The death of the shared family computer

Computers, like telephones, originally entered U.S. homes in a single unit, tucked away just out of sight but usually accessible to all. Katie Reid at The Verge:

I can still see the Dell I grew up using as clear as day, like I just connected to NetZero yesterday. It sat in my eldest sister’s room, which was just off the kitchen. Depending on when you peeked into the room, you might have found my dad playing Solitaire, my sister downloading songs from Napster, or me playing Wheel of Fortune or writing my name in Microsoft Paint. The rules for using the family desktop were pretty simple: homework trumped games; Dad trumped all. Like the other shared equipment in our house, its usefulness was focused and direct: it was a tool that the whole family used, and it was our portal to the wild, weird, wonderful internet. As such, we adored it.

I remember the phenomenon of losing my dial up internet connection because someone picked up the phone, or patiently waiting my turn to check my email. The PowerMac 7200 (or the IIsi before it) was parked in a spare bedroom and required time and effort to log on. The thought of having unlimited personal access to the internet anywhere you went seemed crazy.

Today when I stand on the subway platform virtually everyone is staring down, their faces aglow in blue light. I’m just as guilty as anyone else- with Bluetooth earbuds plugged into my head I commute in a personal media bubble. As a perfect example of “do as I say and not as I do” we attempt to limit the kids’ access to devices as best we can, knowing that society will eventually force us to relinquish control. Katie Reid:

The advent of constant access has inevitably changed our relationship with tech. At one time, discovering the magical capabilities of our devices astonished and invigorated us. Now, we find them glomming on to our routines: joining us for dinner or family strolls, going on vacations or out on dates with us, waking us up in the morning and tucking us in at night. Though it was harder to come by, the computer time you ended up with on the shared family desktop was cherished and, maybe as a result, that much sweeter. Yet there was an untroubled ritual that, day after day, required us to step away.

The Apple Newton shipped 25 years ago today

On August 2, 1993 Apple Computer launched the Newton MessagePad. In development longer than it was on the market, the Newton was one of Apple’s flashier failures. Born with the Newton was the notion of a “personal digital assistant” and portable pen computing. You could manage a calendar, jot down notes (with Newton’s initially maligned handwriting recognition), store your contacts, and…send a fax or two.

It’s not hard, however, to see the Newton as the prototype of what virtually everyone carries around in their pocket today: a computer that you can take out into the world with you. Newton ran an early version of the ARM processor, the descendant of which lives inside the current iPhone. The space in time between the ’90s Newton and mid-2000s iPhone was occupied by a parade of short lived, pen-based PDAs from Palm, Handspring. Sony, Microsoft, and others.

And let’s not forget how the Newton put Doonesbury firmly on the map.

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Tour de France and the switch to FCPX

Peter Wiggins, for fcp.co:

I was starting to get concerned about how long we could continue to edit in FCP7. By now it had had no support for three years and very little in the way of updates for 2 years before that. At some point it was going to break, already we were seeing slowdowns and hangs. Yes we could probably hold out another year but that would be all. Time to look for a replacement.

All in all a great read, and much of what Peter describes is what FCP7 editors have been grappling with since 2011.

Jumping off the cliff

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and that’s largely because I’ve been deep in a project that I recently completed, and it just happens to start airing tonight.

The show I worked on was somewhat complex in its source material, organization, assembly, and deliverables (multiple versions for different media outlets) and I stayed within FCPX for all of it.

On day one of the job, I stood on a metaphorical cliff deciding which NLE to use (my choices at hand were FCP7, Premiere Pro, and FCPX). As a bit of history, I started using Avid from 1995 to 2001, FCP “Classic” from 2001 to late 2012, and from there began testing the waters with Premiere and FCPX. I had lingering concerns about how FCPX would perform with an increasingly complex project, but the first few days were comprised mostly of logging and tagging sources, so I had a window of escape to another program if things started going downhill.

They didn’t.

FCPX performed quite well. I set up some hotkeys to tag media using keyword collections, and was able to very quickly get things organized. Switching between list and thumbnail view, or drilling down to only favorites were a few more keystrokes. It was all fast and fluid.

I was also dealing with many tracks of timecode-synced split audio files, so I selected them and created multicam clips, cut them into the timeline, and activated only the channels I needed in any given instance. When it was time to send the show to ProTools for the final mix (using the rock-solid X2Pro application), only the active tracks I chose were included in the AAF. Very convenient, and it kept the timeline streamlined. Speaking of the timeline, the timeline index was indispensable. With a click I could enable or disable music or effects globally, and I regularly used the search field to track down and select specific items in a sea of other clips.

FCPX’s most “controversial” feature, the magnetic timeline, is also fast and flexible in my opinion. I found that during the rough cut phase I could do a lot without taking my hands off the keyboard- no tracks to patch. In X I tend to do a “sketch” of the story I’m telling by quickly getting the pieces in place, and then I go back through and refine my edits. It’s nice to know that I can drill down to a specific moment in the timeline and make adjustments knowing that I’m not knocking something out of place further down in the sequence.

There were other little features in X that I appreciated. The Vimeo integration was handy for firing off a version for approval while I kept working on a different part of the show. The to-do markers helped to keep track of changes. Having color correction and image stabilization options built into every clip (as opposed to applying a filter each time) was great.

Overall I was glad I jumped off that cliff.

Comcast and Netflix strike a deal

Netflix will pay Comcast for access to their broadband network. Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan reporting for Gizmodo:

What does this all mean for you? For one thing, Comcast customers are due to see some serious improvement when it comes to streaming video. But it’s an ominous sign for the ongoing battle for net neutrality—a far more complex issue at stake here. In January, a federal court dealt a death blow to net neutrality when it struck down the FCC’s open Internet rules, which demand, essentially, that all data be treated equal.

FiOS customers have been complaining loudly about alleged throttling of Netflix by Verizon, so today’s announcement carries quite a bit of weight.  One thing is for sure: the days of “open” internet are behind us.

FCPX’s “Cold Mountain” moment

Editors familiar with Final Cut Pro’s history know that the legacy version of the application gained some major traction in the pro marketplace following Walter Murch’s decision to edit 2003’s Cold Mountain with FCP.  Over a decade later (and almost three years after its release) Final Cut Pro X is on the edge of a similar game changer.

This week, fcp.co linked to a ten minute presentation from Neil Smith from LumaForge at the Digital Cinema Society meeting last month.  Smith describes (without giving names) how a major Hollywood studio is editing a “100 million dollar movie” using six Final Cut Pro X workstations running Mavericks and connected to an Xsan.  In listening to the details that Smith lays out, it was surmised by fcp.co forum member Ronny Courtens that the film in question is Focus, starring Will Smith.

The obvious question: why is a Hollywood studio going against the Avid grain to cut a motion picture in X?  According to Neil Smith, the directors themselves are the driving force- they have been editing with FCPX on their MacBook Pros for two years and insisted upon using it for this feature.  The studio pushed back, but the the film’s producer had enough clout and sided with the directors, and they got their way.  They touted the creative power and flexibility of X as well as the relatively low cost of the buildout as the main reasons behind their decision.

2014 should be a tipping point for Final Cut Pro, one that’s been in the making for quite some time.  New Mac Pros will (finally) be arriving in editors’ hands, and the solid upgrade to version 10.1 (its 10th revision since 2011) brings FCP to a new level of capability in a shared professional environment.

Final Cut Pro X 10.1

It’s finally been released, alongside the new Mac Pro.  Shipping times for the Mac Pro have quickly slipped from December to January and now February.  Apple tends to under-promise with delivery estimates, but this isn’t good news for anyone hoping to get the boxes installed by the end of the year for tax purposes.

A flood of information is now available about FCPX 10.1, and the best roundup I’ve found is located at Alex Gollner’s blog.  I look forward to digging into all the resources out there, but I have a few thoughts based on what I’ve gleaned so far:

  • Apple backtracks on the Event/Project paradigm. Having your source material and edited projects in two distinct locations didn’t make sense to a lot of people, and Apple has come up with Libraries as an answer.  Libraries are centralized locations that hold all pieces of a particular job.  I’ve been using SAN Locations on an Xsan, which is functionally very similar (SAN Location = Library for the most part), so much so that Apple has removed SAN Locations from 10.1.  Also gone is the sliding-left-and-right Project Library, a piece of eye candy I’m happy to do without. It is worth noting that Libraries are packages and not folders.  Double clicking on them in the Finder will launch FCP, and not show you the contents inside.
  • Mavericks is a requirement to install Final Cut Pro 10.1.  If you have FCP 10.0.x installed and are not seeing the new release in the Mac App Store, you’re probably still running Mountain Lion or earlier.  Click the “Show Incompatible App Updates” text link and FCP should appear. Releasing 10.9 Mavericks for free was an attempt to reduce the barriers of entry and get as many people current as possible.  There are also technical underpinnings in Mavericks that the new FCP takes advantage of.  People on older gear or those who can’t upgrade for other reasons will have to sit this one out for a while.
  • Some FCP7 features are back and have been improved upon.  In “classic” FCP, you had colored indicators on clips when a shot was duplicated in your timeline.  FCP 10.1 appears to tag the sections of your source material that have been used already, so you don’t have to cut the clip in to see if it already lives somewhere else.  There are other niceties like “through edits” (a visual indicator that shows when you’ve added a cut to a continuous piece of footage) and audio-only transitions.  Oh, and Fit to Fill is back!  Thank you.
  • Skeuomorphism continues its retreat.  The default “linen” background is now a slate grey (or is that space grey?) and the clip icons have a less rounded feel.  Overall it feels more “Pro” in its look.

This is the most significant update to Final Cut in well over a year, and paired with the new Mac Pro it will make for a very interesting 2014.