Wednesday, December 31, 2008

BBC iPlayer Desktop - for Mac - UK readers only

So here's how to install it, and a quick rundown on the BBC's 2008 Christmas present, the iPlayer Desktop now available for Mac. What this will do is firstly install the Adobe AIR package, which manages the DRM (Digital Rights Management) for the downloaded media. Currently it seems to be set on 1 month 'idle' (so if you don't view the programme, it'll not be available after the month) and 7 days 'active' - triggered by playing the programme. I'm not sure if deactivated programmes stick around or delete themselves from your hard drive. Also the DRM means playback only happens on the authorised computer - no file swapping in other words.

Usual warnings: this is beta software, it may not work on your machine, and neither I (nor the BBC) are to be held liable for lost stuff, including your valuable time :-)
Read to the end before starting off !

1. You have to agree to be a BBC iPlayer labs tester (ie run the beta software). Do this by navigating to the iPlayer site and you should see the link in the box at the bottom rhs. Looks like this:

If you don't see that link, the direct link is

Once on that page, you have to agree to be a labs tester. Click on the tasteful pink bar - and not a lot happens, it just changes to be the 'don't want to test any more' bar.

2. BUT - When you now visit a programme viewing page in the iPlayer, you -should- now see a 'Download' option as well as the usual streaming 'run' button.

Looks like this:

Now it gets exciting: the FIRST time you click on a download, this will trigger the installation of the Adobe AIR package(s). The time will depend on your broadband speed, and processor speed, but it'll be half a cup of coffee at least.

When finally you've got the 'Desktop' installed, the TV programme you asked to download will start to download too. You might as well pause this for a moment, to put sensible numbers into the 'Settings' tab in the Desktop.

Settings tab:

On my systems, the default cache size was 0GB which didn't seem that sensible. Obviously you can also change where you want the movies to be stored.

3. And - that's it! The quality is said to be better than the streamed version, though it's fairly obviously a highly compressed video format that's being used. The BBC blog promises a higher quality early in the New Year. I've managed to get this all working on both a G5 (PPC) and an Intel MBPro - the BBC pages talk of Intel spec only, but it works fine on my G5. The install of AIR didn't quite go right, and I went to the Adobe site instead at

I've seen posts that advise against using Safari: the download tabs don't appear. I use Firefox by default anyway, but Safari seemed OK to me. But you MUST enable the labs feature first (I guess this sets a cookie which is specific to the browser). And not all programmes are available for downloads.

Good luck with this - let me know how you get on!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas comes early

Latest edition of the podcast has just gone up - interviews from the last wefcpug (Donald from Matrox and Richard from Onisght) plus a down the line from Indiana, talking to Dan Montgomery (software developer) about Shotput. There's also a world exclusive from Dan, revealing a new product to hit the shelves (or the download buttons) in Jan 2009.

Plus a nano review of the year, which is already out of date, following today's launch by the Beeb of the Mac-friendly iPlayer (download version). Looks OK, still in beta, they're promising better quality next year. Look here for a fuller report soon.



Friday, December 12, 2008

Ghosts of Analogue Past - 2

Impossible not to add a tribute to the great Oliver Postgate, creator of Noggin the Nog, Pogles' Wood, Bagpuss, but especially Clangers. VT engineers, and especially transmission suite engineers, owe their sanity to those 10 minute episodes of inspired lunacy which would punctuate the working day. However cranky the edit suite was behaving, no matter how impossible the schedule/deadline/director/shift management - a quick burst of swannee whistle would restore a sense of perspective.

Great tribute YouTube page assembled by the Guardian here.

And in the main tribute here a moving piece from our friends at Aardman. And something to look forward to:
In his latest Wallace and Gromit film, A Matter of Loaf and Death, to be screened by the BBC on Christmas Day, Nick Park - who cited Postgate's less famous Pogle's Wood as his greatest influence - has included his own small tribute, with the blessing of Peter Firmin, Postgate's creative partner: Gromit's old Bagpuss doll gets thrown in the bin, but mercifully is later retrieved.

Ghosts of Analogue Past - 1

Fascinating to read of the colour restoration of a Dad's Army episode that only survived as a monochrome film recording - and also amusing to read some of the half-arsed technical 'explanations' given of how the restoration has been done. Hats off to James Insell and the team - and boos to anyone who confuses this with 'colourisation'.

I'm kicking myself for not thinking this was possible, actually: in a previous existence I worked alongside the old FR (film recording) machines, which were antiques even back then (early 70's). They were indeed nothing more than film cameras, slaved to 25fps, pointed at bright TV monitors. But pretty good, sharp TV monitors, and all nicely contained in a light-proof box. By all accounts, pretty good stock was used too.

In the PAL system, need I remind anyone, the colour information is transmitted (or 'coded' as was the phrase) in the analogue signal around 4.43** MHz - it's analogue, and the frequencies correspond to horizontal detail. The full luminance bandwidth was 5.5 MHz, so the colour signals sit amongst the fine detail - or to be blunt, above the detail that the TV broadcast chain, including the TV, of the time could actually display. But the film recording equipment was fed by closed circuit PAL baseband signals within TVC, hence no transmission errors, and it would appear, the colour signal wasn't filtered out of the feed to the monitor. This latter detail surprises me - it was usual to feed through a notch filter to avoid the 'colour dots'. Maybe there weren't enough notch filters to go round.

So, the colour signals are there on the film, to some extent - and with the wonders of HD telecine and a great deal of digital processing, we get to see the original again.

More technical detail at James Insell's (or his group's) wiki pages

Less technical detail, but you get to see the footage, at last night's Newsnight

Programme itself airs on Saturday next.

**Precisely the colour sub carrier is 4.43361875 +/-1 MHz. Some numbers just lodge in the brain.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Dec 2008 meeting - links and photos

Quite a night, we'd all agree. Thanks to our contributors, Donald Sievewright of Matrox, and Richard Mills from Onsight.

Congratulations to Hugo, the lucky winner of the Matrox MXO2, seen here grasping Donald's hand firmly (but not as firmly as he's grasping the Matrox box!)

As the other photos show, the bit after the presentations was worth staying for, when we got the chance to lay hands on the kit that Onsight assembled.

There'll be another chance to live the evening again in the next podcast: both Donald and Richard gave interviews and reprised their presentations.

Richard also gave me permission to pass on that very useful slide showing HD cameras, their specs, and how acceptable the various commissioners and broadcasters find them. The doc, which is a pdf, is downloadable here (link to file on the podcast site).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Event of the wefcpug year!

At time of writing, it's all happening tomorrow - that's Monday 1st Dec.

There's even more to see than I wrote about before.   Not just a demo of the Matrox box, but a whole host of HD cameras will be demonstrated in action before your very eyes.   See the latest from Sony (plus a Panny too if we're lucky) - with special thanks to Richard Mills and his colleagues at Onsight in London.   They've also promised to linger and do informal demos of the gear they're bringing along.

Top prize, top experts, top advice - it'll be the event of the year!

So, see you at the BBC Bristol conference room - 630pm for 7pm kickoff - and if you haven't done so, email Richard to reserve a place.


Monday, November 17, 2008

December meeting - special guest

If you thought last month's was a packed meeting, wait until you hear about the next one - we intend to see out 2008 with style! We've got another special guest, we've got new hardware to play with, we've got another big prize in the world-famous wefcpug raffle. OK, I made up the world-famous, but we got a prize, we got a raffle!

What we will have are solutions to problems that most of us are about to meet in the move to shooting and editing in High Definition:
- how do you monitor picture quality, especially on location?
- how do you import and export HD footage, especially with MacBook Pro - can you import?
- what possibilities are there to cross-convert? In real time?
- what about this alphabet soup of P2, SxS, XDCAM, HDMI, SDI, 422 ?

Our guest is Darren Godwin of Matrox digital solutions, and he's going to be demonstrating his company's latest version product to do all the above, and make the coffee. It's called the MXO2, and it's certainly making waves.

He'll be talking about the new features (soon to be announced officially), he'll be talking file-based workflows, we'll have a portable HD shoot 'n edit station there before our very eyes.
Now that's surely enough to bring you out on a December evening?

Oh, and I nearly forgot, there's an MXO2 up as first prize. And a special discount for anyone who's there and places an order before end of year.

Better sign up early to guarantee your place - we may well have to close the doors to latecomers on this one - email Richard as usual.

Crew call is: 630pm for 7pm Monday 1st December, BBC Bristol. Rear security gate.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

New podcast, kicking off new series

If you want to relive the highlights of Monday's meeting, or you somehow missed it, now's the chance to catch up. Peter Wiggins, whose presentation was so well received by all, kindly stayed behind after the ecstatic raffle winners had departed to toast their good luck, and recorded an exclusive interview for 'Out of Vision' - the wefcpug podcast.

It's now (fingers crossed) up there in the iTunes Music Store: link for this and a direct download (non iTunes) feed at the podcast website (if you haven't yet subscribed) And yes, I still have to update that site!

If you have subscribed, it oughta come through the magic of automatic updating in iTunes.
And sorry, but no raffle prizes in the podcast. Comments - and sponsors - much welcomed!


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

First reports from last night

What a night! was the overwhelming reaction to the November 08 wefcpug meeting last night. Our biggest ever raffle, more demos of plug-ins and effects than you could shake a (memory) stick at, and a cracking presentation from Peter Wiggins, FCP editor of renown and software developer at idustrial revolution.

And it's not over.

Peter was kind enough to spare the time late last night (after his presentation, and after he had spoken with his adoring fans and autographed the presentation programmes. OK I made the last bit up), to speak into the 'Out of Vision' microphone, and so there'll be more to hear from him on the next podcast. I hope this will hit the iTunes music store by the end of the week - you'll hear here first!

Also to come: when I've got them all, and verified them (ie my spelling) I'll be posting links for the many and various good items that were mentioned last night. But in response to audience requests, here's one I can vouch for.

The FREE pan and tilt plug-in, from Noise Industries (one of our group sponsors) is available NOW for download at their website. Here.

The download link takes you to the FREE FXFactory download, as demo'd last night by yours truly. After the event, Peter spoke to me about the pan&tilt plug-in and it's one of his recommendations too. I was going to say he spoke in glowing terms, but that's much too poor a pun.

More, much more, here later in the week, and also a plea. If you are one of last night's MANY lucky winners, please email comments and reviews for this blog. Share the good fortune, share the knowledge!

- Update
Peter Wiggins mentioned a 3D timeline generator, more details straight from the developers at Beedocuments

Friday, October 31, 2008

Next meeting - final whistles...

If you haven't reserved your place by emailing Richard for the next meeting, hurry along. It's going to be one of the big ones. Plug-ins are flooding in, and we'll be demonstrating some of the best - we've got one of the world's leading writers of plug-ins to do a special appearance, and we could be giving away nearly $5000 dollars' worth!

We meet at BBC Bristol - back door security gate - 6.30pm for a prompt 7pm start (and it'll have to be prompt to get a chance of fitting all this in) on Monday next, Nov 3rd.

More details, with lists of the plug-ins we've been offered by sponsors, from the wefcpug website.

Please don't risk being disappointed: book your place now and arrive well before 7

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Next meeting - read the numbers

2957, that's pounds sterling - the current total retail value (Tuesday lunchtime) of pledged give-aways that Richard has gathered in for the forthcoming wefcpug meeting. It's next Monday, Nov 3rd, and we've got a special guest speaker too.

Peter Wiggins, of Industrial Revolution, is one of the leading writers of plug-ins for Final Cut, and he's agreed to give us an exclusive presentation. That's provided we've got the time, with all the prizes to give away! Details on the wefcpug website as usual - with regular updates on the increasingly incredible value of prizes. Just cast your eyes over the logos that are crowding their way onto the front page.

100 - that's the number of this blog posting. So much to say, so little time!

Friday, October 24, 2008

What we saw in the wilderness

October's meeting, which kicked off our 5th year saw a presentation by Dilesh Korya, editor of renown in these parts, and long-term wefcpug member. Dil has been working on 'Wilderness Explored', which has just finished its first series run on BBC4 here in the UK. It's always great to get the inside track on current projects, and they don't come much more current than this one! The programme was a mix of library (drawing on the huge back catalogue of the BBC Bristol's Natural History library - but with much of the footage previously untransmitted rushes from their block-buster round the world series as well as historic archive material), new interview and a lot of motion graphics and layered effects. All achieved in FCP, and in a couple of cases, right before our very eyes.

The usual warm-up acts came from Richard, who, in response to an audience request last month, worked the changes on Motion to do an (almost) instant moving face blur. We could tell you who requested this feature, but we'd have to kill you...

and by way of even lighter relief, Phil (c'est moi) gave a first-impressions report on Dirac, the open-source video codec which has emerged from BBC R&D. (I nearly wrote a 'report on what I understand about Dirac' but that is something of an exaggeration - and it would have made a very short presentation). Brief advantages are: it's good quality, at lower bit-rates than current codecs (mpeg-2) - one example quoted by the Beeb is the use of an SD circuit from Beijing to carry a Dirac-coded HD signal; it's scalable, meaning it's a possible competitor for H.264 in streaming/downloads to home - see the iPlayer next year; it's open-source, meaning there are no royalty payments for developers/users - and you're free to tinker with the code yourself.

Yeah, right, I hear you saying. But if you are so inclined, head over to for the unexpurgated technical details, or a (slightly) more readable intro from the horse's mouth at . There are links on the dirac project pages to a couple of mac-specific projects. One is an experimental codec for Quicktime (the Shroedinger project) and another is for playback through VLC. I'm pursuing these, though I don't think I'll be doing much rewrites of code (!) and will report back one day.

Keep watching for news of our exciting big plug-in night in November....£2500 worth in prizes already garnered by Richard, with promises of more to come.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Ola! wefcpug tonight - exploring wilderness

Back to my keyboard after nearly a week's abstinence, with nought but an iPod touch and a dodgy wifi at the nearest coffee-bar, just in time to remind you all of the Oktoberfest wefcpug, which begins our 5th Glorious Year.

So it's tonight at the usual RV point - BBC reception (rear), 7pm - and for those of you not reading this on Monday 6th October, well you're too late. Names and blood samples to Richard so you're on the list, as usual.

And this year we begin with...

Renowned FCP editor Dilesh Korya has finally been persuaded to talk about what he's been doing - and it's 'Wilderness Explored', another mega BBC Bristol series, which promises 'breathtaking imagery and powerful narrative'. So the camerawork and narration will be good, then...

but there's more...

Richard will be blurring out faces (not a reference to visits to the bar) with, need I say more, Motion. An essential skill for any doc. editors these days.

and as the comedy warm-up...

I will attempt a plain-folks' introduction to BBC R&D's next Big Idea (which has been around for some time, admittedly) - and explain why we'll all be getting upgrades to the iPlayer next year. Dirac's the name, compression's the game.

And finally, we solve all known problems brought to the table. Possibly.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Points arising from the miniMeet

Maybe we should have more 'less formal' meetings, since we got such a good turnout on Monday last. Probably the hint about less talk, more drink was persuasive. As promised, here's a more accurate version of what we thought we said, with links to follow:

Applejack for Leopard
Good news of the week for Leopard users is that Applejack, our favourite easy-use maintenance tool, has now emerged in a Leopard-friendly version. From what I understand, the basic tools were always compatible (they are just unix standard commands) but getting them to work automatically at start-up was the difficult procedure. Applejack installs in the expected way (follow the link to produce a standard .dmg package) but it works (gasp) from the command-line in single-user startup mode. This is good news, because it might allow you to fix a system fault that stops the full OS X desktop from appearing (so you can't ever use the fancier tools). If you haven't experienced single-user mode, you're in for a fright or a treat, depending on how much you like seeing screens of geek-script scroll past at startup... Think of single-user as the step before even 'safe mode': the route in is Command-S at power up - you'll know if it's successful from the aforementioned screens. When all is done the final screen of startup gives you the text message from Applejack, allowing automatic running through all the steps, or just 1 or 2 as selected.

It's the usual suspects: checking the file system, prefs, deleting caches, flushing virtual memory. It does no harm to run, say, once a month, or straightaway if you're experiencing 'strangeness' in the mac's behaviour. Get the package, which is free (but donations welcome) via sourceforge, at

Updates, updates
No sooner back from IBC and the Supermeet (see later posts) than Software Update is nagging me every other day it seems. BIG combo update to bring the OS up to 10.5.5, plus updates for Quicktime, iTunes, ProApps, Aperture, as well as the 'firmware' update to iPhone/iPodTouch which brought the Apps store online. A tip that I read years ago, and follow intermittently, is to do all updates in Safe Mode: whenever I have had a problem (and yes the MBPro froze after the last QT update) it's when I've ignored this advice. Then again, you might be as well to sacrifice a chicken or wait for the full moon.

New to this site
I've added a link on the rhs (couple of blocks down) to the 'Joy of Tech' online cartoon. Very geeky, pretty exclusively mac-based. What more do you want?


Thursday, September 18, 2008

even less formal meet next Monday

Let's call it a 'networking session' then. Time and energy were too short to put a formal presentation together about IBC (we do have day-jobs, sometimes ). OK, I know - since when did we do formal presentations, but you know what I mean. Which is to say we may adjust the chat/drink ratio (CDR) slightly next Monday, but hopefully by then we'll have remembered something about IBC and the world FCP Supermeet.

If you were at either, come add your perspective. Hear the story of the 500 chairs, and how we nearly gatecrashed the 'wrong' conference, with hilarious results. At least, that's how the listings magazines would put it.

Usual form: BBC Bristol, back door, 7pm, get your name on the list via Richard. Monday next, 22nd Sept.

Normal service to be resumed in October....

Monday, September 08, 2008

RTS meeting tomorrow (9th Sep)

News just in...

...Bill Taylor from Digital UK is giving a presentation on how digital switchover works, and some of the ways that the aforesaid will revolutionise Broadcasting.

I'm advised this will be somewhat techy (we should be so lucky) - it's a local RTS meeting, open to all. 7.30pm Tuesday 9th Sept, at ITV West on the Bath Road. (That's HTV in old money).


Monday, August 18, 2008

change of plan - next meeting 22nd Sep

Hi all

We've had to delay the start of 5th Glorious Year wefcpug due to lack of availability of talent, or at least myself and Richard. The meeting will now be a couple of weeks later, Monday 22nd September, by which time we'll both (plus anyone else who's going to Amsterdam) be able to report back on IBC and the Final Cut World supermeet, or whatever it's called. And you'll be able to share a laugh over the holiday photos.

So see you on Monday 22nd Sept, probably at the Beeb - but keep checking this space for news, reviews and gossip.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Widescreen playback in Quicktime

Ever come across this problem - you export a self-contained movie which is 16:9, but whenever you view it in Quicktime player, it shows up as 4:3 even though you remembered to keep it anamorphic in the export. And annoyingly (unlike other viewers, eg VLC) you can't change the aspect ratio of the QT player window.

In one sense that problem's gone away with mpeg4 exports, which QT seems to display properly from the outset, but I only just discovered they sneaked an extra feature into QT 7. It's called 'conform aperture' and is accessed through 'Show Movie Properties>Presentation' in the QT player.

The dropdown box, as you can see in the screen grab, gives options not only to display in the correct aspect ratio (Production as opposed to encoded pixels) but also to hide problem edges (from camera cutoff or encoding artefacts). The option is saved with the .mov file, and obviously you need the Pro version of QT to do this. More details in the QT help file.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

New Look - serious business

no prizes if you're in the header photo, but caption suggestions are welcome.

Catching up

Your humble scribe is returned from State Visits to the Continent and it's time to sharpen the keyboard and punch the pencils, or should that be the other way round. Either way, expect a short sprinkling of updates and bloggings as I shelter from the rain and tinker with this site over the next couple of weeks (unless better paid work comes in!). I've just put in a Google Gadget on the righthand toolbar, so you'll be able to see the weather in Bath. Not that you need a dynamic feed for that at the moment.

First off, thanks to all who finished off our 4th year (subject to a recount when I get the diaries together and agree a story with Richard) in style with a full house at the Beeb in July. In case your memory is rusty, the next Glorious Year will kick off on Monday September 22nd. (Note, change of date).

The previous weekend is IBC in Amsterdam. So far I know that meself and Richard are planning to go - anyone else for the Supermeet on the Sunday? As the longest established group regularly meeting in the UK, we'll be flying the flag for Bristol and hope to bring back the Gold. Oh no, the Olympics have seeped into my nervous system.


edited 18th aug to change dates and tenses

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

July meeting - next week

It's triple 7 night for wefcpug, final meeting of the season:

7pm on the 7th of the 7th - usual place.

Which translates as next Monday night, BBC Bristol, names as ever to Richard*.

We've had our high-level tele-conference and the agenda thus far looks as though it'll include a piece from R about motion tracking in Motion, and probably a moan from me about Motion too (unless I get this 3d project done in time). Another boxed bit of bits to raffle off (those very nice people from SoftPress have come up with an update), and my roundup of what's been happening in the MacoSphere this month. Now, if only these software updates would STOP coming...


*also let R know if you're interesting in coming to an eaterie afterward as we celebrate another Glorious Wefcpug Year. Need numbers and suggestions this week!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

June wefcpug is looming

It's next Monday, June 2nd, usual place and time (BBC Bristol, 7pm kickoff), let R know if you're coming and want to get in.

Lined up so far:
Jason is coming back with his feature film extravaganza - this time he'll be talking us through the post-prod, especially the colo(u)r correction stages he went through.

There'll be a boxed copy of Toast 9 up for grabs in the amazing raffle

and don't forget Richard's challenge for DVD encodes - see the entry before this one in the blog.

See you there in Sunny Bristol. It will be, it's Summer after all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

May 08 - what we found out

The May wefcpug looked at the (very) small screen, as we examined options for producing and viewing videos on the iPod Touch (and iPhone, for that matter).

The snippet of Apple video we saw came from a freely downloadable movie on Apple's developer centre (ADC) website. You need to register on this site (which is free unless you want 'premium' content) and then follow the 'ADC in iTunes' link. The movie is 'Designing Web content for iPhone' - there's a link in the lower half of the page. It's from the WWDC 2007 sessions, so will probably disappear soon, and is showing its age already. There's a lot of discussion about the Edge network connection, which is not so widespread in Europe as the US, and of course there's the expected announcement of a 3G iPhone anyway. The hour-long presentation deals with video at 38 minutes in.

There was mention of the 'makeref' program, for compiling QuickTime reference movies with multiple versions of a video file (one for slow connections, one for wired desktops, etc). That too is available for free via the ADC, as is a whole host of reference material about QuickTime. Visit for the list.
For downloads, etc, visit (again, you need to have registered) and then follow the Tools link in the list near the bottom of the page. (Direct link is

The software comes as a disk image, makerefmovie.dmg from which you drag the program into your applications folder. Plus there's a Readme with instructions. I also found an article about QT reference movies here on the QuickTime sub-site of - this article too is showing its age, with a definite look of OS9 about the illustration!

Elliott Bristow talked about his experiences of producing small screen versions of his roadtrips series - his website is

And Finally
Richard issued a challenge: what's the best recipe for editing and compressing HDV-native footage in an SD DVD (meaning PAL mpeg-2)? email him, not me, with your recipe and we'll compare end results in the June meeting.

And the June meeting will be on Monday, June 2nd.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

April meeting - what you missed

Much of last Monday's wefcpug meeting was conducted in a language that very few people on Earth (let alone in the meeting) can understand. No, I'm not referring to the brief demo of Automator that I ran (although some might beg to differ), but to the feature-length documentary that wefcpug member Jason Porthouse brought to show us, and talk about.

It's called Léif Lëtzebuerger and you can read all about it here. The most obvious comment to make is that the doc is in Luxembourgish, a language new to all of us in the meeting. Jason talked us through his workflow, which included new interview, rostrum stills, and copious archive footage from the 1940s back. Our thanks to Jason and to Grace productions for allowing us the sneak preview. We haven't finished with Jason though - he's agreed to talk again in a couple of months about the colour grading of the movie.

Lucky prize-winners took away a copy of the Quicktime guide to Automator (see blog below), Roxio's Popcorn and Freeway Express 4 from Softpress...we'll be printing reviews and comments at a later date. I've also got discount codes for Popcorn, and Freeway Express 5 - and, to come, Toast Titanium 9 - email me for details if you can't make the next meeting.

May's meeting is a week later than usual, because of the Bank Holiday Monday - so it'll be on Monday May 12th. Currently we're planning to make it a 'Small Screen Festival' focussing on video delivery to the iPhone, iPod Touch, and other handheld devices. Several of us are interested/experienced but there's always room for new faces to present at the wefcpug - let me know if you've got summat to share.

Monday, April 07, 2008

wefcpug tonight - 7th April

Don't forget it's wefcpug night tonight, 7pm prompt start at the usual backroom in the Beeb in Bristol. There's a show and tell from Jason of a doc they're premiering shortly, with exclusive first peeks at some scenes and a chance to quiz Jason about the post-prod route they've taken with this feature. Phil is diving into the chilly waters of Automator to see what's there in the murky waters for the likes of us.

And there's a host of raffle prizes from Softpress software, Sonic Solutions, Peachpit press, plus news of online voucher offers exclusive to the wefcpug members.

So strap on your snowshoes and trudge to the Whiteladies Rd tonight

Monday, March 31, 2008

Just one week to go - April wefcpug

A reminder that the April meeting of wefcpug is back at the BBC, Monday next (April 7th), 7pm.

What's in it? The usual very good question. I'm reviewing several books and products at the moment, and it's extremely likely some of them will feature in the wefcpug running order. For amusement value, there'll be a quick demo of Automator and whether it lives up to the hype of being a) easy to use and b) useful. My best pals at Peachpit provided a 'Visual Quickstart' guide for the raffle. More pertinent to FCP will be a look at current standards for web distribution, and I'm hoping some of the homegrown experts will join in here.

Plus some genuine boxed software prizes (yes, boxed) from newer best pals (for more details, you have to be there), and whatever else you bring to the table in the fast fault-finding round. And any offers to 'show and tell' or feature requests (be quick, folks).

Pre-bookings to me, Phil, please, for the benefit of the guys at the gate. email is philatbrightfilamentdotcodotuk

Friday, March 28, 2008

Book Review - Visual Quickstart Guide for Automator

Automator for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

Visual Quickstart Guide - Ben Waldie

Automator is one of the small apps supplied within OS X that, let's face it, most of us never get round to opening, let alone alone using regularly. The promise is there to liberate us from the tedium of repetitive familiar tasks and yet the learning curve seems quite steep when the app is run. The latest version of Automator, with Leopard, has a cute robot motif but, of course, no printed instruction manual - out of the box, it's all down to you and the Help files. Fine if you know what questions to ask, and are happy with online or on-screen instructions, which are, shall we say, sparse.

The Visual Quickstart guide seems designed to fill this gap, to act as a hand-holder for novices, and as a practical reference for intermediate users. It follows the format of other books in the series (which includes the recommended Lisa Brenneis guides to Final Cut, copies of which must be on every editor's desks), with plenty of screen shots and a straightforward, one step at a time, walk through the steps required to achieve what's required. Early chapters deal with simple jobs: taking the reader through the interface, building basic workflows, working with 'Actions' which are the fundamental procedures that Automator includes. This approach works well for me, it's a useful second stage to my first approach to any new app (in concise terms: run it, press all the buttons, see what breaks, see how quickly I get lost), and I appreciate the structured progression of the book.

Later chapters plunge deeper - or at least, as deep as Automator currently allows. There are good walk-through examples of saving Workflows (Automator's equivalent of a project), as applications or plug-ins, and the advanced features of integrating Automator with Applescript and running Shell scripts. These advanced features are the most promising development in Automator with Leopard, and this guide does a fair job of introducing them - but to use UNIX scripts especially requires a good deal of background knowledge, and familiarity with Terminal commands.

What drawbacks there are lie not with the book itself, but with Automator. The app performs well with those 'Actions' allowed it by other applications in the system. So for Safari, for instance, there are a range of actions related to current URLs and Feeds, that can be passed on by an Automator workflow for further processing. Automator is well endowed with file-type actions: most examples on the Apple website, and in this guide, relate in some way to graphics files (re-sizing, converting format, changing name to include date). Maybe this is because there's a lot of tedious work, for sure, to be done with graphics files, which tend to arrive in the dozens or hundreds. But not all applications offer hooks for Automator. One on my system that does is Fetch, an ftp program - but Firefox, for example, offers nought.

Another limitation to bear in mind is that Automator isn't quite a scripting environment, and certainly not a programming one. It is possible to build workflows with variables that can be passed between blocks, and there are looping facilities, but beyond that it's necessary to integrate AppleScript or Shell commands. Conditional branching, for instance, or Boolean operators, don't exist as such within Automator Actions. What's most obviously missing is a method of debugging workflows - my first attempts generated Error Codes but with no means of interpreting what the errors were. To do much beyond the simplest of repetitive actions, it's the very deep waters of Xcode and the resources in the Apple Development Centre (ADC).

Maybe it's not possible to have the best of both worlds. If you want the flexibility and programmability that comes with programming a shell script, that comes with the price tag of acquiring the knowledge of same and working at a terminal shell. If you want a modest set of defined actions and a simple way of putting the building blocks together, the flexibility has to be curtailed. Within the limitations of the allowed actions, then, Automator offers a highly visual and intuitive method of building a sequence of actions to form a workflow. It's not the cold bath that a sudden exposure to C or Ruby scripting offers, and if you need a helping hand into the warm waters, the Visual Quickstart Guide is for you.

------Phil Ashby

I'll be going into more detail about Automator and the book at the next wefcpug meeting, which is Monday 7th April.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Headlines and links from the March Meet

I gave a short resume of what's happened in the Mac and broadcasting worlds in the last month - or at least the bits that came to my notice!

OS X - the big update to 10.5.2 arrived, weighing in at 343.4MB for the combo update. iTunes and QuickTime have had various facelifts too. The changes in the OS that I've noticed are improved wifi and bluetooth connections (meaning stability), the new ability of TimeMachine to backup to networked drives (provided these are hosted on other Leopard Macs), the look of the Dock and the ability to customise the stacks that pop up (or out) for Documents and Downloads. All in all, a worthy update to have (not that you'll have a choice, really).

There's a new version of Aperture, selling at a reduced price to version 1.
Newly updated too are Skype and XQuartz - the latter is essential if you wish to use the X11 program (required for OpenOffice and the Gimp as well as a myriad of other apps which were written for the XWindows system).

Best of all, a new version of news feed reader Newsfire - and now it's a free download.

Panasonic have announced that 64GB capacity P2 cards will be available in Autumn 08. This will offer some 2hrs 30mins recording time at DVCProHD resolution, 5hr + DVCPro. Price to be announced (North of £1750 my guess).

Broadcasting: The BBC now offers a limited selection of TV programmes for sale on the iTunes Music Store. Maybe this presages a new version of the iPlayer for Mac, given that the iTMS now offers movie rentals in the US (so there is a DRM system in place). Ashley Highfield, the Beeb's digital boss, has been hinting in interviews and in his blog that there will be a Mac-compatible iPlayer offering downloads sometime (as opposed to the streaming-only option at present). That said, which is good news, the streaming service isn't TOO bad, at least on small screens. (Blame Flash encoding for this).

Also noted that the previously announced BBC target for full HD commissioning by 2010 is now regarded as 'aspirational' according to Broadcast mag.

For other news items, not covered here, including exciting sponsorship offers new to wefcpug, watch this space.

Friday, February 29, 2008

March 08 meeting next Monday

Once again we're down amongst the plasticine people, with another meeting kindly hosted at Aardman Animation's World HQ on Gas Ferry Road. Meet up ready to roll at 7pm. That's Monday March 3rd in Bristol.

So far we have a piece from Richard bigging up LiveType, and he's promised to create a News ident before our very eyes, that will introduce YoursTruly (that's me, Phil, not an app) with a roundup of this month's mac-and-stuff news.

Couple more possibles, including (I hope) news of new sponsors and raffles - even a contest has been mooted.

Plus your questions and our answers, or vice versa.


Friday, February 01, 2008

1995 all over again

Or maybe a couple of years earlier than 1995. But, just like then, I sense the first breezes of a change in the air - as the invites to demos, product DVDs, glossy catalogues, all for the next generation of cameras / recorders thud through the letter box. Alas, no free samples on offer - but if anyone is offering....

What was happening then was the emerging acceptance of DV, starting with the VX1000, and then the DVCAM & DVCPro equipment. If we thought life was getting confusing then, what to make of this year's products? To pick up where we left off in October last, with Sony in the Blue corner, and Panasonic in the Red....

....continues at the next wefcpug meeting, BBC Bristol Monday next, 4th Feb, meet 630pm for 7pm kickoff. You could read and hear all about it in the next blog and podcast, but why wait a fortnight? Be there and be part of the argument! If you're intending to come, let Richard know via the wefcpug website.

PLUS Richard's latest take on plug-ins, comments on the Broadcast show in London, and mystery items. Maybe we'll even have the long-awaited update for Leopard?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

What's in the wind?

The air, of course - being the MacBook Air, as announced at the MacWorld expo last week. It looks, well, thin, and is certainly expensive - but then again so was the iPhone, and that seems to be selling?

Steve Jobs also announced AppleTV take 2, with a big change of emphasis, taking the AppleTV from an 'iPod for the living room' tethered to a Mac, into a stand-alone box that can be used to access the iTunes Music Store directly, for renting movies. These rentals, which were announced for US only so far, involve a download, then 30 day authorisation, and a 24 hour window of access from first running a file. Once either deadline expires the movie self-destructs (or maybe asks for more money). In other words - DRM (digital rights management), now with time and access limits in the iTunes environment.

What's the big deal? Remember the reason that the BBC's iPlayer couldn't be ported to Mac (except for streaming, since Dec 25th) - lack of DRM on the Mac platform. And has the BBC noticed this development? Yes, they certainly have, in the person of Ashley Highfield, current head of digital stuff over in White City. (But, as recently announced, to move to Salford's Media City one day). In his own blog:
This, coupled with Apple's (long anticipated) move to a rental model, means that we can look to getting BBC iPlayer onto this platform too, as we should be able to use the rental functionality to allow our programmes to be downloaded, free, but retained for a time window, and then erased, as our rightsholders currently insist.
And maybe there's good news for the rest of us, too, with the possibility one day of gathering income from podcasts (he says with feeling!).


Footnote - yes I know I promised to have Series 2 of 'Out of Vision' up and running: I must plead variously pressure of other projects and a 5 day loss of broadband connection (thank you Orange Broadband). But coming Real Soon Now

Friday, January 18, 2008

Jan 2008's meeting - report and links

Oxygen wasn't rationed, but we were just about at capacity for 2008's first wefcpug. Maybe everyone needed something to kickstart the brain after holiday season.

Here are the links for the presentations -

The GIMP is an open source graphics program long known to Linux and Unix users, and (as I reported a year or so back) has been ported to the Mac, where it works in the X11 windowing environment. At least, it DID work, until Leopard was released. There are now two updates that restore a working Gimp to the platform:

the latest version of the Gimp itself here at the charmingly named Wilber-loves-Mac site. (Worth visiting the second link first if you need to read things up.)

and an open-source modified version of the Apple X11 system for Leopard installations. My understanding (which only just stretches this far) is that the modified X11 on this link adheres to the XWindows standard in ways that the X11 bundled with Leopard does not. If you're happy downloading a modified X11 (which I believe incorporates changes into the Quartz graphics layer as far as it affects X11) you can make it work! One of the open-source developers quotes an Apple team member saying they hope to make this an official Apple update one day.

So - you might want to wait until the next point upgrade to the OS, 10.5.2, which we expect any day now.

Other Leopard news: Skype and AudioHiJack have both released updates to be better compatible with Leopard.

Simon Walker presented the first Show'nTell of 2008, creating an impressive 30" commercial spot in Motion from humble ingredients. His website is here.

Anika Tokarchuk showed trailers and clips from her Tibetan trilogy of films - read more about them here.

Next meeting - Feb 4th

Monday, January 07, 2008

Lithium problems - Come fly with me (or not)

Amidst all the confusion about airport baggage restrictions here in the UK, you may not have noticed a new rule implemented from Jan 1st by the US aviation authorities. There are new restrictions on carrying Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries, especially the chunky ones that pro camcorders use. You can't put spare batteries loose into checked-in luggage and there are quantity limits on how many batteries in total you can take on board with you. The limits are specified in terms of grams of Lithium: 25g is the upper limit, which is approx 300 watt-hours. (Two very high capacity packs).

The official US advice page is here.

Although these limits apply only to FAA governed flights, I suspect it can only be a matter of time before the CAA adopt them for UK flights. These aren't terrorism-inspired limits, but rather safety rules prompted by faulty batteries catching fire.

If you were at the December wefcpug, you may recall my ranting about the sudden and unexpected death of two of my IDX batteries, and the shocking price of replacements! I am happy to recommend an alternative manufacturer of compatible battery packs - DSM who are a UK source. What is also interesting is that, over 5 or so years, capacities have doubled for the same price (so not so shocking after all).

2008 kicks off!

And a Happy New Year to all wefcpug members and casual readers to the blog. The first wefcpug of 2008 happens next Monday, that's Jan 14th, and I'm hazarding a guess that we're back at the Beeb in Bristol (yet TBC).

If perchance you are the other side of the Atlantic, at the MacExpo in San Francisco (admittedly the second choice of events to attend next week), then do look out for the FCPUG 'Supermeet' which is organised by our sister User Group in San Francisco, led by the estimable Claudia Craske.

In Claudia's own words
We plan to have ONE HECKOFA FCPUG PARTY, and please be there with us in spirit even if life prevents you from being there in person. Please make sure your
members know we are in a new location.

You are invited to the FCPUG Network Supermeet Jan 16:

only $10 in advance, any remaining tickets will be $15 at the door - seating
is limited, so please buy your tickets as soon as possible.

Over $40,000 in hardware, software and training being given away - all in
one night!