Matthew McAllister

Google 2-Step Verification

Posted on September 2, 2011 by Leave a comment

As I put more and more of my work on Google Docs I can’t help but wonder what would happen if someone ever got access to my account. I think this is a fear for a lot of people. Not just with their personal email, but those same usernames and passwords that get us into our gmail also give us access to our Google+ accounts, our Google Docs, Picasa albums and potentially much more. This fear becomes even more tangible when you put business spreadsheets online like I talked about in a previous post. The power of linking web data to Google Spreadsheets makes it hard to say no to putting some of your valuable data on the web. So how to do you protect it?

Google Authenticator App

One of the best ways I’ve found to protect my Google account is through 2-step verification. It’s a service provided by Google that turns on an extra layer of security on top of your password. This second layer is an 7 digit number that is refreshed every 30 seconds. You can have this secret number sent to you via text, email, or a smartphone. I use the iPhone app personally.

So say I borrow a friend’s computer to check my email. Instead of just entering my email and password, I’m also now prompted for my verification code. I pull out my phone and open the “Authenticator” app by Google and enter this number into the screen. Now I can see my email! For programs that use my account regularly, I can create an app-specific password. So I create those passwords for my desktop mail program, my calendar apps and that sort of thing.

Alright, so this sounds like a pretty good system after you get it set up, but what happens if my phone is stolen? How do I get my email then? When you set up 2-step verification Google also provides you with 10 permanent verification codes. You only see these codes once so you have to write them down in a safe spot. This will allow you to access your account once per emergency-code without your phone app.

It’s definitely not a decision to take lightly since messing up means loosing access to your gmail account. But for those who are worried about someone getting past their password, this adds some piece of mind and an extra barrier that could prove invaluable.

Referenced: Google 2-Step Verification

Converting Old Family Tapes to Digital

Posted on September 1, 2011 by Leave a comment

One of those projects that’s been on the back burner to-do list for a while has been importing all of my family’s old Hi-8 Sony Handycam footage to digital. My parents have about 40 tapes of my sister and I growing up over the years and when we started watching them last December we noticed a lot of them had been damaged and were wearing out.

So here’s how we got them on to a hard drive and backed up:

Hi8 to Digital Overview

When my dad bought the Sony Handycam (CCD-TR400) he also got the corresponding deck (EV-C100) to play the tapes off of a TV. The deck has RCA and S-video out. These aren’t very useful for connecting to a computer but they can connect to a miniDV camera like Greg’s Panasonic DVX-100. The great thing about this camera is that it can take in feeds from other sources through S-Video and RCA audio cables (the red and white prongs). The Panasonic also sports a firewire 400 out cable for import to Final Cut. So the cable path goes Deck -> Digital Tape Camera -> Final Cut Capture.

Hi8 to Digital Detail

In Final Cut we had to pick settings that were not dependent on timecode. The only thing we lose in this conversion process is timecode, which is pretty insignificant for the purposes of just saving the footage. The settings ended up being DV NTSC with the device present being changed to a non-controllable device.

Hi8 Import Settings

Finally I start going through the tapes, one at a time, numbering them and keeping track of those numbers in a Google Spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is shared with the family so that they can see which tapes correspond to certain content. As my parents sort through the footage they can add additional notes to the doc which will help me edit the footage down if we ever decide to burn DVDs or something like that.

If you want to take your old family tapes to digital you can generalize our solution by using the camera you recorded on instead of the tape deck. Instead of using the Panasonic, you can use any prosumer miniDV cam to turn the analog signal into a digital firewire-out signal, or a conversion deck.

If those hardware pieces are a barrier there are also services that will convert the tapes for you, all you have to do is provide a hard drive (My recommended Hard Drive) or DVDs. Memories to Digital is the company I recommend for people living in Colorado.

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Out with the old, in with the new

Posted on August 30, 2011 by Leave a comment

Today I’m launching version 2.0 of this website. I could not have done it without the help of Greg O’Brien, my webmaster, and Eric Magnuson who is a CSS ninja and really helped me understand what I was doing. Please let me know if you come across any issues in the site as you look around! Thanks!

Running a Business through Google Spreadsheets

Posted on August 29, 2011 by Leave a comment

Despite the fact that I sold my half of Square Two Productions to Greg O’Brien earlier this summer after graduating from CU, I still enjoy being involved with the company and feel very attached to it. This is why one of the nicest things about being home in Colorado for a few weeks has been catching up on Square Two work. One of the parts of running the company that for some reason I really enjoy is keeping track of finances, weird right?

One quick story should explain this strange love of bookkeeping: When I was growing up I ran a small local lawn mowing company that I called The Neighborhood Kid. As I added more customers I started keeping more and more detailed spreadsheets. My dad taught me the basics of excel and I just latched on to it from there. Once I realized I could link data across multiple excel documents, I was in heaven. I created a customer database excel sheet that had just information on each client, the height of the mower, when I usually mowed their yard, how long it took me, things like that. I then created another sheet where I tracked revenue, expenses and profit. These sheets aggregated all the lawn mowing statistics and allowed me to calculate cool things like how much I made in profit per bag of grass mowed (It was $4.63 by the way).

Jump forward to Square Two and I created basically the same model but instead of tracking customers, I tracked employees. Quickbooks allowed us to keep track of clients and invoicing really easily, but we didn’t want to pay for the Quickbooks payroll service, especially since we were paying people as a percentage of the work they did on the project. Since many of our clients were grant based, this worked much better than an hourly wage model. Say client X can only pay $1,000 for a video, they’re paying from a grant. Person A works 5 hours, and person B works 10 hours to get the project done. If 50% of the project budget is allocated to wages, and than person B deserves two thirds of that 50% cut. Quickbooks wasn’t built for that type of business model so we let excel figure out the end hourly rate for grant based projects and handled payment to subcontractors (our friends) through that custom system.

This was all fine and well until I transferred the books to Greg’s computer where all the links between documents promptly broke down. The only solution in our minds in that minute was to reconnect all the documents and test all the equations. Suddenly though I caught myself wondering if there could be a way to link in time sheets while we were at it. Very quickly Google spreadsheets came to mind. We quickly ran a test to see if one document that was private only to the owner, could call in data from a shared document? Sure enough, Google provides a function called importRange() which allows you to use a unique key in each document to link them all together. The only limitation is you can only have 50 such functions in each document, so you have to be clever about how you write each function to maximize the data your getting from your source documents.

In the end we created a google spreadsheet for each videographer to enter their time into. The sheets automatically aggregate the time by project and billing cycle and send that data to a private customer database sheet which figures out the invoice amount as well as how much each employee is owed for their time based on either the hourly rate or percent of the budget allocated toward wages. The documents have a feedback loop too. Contractors are told on their time sheet whether or not a check has been issued for each of the hours they’ve reported. This allows for an extra accuracy check by the videographers of our bookkeeping.

What would be really interesting to see is if this model could be expanded even more to start calculating tax information automatically. Every time I use Google Docs I’m impressed by how much they can do and how easily they work with other web content and sharing platforms. Hopefully this post inspires some ideas about how you can start moving your work to the cloud as well!

Also, for information about how to secure your Google Docs account, check out my other blog post!

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Adobe Edge

Posted on August 6, 2011 by Leave a comment

The other day Adobe launched a beta version of their new upcoming program called “Edge.” Edge is basically a HTML5 animation builder that has a similar interface to Flash and is used to build similar content. Many of the banner adds you see on advertisements are made in flash, a lot of professional photography portfolio sites rely of flash for their fancy fades and transitions, and many online games use Flash to create an interactive experience. The problem? Many consider Flash a trick to make the web do things it wasn’t intended for and using the newer web standards of HTML5 and CSS3 allow you to play by the rules in a way that gives better performance for all devices (read iOS).

Anyhow, if this beta develops further I may seriously look at rebuilding this site completely in HTML5 with Edge. Here‘s a 5 minute rough of how the site could look using tools that will allow it to accessible on an iPhone.

Learning After Effects

Posted on August 6, 2011 by Leave a comment

I’ve decided to take the plunge into Adobe After Effects and the Production Suite in general. This is mostly motivated by the well known prowess of Photoshop and After Effects in the industry, but the decision was quickly cemented by the poor reception to the new Final Cut X (blog post on that coming soon).

I’ve also purchased Lightroom, which feels so much better than Aperture both in terms of image handling and speed. The noise reduction ability of the program is also really impressive. For some U2 photos that were processed with Lightroom check out this album.

This is the first After Effects project I’ve worked on since the Wow Wall project earlier this year. Let me know what you think!

Light Painting Animation

Posted on August 6, 2011 by Leave a comment

First off, apologies for the long delay between posts. The last few weeks have been quite busy.

As part of my Minor in Technology, Art and Media I worked on a capstone project that was designed to showcase a multimedia form of expression I was passionate about and could be used to convey a message. I’ve always been a major fan of long exposure light painting photography as well as timelapse photography. So for my capstone project, I tried to combine what I knew of both.

The final product was a light painting animation project called Origin of Light. Hope you enjoy!

Inspiration from:
Light Stencils by zgpunkrockgirl‘s flickr photos.
Olympics Animation Piece

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The Wog Wog Experiment

Posted on March 16, 2011 by Leave a comment

Last summer I had the privilege to travel to Australia to film a documentary on how habitat fragmentation is affecting the beetle populations in the area. The documentary is titled, “The Wog Wog Experiment” after that section of the Australian National Forest called Wog Wog. I was given this opportunity after placing first in the film festival that my Climate and Film class had hosted my junior year.

During my filming time in Australia I logged over 50 hours of footage including interviews with the two graduate students I was traveling with, tons of B roll, and a significant number of stills as well. In terms of file organization everything was logged by the date it was shot. After that these folders were brought into final cut and every single clip was renamed and sorted into bins. An example name would be, “piner_int_ty3″ or “harvester_cut4_good.” In the first example I would first know the location was in the pines on the day it was raining, the second part tells me it was an interview, the third part tells me it was with Ty and it was the third take in that interview. Similarly for a cut away shot I’d put the subject first, say it was a cut and which one, and would occasionally add an endnote if it was a good take that I wanted to be sure to include.

The editing process for me always works in sections. In the first draft I had upwards of 10 sequences open at once for the different individuals featured in the piece. These would usually have their entire interviews so that they could be cut up and the extra sections could be deleted. These sequences were versioned in the project so that I could go back and grab an older clip that I had discarded. I also had sequences for various parts of the film, there was an intro sequence, a cup pulling sequence, a harvester sequence and so on. Gradually I stared building compilation sequences labeled as build 1, build 2 and so on. Build versions represented significant changes between drafts since I was also versioning the Final Cut file itself. The final product ended up being the version titled, “wog21_build10″, so there were a lot of steps in between.

I really wanted to push myself with this project and do some of the work in Motion, to get a handle on 3D camera movements. I figured the introductory sequence and custom lower thirds would help achieve this. Since the theme of the video is fragmentation, I wanted the various elements to be loosely associated in groups while also showing clear divides between all of the floating elements. The title sequence alone had a 4 hour export time because of all of the additional elements.

Toward the end of the process was when I decided to convert all of the H.264 footage that my Canon 7D encodes in, to Apple Pro Res 422. I was considering doing this before the editing process began but because the final product was only going to be around 15 minutes long and there was over 50 hours of footage, it made more sense to edit the majority of it in a compressed format and then use Media Manager in Final Cut to convert the sequence with handles into 422 for color correction. Color correction and sound balancing were done simultaneously, and then music was added in afterward by Dustin Rumsey.

The final piece is definitely something I’m very proud of and represents the work of a lot of folks from the lab to a couple of late nights working on music with Dustin. I hope you enjoy it:

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Wow Wall

Posted on March 16, 2011 by Leave a comment

Atlas Computers

Atlas Computers Rending Final Product

One of the assignments in my capstone class this semester is to complete a client project for a campus group. My group’s project was the “Wow Wall” in the new Center for Communities building on campus. The Wow Wall is an 8×2 array of TVs that project content above the dining hall as students enter. The screen provides a unique venue to showcase content and provide advertising for campus programs and events. Our group was given free reign for proposing ideas for the display and I suggested doing a brady bunch styled display with the dining hall staff as a way for students to get to know those who work behind the scenes to prepare their food.

The idea was very technically challenging because it would involve all 16 displays looping different feeds and having those various boxes interact with other boxes outside their selected television. We also wanted to incorporate audio into the piece which hadn’t yet been done on the Wow Wall.

We started with a storyboard, and divided the wall into letter assignments. As we built out the animation we tracked each letter through each screen and ensured that every screen was in use and in place at the end. Then we worked this system backward to figure out what each of our actors would be experiencing at different times in the experience. For instance toward the beginning one of the characters was going to be lifted to the second row by someone below him. We needed the first employee to act like they were being lifted 30 seconds into the piece right as the other employee preformed a lifting action.

Screen shot Wow Wall in After Effects

Screen shot Wow Wall in After Effects

On the post production side of things is where a lot of the tricks came into play. We needed to edit the whole thing using Adobe After Effects because the screen size was so unique, 5464×768. Final Cut wouldn’t allow for these dimensions because they exceed the current x axis scale for 5K video files. Why you can’t force the custom aspect ratio to this is something I’m sure will be fixed in the coming refresh, but for this project that meant we were using After Effects. After Effects had its own challenges, unlike traditional timeline based editors after effects can only have one clip on one line for the entirety of the piece, you can’t cut clips with a blade tool, and the audio editing capabilities are exceedingly limited. To get around the first issue we created our own loops of the characters waving at each other for each box and set that as the in and out point. This was then copied and pasted to additional layers below the first. The audio issue was a surprise, you can’t take the volume on an individual clip below -48dB. While this isn’t really an issue for a single track, once you layer in 16 of these audio tracks you build up a nasty humming sound. To get around this our near final draft had the audio exported from it and sent to Final Cut. In Final Cut I tried to use the 3rd party software, Plural Eyes, to realign the original audio files. It really struggled with this and as a result I ended up manually syncing waveforms. Editing the audio in Final Cut however allowed us to apply 3 Band Equalizer filters which helped clean up some of the background his. It also allowed for better fading between screens.

The other main challenge was out takes that included two employees. Since we didn’t want to split the clip into two clips we ended up bringing both into a smaller canvas in Final Cut, adding a still background that matched the wall color, and exported it back in After Effects. For the piggy back ride this required zooming out to different takes of both employees individually before the bottom box could slide across the screen.

And here’s how it all turned out!

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File Management

Posted on January 19, 2011 by 1 Comment

Running along similar lines to the Data Management post I wrote, file management is equally important to ensuring that a project can be successfully completed. This is especially true when multiple editors are working across different computers and drives.

So first, why is file management important? And what is the difference between file management and data management? File management refers to how documents and media are organized on a drive. Its the structure of folders and naming that makes finding what you’re looking for easy and allows certain programs to know where the source material is. In pro applications like Final Cut you have to set a scratch disk. I like to think of pro applications as skeleton programs, all the guts of the project are stored somewhere besides the project file itself. In Final Cut terms the project file is a .fcp file. When you’re editing video none of the video content is stored in that fcp file. The fcp file simply knows where to look for the video content. This is not true for entry level programs like iMovie, Garage Band and so on. Those programs collect all of the used media and store it in a single file.

What’s the difference and why does it matter? For entry level users making simple music and video files, the managed media system works very well because everything is contained in just one file. If you want your friend to see what you’re working on, you can just send them the file and everything will work great. The issue is that these files can become very large, especially as projects themselves grow. When you’re editing you also want to create backup files and keep different versions of your files in case something changes and you need to go back to how it use to be. If you wanted to version an iMovie project this would mean having multiple copies of these much larger files that contain duplicates of the original source material. This is an inefficient use of disk space and doesn’t make sense for versioning.

Having a referenced media system allows the edit file to just simply know where to look for the original footage rather than having to copy this. When projects get very large this can span across multiple hard drives and partitions. This also allows different editors to work on parts of the project without having to have every source file present.

Naturally the more advanced referenced system has its own risks. Chief among these is loosing track of source files or accidentally deleting them. If the source files get separated from the edit files any work that has been done is useless. So even if a hard drive doesn’t fail, neglecting to keep track of files can result in essentially the same outcome of lost work.

When Square Two was created one of our biggest team working hurdles was to figure out how to edit collaboratively. All of us had done work on our own, but making sure that our different management and editing styles were consistent was an important first step to starting projects. Along with solidifying our data stream, we quickly devised a filing system to ensure all of a projects source and edit files would stay together and in a way that all of the programs we use will be able to quickly reconnect with the media. We agreed to always use lower case letters, and not use spaces, but instead underscores. This was to help if data did make it to a server eventually or was hosted on the web.

The system for Final Cut editing that we developed goes as such:

example_project

audio_fx

voice_files

edit_files
final_files
(specific program files)

music_files

effects_files

compressor_files
dvd_files
fcp_files

Audio Render Files
Autosave Vault
Capture Scratch

interview_01
interview_02

Render Files
Thumbnail Cache Files
Waveform Cache Files
example_projectYYYYMMDDv##.fcp

video_fx

color_files
livetype_files
motion_files

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Matthew McAllister

Matthew McAllister is a recent graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is passionate about politics and the positive impact it can have on people. He is also very interested in marketing and multimedia production. Email