decided to use WordPress as my Web site building tool. Why not just make my personal blog part of the site?

My Web site has been around in one form or another since 1994. I built it to experiment with Web publishing and soon expanded it to provide a sort of online résumé and support for my books. Support for my books often meant additional tips and longer articles about some of the software I’ve written about. This is fresh content of interest to people who use that software, even if they don’t buy or read my corresponding books. Since writing this content is relatively easy for me, I have no problem offering it free to anyone who wants it (as long as they don’t steal it and pass it off as their own; see my © page).

One of the great things about blogging software is that it automatically displays the newest content on the Home page and archives older content by category and date. In the old days, I’d have to manually create new pages for every article I wanted to put on my Web site and then add links to them. It was time consuming, to say the least. Sometimes too time consuming to share even the quickest little tip with visitors. So I didn’t publish very many articles. But the time-consuming, hand-coding aspect of my site is gone, and it takes just minutes to put any content online, whether it’s a link to an interesting podcast I just listened to about iPod microphones or a multi-part series of articles explaining how to use WordPress as a content management system.

What’s odd about the merging of the two sites is that my personal blog entries now commingle on the Home page with my book support entries. So these 100+ subscribers are seeing (and possibly reading) all kinds of stuff coming out of my head. (Now that’s a scary thought!)

My Responsibility

As my blog/site audience grows, my responsibility to provide good content for readers also grows.

The way I see it, when only a half-dozen people read my blog regularly, it was okay to bore them with stories about my horse eating corn cob stuff out of the bottom of my bird’s cage or rants about the quality of “news” coverage. Now, with over 100 regular readers, I need to think more about what would interest my audience and concentrate on producing the articles they want to read. (You can help me by voting on this poll.)

And that’s when blogging becomes work. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does take more effort on my part.

And it may push me far from the original purpose of my blog: a journal of my life. That’s something to think about, too.

The Other Blogs

I just want to take a moment here to comment on some of the other blogs I’ve seen out there. The vast majority of them are a complete waste of bandwidth. Some exist to echo the sentiments of others and show very little original thought. Others are complete blather, written in a style that makes me mourn for the failure of our educational system. Like chat room comments. Ugh. I don’t see why people waste their time writing this crap and really can’t see why people waste their time reading it.

But there is a small percentage of blogs that provide good, informative, or at least interesting content, written in a way that’s easy to read and understand. Those are the blogs that serious bloggers should be reading and learning from. Those are the blogs we should try to emulate, not by simply copying or linking to content, but by adding our own original material to the blogoshere.

That’s my goal and my responsibility as a blogger. If you’re a blogger, is it yours, too?

iPod Microphones: A Review

On the Future Tense Podcast.

One of the other podcasts I really enjoy is American Public Media’s Future Tense. This public radio show has 3 to 5 minute segments on topics related to computing and technology. I highly recommend it for a quick dose of what’s new presented in plain English.

XtremeMac IPV-MIC-00 MicroMemo Digital Voice Recorder for iPod Video (Black)For those of you interested in recording with your iPod, the February 12 episode, iPod Microphones: a Review, should make good listening. It certainly pleased me. It confirmed that the iPod microphone I recently purchased — the XtremeMac MicroMemo — was the best of the three reviewed. The podcast also includes sample recordings with various mics under various conditions to give you an idea of what to expect if you invest in one of these gadgets for your iPod.