Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

AVNation EdTech podcast: Episode 31 (Nov 2014)

I made my podcasting debut in this episode of AVNation's EdTech podcast.  We discussed Crestron's DMPS processor upgrades, Panasonic's new ultra short throw projector lens, Crestron's RoomView Connected (aka Crestron Connected) feature and SIMPL module, AMX's JITC certification, and other exciting topics in the world of higher ed AV.  I must have said something right, because the EdTech guys said they'll have me back for the December episode.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

InfoComm for the first time

I attended my first InfoComm Show in 2008, and Rental & Staging Systems Magazine asked me to write daily blog posts during the show.  After the show was over, they summarized my blog posts as an article in the August issue of the magazine.  I was working at Harvard University at the time, and a big part of my job was supervising the live event AV support on campus, hence the rental & staging connection.  Since the 2013 InfoComm Show is a couple of months away, I figured I would re-post my article for those of you attending for the first time (or even the show veterans):

InfoComm For The First Time
Rental & Staging Systems Magazine
August 2008

InfoComm 2008 has come and gone. It seems like just yesterday that I was battling the 105 degree heat on my way to check into the Las Vegas Hilton. This was my first time attending an InfoComm show, so I was really excited about the idea of going. Before going, I spent some solid time planning out an extremely busy schedule of classes, networking, meetings, presentations and parties. Even though I was heavily scheduled during the day, I still had a decent amount of time to walk the show floor and visit booths. 
My focus at the show was mainly one of education and networking. I'm obviously interested in the new technology on display, but that angle was well covered by my travel partner, our classroom installation project manager.
Here's a summary of what I ended up doing during the week, with a quick day by day dairy that follows.

I ended up taking four classes at InfoComm: Rental & Staging Business Survival Kit, How to Train Rental/Hire and Staging Staff, Anatomy of a Las Vegas Staging Event and Entertainment Electrical Power. I didn't take any of the longer multiday certification prep courses, since I simply didn't have the time. Originally I had also signed up for two of the manufacturer's training courses, but I ended up cancelling them since my schedule looked way too busy. In hindsight, I'm really glad I cancelled them, and I think in the future I'll limit myself to only two or three classes. It was just a bit too busy with four classes in three days. 

The two big presentations that I attended were the Manufacturers Forum and the Rental & Staging Forum. Both had completely different feels to them, with the Manufacturer's Forum being more of a panel discussion and the Rental & Staging Forum more of an interactive event with the help of an audience response system. 

Networking and parties:
The major networking events that I attended were the InfoComm Opening Reception, Extron Educator's Reception, ExpoJam (with the Gin Blossoms performing) and the Rental & Staging Reception. At night I stayed busy with parties hosted by Extron, Crestron, and VER. 

Show floor:
This year you couldn't help but notice that digital signage related booths were all over the place. Professionally, I don't deal with much digital signage, but it was still interesting to see the advancements in that sector.  Telepresence technology was starting to make more of an appearance at the show, and of course everywhere you turned it was HD this and HD that. 

Day 1 (Tuesday):
I checked into the Hilton around 1pm and decided to make my way over to the Las Vegas Convention Center to check things out and get registered. The show floor didn't open until Wednesday, but I was able to sneak in the north hall and check out everyone scurrying about to get all the booths set. I had never been in the Las Vegas Convention Center before, so I was blown away at the sheer size of the place. That was just the north hall. The show also consumed the center hall, lobby and many meeting rooms too. They also rented out a large amount of meeting space at the Hilton too. It was InfoComm as far as the eye could see.  
The Manufacturer's Forum started at 4pm. The event was hosted by Gary Kayye, and featured a panel of Gerry Remers from Christie, George Feldstein from Crestron, Michael MacDonald from Harman, Joe Sigrist from Polycom, and Jeff Porter from Scala who was filling in for the CEO, who was stuck on a delayed flight. 
I found their opening remarks interesting, since they touched on issues and problems that are obviously at the forefront of the company and industry. In his opening remarks, Gerry from Christie made mention of the church market becoming increasingly important to them, and also the fact that many people are moving toward unconventional aspect ratios, rather than just sticking with 4:3 or 16:9. George from Crestron opened with talk of the convergence of all types of AV technology and mentioned that the adoption of new technology by the end user will push the industry through the recession. Michael from Harman commented on the challenge for them of the collapse of distribution layers. Joe from Polycom opened with the concept of "video is going mainstream" and talked about "HD" and "telepresence" becoming mainstream terms with even non-tech savvy individuals. Jeff from Scala, a digital signage software company, talked about a wide variety of industries jumping on the "digital signage bandwagon". 
After the Manufacturer's Forum I visited the InfoComm Opening Reception, the Extron Educators Reception, and the ExpoJam featuring the Gin Blossoms. All were well attended and kicked off the week nicely. 

Day 2 (Wednesday):
My day got started at 8am with the Anatomy of a Las Vegas Staging Event class. On a side note, the 8am classes were hard to wake up for after a night at the parties. Unfortunately, I had two 8am classes during the week. Anyway, back on track, the course goal of Anatomy of a Las Vegas Staging Event was to provide information about working a staging job in the Vegas market. It was hosted by JP Brozyna from AGF Media Services, and featured a panel of Joe Leone from the Wynn Hotel, Warren Tash from AV Concepts and Chris Prosio from Barco (and all those great Rental & Staging Systems articles too.)  All of the panelists provided some solid insight into staging a corporate event or meeting in the city with the largest amount of meeting space in the US. 
After the class I ran down to the show floor for my first exposure to it with all the booths fully set up. I met up with my coworker and our sales rep from our installer. I had just enough time to check out the Extron and Sanyo booths before choking down some food and running off to my next class.
The course I took next had to do with creating a training program for rental & staging techs. It was taught by Don Guzauckas from HB Group. I was really surprised at how many in the class don't have a training program in place. I think too many people put too much emphasis on the equipment angle and neglect the staffing side of the industry. As Don said, training is expensive, but think about the cost of losing one big client because of poorly trained techs. 
After the class I was immediately off to the Rental & Staging Forum and Reception. It was hosted by Tom Stimson, and featured a panel of Matt Emerson (the Chair of InfoComm's R&S Council), Doug Hunt from American Audio Visual Center, Bob Leon from Colortone, Janne Mummert from VER and Wayne Vincent from MVP International. Tom posed questions about industry revenue, fuel costs, green AV and HD. We all had a personal response system to answer questions posed by Tom. About 100 audience members usually voted on each question. At some point you'll be able to download all the questions and results from the InfoComm website.  
I, along with about 8,000 other people, scurried to the shuttle buses for the ExtronBASH at the Palms Hotel. Since it's Extron's 25th anniversary, they spared absolutely no expense. They rented out the Palms pool, 2 restaurants next to the pool and the Palms nightclub, Rain. A cover band playing in Rain, food and drink everywhere, blackjack games and Dwight Yoakam performing made for a busy evening. Apparently Dwight is one of Andrew Edwards' favorite performers, so the big boss booked him for this show. They had an amazing turnout and some great presence. I've never see so many Extron gobos projected in one place, and the event had what seemed to be an endless sea of Extron employees attending. 

Day 3 (Thursday):
Another 8am class kicked off this day for me, and this is the one I've really been looking forward to: the Rental & Staging Business Survival Kit taught by Tom Stimson. I'm a huge fan of Tom's newsletter and R&S Systems articles, but never had the opportunity to hear him speak in person. My conclusion: make sure you go out of your way to attend a class taught by Tom. He's an extremely interesting person and presents his material in a very interactive and compelling fashion. His class focused on many of the best practices tips that he's accumulated over his years of experience. He can back all of his tips up with real world examples, and really makes you think about how you go about completing your day to day operational tasks. You really need to catch him when he presents at one of the upcoming Rental & Staging Systems Roadshows. 
The next six hours was spent walking the show floor with my coworker. On the classroom installation side of my job, we use a bunch of Crestron and Extron, so we made sure to get full booth tours. Crestron's Quick Media technology is pretty exciting, and Extron's latest release of their Global Viewer Enterprise software was great to see. We also had the opportunity today to make our way through audio land.  
At 5pm I was off to the Crestron party, and man do they know how to throw a great party. We started at the MGM pool. They rented it out for a cocktail reception complete with a band and mermaids swimming in the pool. Then it was inside to enjoy a performance of Cirque Du Soleil's "Ka." Crestron rented out the whole theater. If you haven't seen a Cirque show, you must go immediately. From a tech standpoint they're just amazing. I can even begin to explain this stage they had that could raise and lower on a lift like I've never seen, and it could rotate and tilt on a central point. Just amazing. After the Ka show, Crestron rented out the MGM Grand's Studio 54 club for dancing until 10pm.  
After that party I jetted over to the Mandalay Bay's House of Blues for "The Party @ InfoComm", hosted by VER with partners AV Stumpfl, Green Hippo Video Systems, Martin and tmb. I got there just in time to hear Berlin and the Bangles play. Great show! VER and Green Hippo had the stage decked out fully in LED panels. Very fun night. 

Day 4 (Friday):
The end is near! I couldn't believe how fast my time had gone at InfoComm, but the final day was upon us. My final class was "Entertainment Electrical Power" taught by Alan Rowe from IATSE Local 728 in Burbank, CA. Power issues have always been an area I've been lacking in, so I was looking forward to this class. Alan was under the impression that most of us would be from the film and TV production end of things, but when he heard before class that most of us are sound guys or from the staging world, he did a nice job of changing and customizing his content on the fly. He talked about all the basics of show power: calculating loads, single and three phase power, cabling and most importantly, electrical safety. I was especially interested in the safety issues, so I can pass along this information to the techs I supervise. 
After the class I ran down to the show floor to join up with my coworker one last time. We finally made our way down to the Large Venue Display Gallery at the far end of the north hall. Sony, Christie, Digital Projection and Barco all had some massive projectors on display.  
We finished up the day at the Sanyo booth. My coworker and I entered to win one of 8 HD camcorders or a LCD projector. My coworker was a lucky winner of one of the cameras, so that was a nice way to end the show. 
So my first InfoComm has come and gone. I'm absolutely exhausted, but I'm glad that I kept my intense pace up during the show. There was a ton to see, and I feel like I really pushed hard to experience all that I wanted to. It was great to see so many enthusiastic people involved with the AV industry in one place. It was a very inspiring atmosphere, and gave me a great feeling about the state of the industry. See you in Orlando in 2009!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Images of Harvard University

This semester I took a digital photography class through the Harvard Extension School.  My final project is this video, which consists of three time lapse sequences and 60 still images from around the Harvard campus.  I shot everything using my Canon 60D, and used Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere Pro to edit.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Boston SuperMeet 2011

Last night the Boston Final Cut Pro User Group hosted the 2nd annual Boston SuperMeet at the Stuart Street Playhouse in downtown Boston.  It was a dark and stormy night, with the threat of the first snow of the winter, so it was a great night to be indoors with a bunch of other video production nerds.  My coworker, Kevin McGowan, and I arrived about an hour and a half before the show so we could walk around the exhibit floor and visit some of the vendor booths.  I don't have any hard numbers, but it seems like there were more vendors this year than last year.  It's a great opportunity to talk to some company reps and get some hands-on demos of gear and software.

Michael Horton and Daniel Berube hosted the evening

Around 7pm we all headed into the theater to start the show.  Hosts Daniel Berube and Michael Horton put together a great lineup for the Masters of Light and Illusion theme.  I'm sure there will be video from the evening posted on the FCPUG SuperMeet YouTube channel, so I'll just post some pics and highlights from the evening.

Alexis Van Hurkman and Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve

First up was Alexis Van Hurkman with a DaVinci Resolve demo.  I'm always reminded of how little I know about advanced color correction when I watch demos from pros like Alexis.  I think I'm finally motivated to download the free DaVinci Resolve Lite and try my hand at more advanced color correction.

Jem Schofield talking about the Canon EOS 1DX

A couple of weeks ago Canon announced their latest flagship DSLR, the EOS 1DX, and Jem Schofield was at the SuperMeet to talk about using that camera for video production.  Wonderful looking specs on that camera, but unfortunately I don't have $6500 to drop on a body.  My real takeaway from Jem's talk is that I'm now turned onto his great website/blog, theC47.  Some interesting tutorials on there.  He said he has achieved his goal of posting five video tutorials per week!  Jem closed by hinting that we should all pay attention on November 3rd for an important announcement by Canon.  A 4K video camera, or a 5D refresh?  We'll see.

Marc-André Ferguson with Autodesk Smoke

Our next demo was an Autodesk Smoke demo from Marc-AndrĂ© Ferguson.  This must be the seventh Smoke demo I've seen, and my opinion is still the same:  it looks like a very powerful program, but just too much for what I'm doing.  For those working in high end video/film production, I think this is a great program packed with features they will use.  As always, I'm still baffled about the choices Autodesk made for the user interface on Smoke.  Maybe once you use it regularly it starts to make more sense, but I just see it as a pretty uninviting interface to work with.

Corey Tedrow giving an Avid Media Composer 5.5 demo

With so many video production pros giving up on Apple because of the Final Cut X mess, Avid seems to be welcoming all Final Cut converts with open arms.  Our next demo was an Avid Media Composer 5.5 demo from Corey Tedrow.  Avid always does a great job of pointing out all the Media Composer features that people were wishing for in the new Final Cut X.  The statement that got the biggest reaction from the crowd was the announcement that you can now export ProRes files directly from the Media Composer timeline.  With a handful of discounts being offered by Avid, I'm sure many Final Cut users will find themselves trying out the free 30 day trial version of Media Composer.

Film editor Andrew Weisblum

The next presenter was an Avid sponsored talk from film editor Andrew Weisblum (Black Swan, The Wrestler, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited).  Andrew showed us the nightclub/drug scene from Black Swan and described how Avid products helped him collaborate with others in finishing that scene.

Walter Murch

Our final presenter of the evening was Walter Murch.  His resume is loaded with plenty of well known films, but some of the biggies he's edited are: Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Jarhead, and Ghost.  I was really pleased to hear that he edited what I believe to be the only acceptable 3D film: Captain EO.  I wasn't a film major, so this was the first time I had attended a talk from a major Hollywood film editor.  I was surprised at how grounded Walter is.  With all the major films he's worked on, and all the awards he's won, he could have easily turned into another Hollywood type with a major ego.  Instead I got the total opposite impression from him.  There was a kind of complex simplicity about Walter.  I started to forget that I was listening to a three time Oscar winner when he began telling us that it's important to put one foot on a stool while editing to reduce lower back pain.

Walter Murch and his latest Final Cut timeline from the HBO film Hemingway & Gellhorn, consisting of 22 video tracks and 50 audio tracks

I also liked the fact that Walter obviously has a wonderfully creative mind, but he's also very in touch with the technical aspects of editing.  He really enjoyed telling us about the Arri Alexa that they used on his latest film, Hemingway & Gellhorn.  I was very impressed with a picture of his Final Cut 7 timeline from that film (pictured above).  22 video tracks and 50 audio tracks is a project that I just can't wrap my head around.

Walter Murch and his famous standing editing station

Walter also showed us a photo of one of his famous standing editing stations.  He really attested to the idea that standing opens him up for a more creative workflow, rather than losing creative energy sitting at a desk.

Walter concluded his talk with mention of the new Final Cut X.  He described it as a child that doesn't play well with others.  He said that in June he sent Apple a letter outlining why he wouldn't be able to use Final Cut X on his projects.  Walter's biggest complaints were the restructuring (aka lack of) audio tracks, no external monitoring and no SAN support.  He admits that they're slowly resolving those issues, but he was also concerned that Apple essentially killed off Final Cut 7.  If you would like to read a more detailed blog post about Walter's SuperMeet talk, Chris Portal wrote a nice post

The evening concluded with the famous SuperMeet raffle with over $50,000 in prizes.  Unfortunately, just like at the Vegas NAB SuperMeet, my coworker and left empty handed.

Once again, Daniel Berube put together an enjoyable Boston Final Cut Pro User Group meeting and SuperMeet.  If you live in the Boston area and you're into video production, you should really attend the monthly BOSFCPUG meetings.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Learning how to photograph star trails

I'm taking a photography course through the Harvard Extension School, and it was quite fitting that star trail photos were suggested for this week's project, since one of my recent photographic goals was to take star trail photos.  I'm a space exploration enthusiast, and star trails have always amazed me.  Living in Boston makes it very hard to take such pictures, due to all the light pollution from the city.  I recently took a trip to central NY, and figured that a weekend in the country would be the perfect time to take star trail photos.

Preparation:  After doing some online research about star trails, I purchased a wired remote for my Canon 60D.  This allowed me to hold the shutter open for longer than 30 seconds, as well as take multiple shorter photos for stacking.  I also purchased a tripod for this shoot.

Conditions:  I had two consecutive evenings (10/8 and 10/9) to take star trail photos.  I knew that the first evening would be full of trial and error photos.  The conditions were near perfect for taking star trails photos.  There weren't any clouds in the sky, there was minimal light pollution from populated areas, and the temperature was in the 60's, so I really didn't run into any condensation on my lens.  Even though I was out in central NY, away from heavily populated areas, light from houses and street lights still washed out sightings of stars right along the horizon.  The timing of the moon phase couldn't have been worse though, since it was nearly a full moon.  There was quite a bit of reflection of light off the moon lighting up the night.  I could almost read a book out there with light reflecting off the moon. 

Positioning:  After the fact, I figured out that it would have been best to drive way out into the country, far away from any houses or street lights.  Instead, for this shoot, I was in the backyard of a house in a populated neighborhood.  That added a bit of light pollution, washing out some star sightings.  I set up my tripod with my back to the moon, to make sure that it wouldn't enter my shot as it moved across the sky.  The moon is way too bright for these types of long exposures.  I made sure to get the north star in my shot, so I would have star trails circling around it.  Not essential, but a cool looking effect.  

First night:  After setting everything up in the backyard, I manually focused using Jupiter, since it was the brightest item in the sky that I could see on my LCD screen.  I zoomed in my LCD screen on Jupiter, and set my focus to infinity.  This wasn't at the very end of the focus ring, since (as I later researched) lens manufactures have a focal point past infinity, to account for slight variations in the lens due to temperature and other conditions.  My first attempt was simply a three minute test shot using bulb mode and wired remote with the following settings:  50mm, 180 sec, f/1.8, ISO 100.  This was unsuccessful, since there was so much light captured by the sensor and it resulted in a pure white image.  I closed my aperture down and proceeded to take my first full length star trails photo using the following settings:  50mm, 2025 sec, f/22, ISO 100:

50mm, 2025 sec, f/22, ISO 100

I was happy to capture some successful star trails, but disappointed in the photo for a few reasons:  not many stars were captured, I didn't have anything in the foreground to provide a point of reference, there was lots of digital noise in the image and I wasn't positioned properly to show the north star.  I didn't capture many stars because I was forced to use a large f stop to properly expose the 34 minute image.  The digital noise was a result of leaving the shutter open for almost 34 straight minutes.  I had read about another method of taking star trail photos called "stacking".  By taking a series of shorter exposure photos, and later stacking them using Photoshop or other programs, you cut down on the digital noise and are able to take shots with a lower f stop, resulting in capturing more stars.  My final shot of the night was taken using the following settings:  18mm, 29 sec, f/3.5, ISO 100 and I took 60 consecutive shots, effectively giving me total of 30 minutes of photos.  These shots were taken 1:30-2am.  Using a setting on the remote, I left one second between each shot to give the camera time to save the 29 second image it just captured.  I then used a program called "Startrails" to stack all 60 images on top of each other, using the lighten blending mode.  This could also be accomplished in Photoshop using layers.  I was very happy with the result:

18mm, 29 sec, f/3.5, ISO 100, 60 consecutive shots

I was able to capture many more stars due to the wider aperture, my digital noise was very low, I now positioned a tree in the frame for some reference, and I positioned the shot to capture the north star.  Other than some slight blurring in the tree (the wind was slightly blowing) and some whisps of clouds on the bottom right, I was very pleased with the result.  Stacking consecutive images definitely seems like the best method of taking star trails photos.  

Second night:  Now that I had one successful star trail photo using the stacking method, I wanted to try taking more shots (to get longer trails) and increase the ISO (to capture more stars.)  I used these settings for my second shot:  18mm, 29 sec, f/3.5, ISO 200 and I took 239 consecutive shots, capturing almost two hours of star trails.  After stacking the images, I noticed the problem of airplane trails all over my photos:

18mm, 29 sec, f/3.5, ISO 200, 239 consecutive shots

Compared to the previous night, I took these photos much earlier: 9-11pm.  This resulted in many more airplanes flying through my frame.  To be exact, 70 of the 239 photos had airplane trails in them, and some of the planes took three photos (a minute and a half) to get through my frame.  I tried simply removing the 70 frames from my stacked photo, but as you can see, that just resulted in broken star trails and a horrible Morse code effect:

70 (out of 240) photos removed due to airplane trails

I finally went through the tedious process of cleaning out only the airplane trails from each of the 70 affected photos using the clone stamp tool in Photoshop.  It took a couple of hours, but eventually I had a great star trails photo:

Airplane trails edited out of 70 photos using Photoshop

My favorite part of this photo is a shooting star that I captured.  If you find the highest point of the left tree, and move up the image you can see the shooting star as a small diagonal trail.  It was easy to tell that shooting star apart from the airplane trails, since it started and stopped over only an inch of my image, rather than travel through the entire image.

Conclusions:  After trying a shot simply leaving the shutter open for 30 minutes, and trying the method of stacking consecutive shorter exposure shots, I would highly recommend the stacking method.  There was much less digital noise and I was able to capture many more stars due to the wider aperture.  I also liked the look of increasing the ISO to 200 for my second evening's shot.  The increased sensor sensitivity allowed me to capture more stars and also gave the sky a slightly bluer look to it, rather than dark black.  In the future I look forward to taking more star trails photos.  I hope to try taking four hours worth of shots and try something a bit more exciting in the foreground, like a building.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens: first impression

50mm, f/1.8, 1/60, ISO100

I'll preface this post by saying that I'm very new to the world of professional photography.  If you're looking for a professional, comprehensive review of this lens, this isn't the blog post for you.  This is the worst review of this lens, but I figured some beginners might appreciate my first impressions of it.  Consider yourself warned.

My Canon 60D came with a 18-135mm lens, but I decided that a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens would be my first lens purchase.  After reading many nice reviews about the lens, I shelled out the measly $104 for it and brought it with me to Sunday River ski resort in Maine for a test.  I was very impressed with the results.

50mm, f/1.8, 1/8000, ISO100

I'm having lots of fun with the impressively shallow depth of field I can get with this lens.  The photo above of my shoes was taken indoors with natural light coming in through a window.  No flash, low ISO, and a normal shutter speed for handheld.  For $104, this seems like a great lens.  I'll post more photos and opinions about this lens as I use it.

50mm, f/1.8, 1/640, ISO100

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sunday River ski resort - summer 2011

My wife and I spent a weekend at Sunday River ski resort in Maine, and I had a chance to really give my new Canon 60D a nice test run.  In addition to the 18-135mm lens that came with the 60D, I had just purchased a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens.  All in all, I'm very pleased with the 60D and both of the lenses.  Click here to see all of my photos from Sunday River.  Warning:  I'm still new to DSLR photography, and I also love chairlifts.  Prepare yourself for an onslaught of chairlift photos.

I warned you

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New York State Fair 2011

Cow grabbing a drink on a hot day

I visited the New York State Fair last weekend, and found it to be a great place to try out my new Canon 60D.  I'm new to the world of advanced photography, so I had fun constantly adjusting shutter speed, ISO and f-stop to try and capture some interesting photos.  Click here to see the rest of my NYS Fair photos, and keep an eye on this blog to watch as I learn my new Canon 60D and work my way through my first photography class at the Harvard Extension School.