Dear Blog

Well, I’m not sure if I need a new category or not, but I’m sitting at Tullamarine Airport waiting to board my flight. Transit in Singapore, and then Paris for a 5.30am morning. 32 outside here, last time I checked around 4 there. My Dutch Australian taxi driver (who was in the merchant navy and jumped ship on his third visit to Melbourne in 1960) assured me of how much I would like Paris, except for the Parisians (the same advice that my Greek Australian barber gave me this morning), and of where I should go to find cheap accommodation in Amsterdam. This part of the terminal is elevated on stilts and you can feel the floor shudder every now and then. I don’t know if it is from some unseen jet nearby, trucks transporting underneath, or just people. The anteroom to adventure? Perhaps once, before jumbo jets, now it is only a prelude to twenty two and a half hours of confinement, poor food, and the whims of they who sit next, in front, and behind of you.

Holidays are a Callin’

There will be very little happening here for the next month or so. On December 29 I leave for Paris, then Toulouse, Brussels, Copenhagen and Amsterdam. I’m giving some talks in Belgium to sing for my supper, but have kept my head down and out of everywhere else. [insert grin] I’m on holidays. I need one, I want one, and I’m having one. [ / insert grin]

Tinderbox 2.1

The latest release of Tinderbox is out. I originally used Tinderbox for maintaining one of my first blogs, before migrating to Movable Type. I’ve just paid my USD70 for another year of upgrades from Eastgate, since I want to return to Tinderbox for some writing, thinking, and playing. It’s seriously excellent software.

Damned Useful

Document here bought to you by Apple. Basically it’s about how to write a webpage properly, the sort of thing I’d

Port Fairy Water 2-3

portfairyscreenshot.jpg

As the screen shot shows, this vog has the six sound tracks layered into this movie. Unlike the first two iterations, where the soundtracks are loaded as child movies, here they are all copresent in the movie. The differences?

Well, filesize for starters. Port Fairy 2-1 and 2-2 are only 2.6MB in size (they have been lightly compressed so that image quality is high), but now the file is 3.5MB. This is because in Port Fairy 2-1 and 2-2 the soundtracks are external to the movie that is being played, and only loaded dynamically if and when a mouse event calls them. Now, with the soundtracks embedded into the one QuickTime file, they of course require space.

However, only one soundtrack runs for the same duration as the video track, so what this means is that depending on when the user mouses into the movie there may, or may not, be a soundtrack to hear. That is quite literal. It isn’t that the soundtrack has been scripted to a volume of 0, but that at that point in the timeline there is no corresponding soundtrack (as the screen shot indicates). Therefore a disadvantage of authoring like this is that your soundtrack durations must match the video duration if you wish for there to be continuous sound. This also illustrates why using childmovies can be a good idea. Not only does it mean you can write a leaner QuickTime front end to your content, but it also means that your soundtracks can be made to loop and so are available (audible) at any point in the timeline in the video track – their duration and location is completely independent of the parent QuickTime movie. An advantage of integrating all the soundtracks is that there is no lag as you move from one soundtrack to the other, instant on and off.

The point of this particular movie? Simply to move the soundtracks from being child movies to being an integral part of the architecture of the final movie and to literally demonstrate the implications or consequences of this. Unless the silence does a John Cage like thing for you, childmove soundtracks would seem to be a more intelligent model for sound in interactive QuickTime work where you want, for example, multiple commentaries, music, effect, or sound tracks. Oh, and in case this is being misunderstood, in interactive QuickTime vogging the soundtrack changes immediately for whatever scripted structures have been provided for. It is not a DVD model where you view the clip once with soundtrack A, then view the clip again with soundtrack B. This is a different and more sophisticated narratological or videological (what I call elsewhere softvideo and softvideography) model than what is ordinarily used in environments like DVD.

Port Fairy 2-2

This vog is identical to Port Fairy 2.1 except the video is now horizontal rather than vertical. The sprite works the same way, same audio tracks, same order. Same idea, different perspective.

Port Fairy Water 2-1

This small work has cropped two videos, layered them horizontally to produce a single video track (straightforward sort of thing you would do in any nonlinear editing system). They are compressed at reasonably high quality. There is a child movie track, which has six sound tracks – one atmos track and five commentaries. Mousing into the movie is counted, and controls which of the soundtracks plays. Everything loops.

Once upon a time I’d do this by using two different video tracks and treating them as individual tracks within QuickTime, however I’ve decided that this series will emphasise architectural and scriptural elegance, so in this example it was more effective to lay these two tracks in an editing program and then exporting it as a QuickTime file. This means the file consists of a single video track, the other method, authoring directly in QuickTime, means that QuickTime has to play two video files. There’s not much gained in this movie by doing that since I don’t want or need to do anything to the video windows as separate entities. If I wanted to script the movie so that the video on the left behaved or appeared in any way different to the video on the right then keeping them as separate video tracks (objects) within the QuickTime architecture would provide with the appropriate affordances and granularity.

Key points:

  • User activity is defined by mouse entry, not mouse click. A caress or touch rather than ringing the bell. This means simply moving over the work affects the work and so it is hard for any user not to produce a minor change in the work. (Changes should always be minor. Small scale interactive works are that, and shouldn’t confuse large outcomes with grandness of vision.)
  • The time of the work is indeterminate. The video track runs for 1’26”, and that is fixed, since the soundtracks are child tracks they have been built to run independently of the playstate of the video track. This means, in the simplest model, the duration of the entire work is the total duration of the child soundtracks. This totals around 4’30”. Hence this 1’26” of video ‘contains’ 4’30” of content.

bandwits

Tim over at vogner land has an impressive turn of phrase. “Bandwits” for those who think they’re making vogs but pay no regard to bandwidth. I’m with Tim on this, for several reasons:

  • bandwidth costs and whether its the viewer/reader or the person running the server, someone is paying for it
  • low bit rate video (Tim’s lo-vi, lov it) is an aesthetic property of voggging
  • as an aesthetic property it is one of the formal constraints
  • as a formal constraint it contributes to the art of vogging (in the same manner in which you might say there is an art of blogging)
  • vogging is not wannbecinema by another means (just like blogging is not wannabefiction or wannabepublished by another means)
  • showcasing your filmmaking abilities online is not vogging, it is defacto broadcast media
  • it does not have to be about making art
  • it does have to be about creating a vog vernacular which is not video, cinema, tv or blogging
  • the definition at vidblogs is a good start
  • just as we write with words, vogs mean we write with video
  • writing in video, which is not to be confused with video impressionism

Port Fairy Water, Series 2 (aka when is an interactive movie an interactive movie?)

After finishing the first Port Fairy Water vogI decided that I’ve strayed a bit too far from the vog manifesto. It isn’t quite as religious or eschatological as that probably sounds. Just a realisation that with all the sprite activity, child movie tracks and so on the work was getting unnecessarily complex for what I’m wanting to achieve or demonstrate. That the movie dimensions were probably getting too big, and that it was all pyrotechnics rather than content. Or, to put it the other way about, the pyrotechnics was the content.

While a sort of modernist zeal to explore the formal implications and possibilities of low bit rate interactive video is ok for a while, things were losing direction. The seductions of scale are pernicious :-). Larger images, more bandwidth, more of the screen. Not against any of that per se, but I think for a video blogging project it is sliding into something else.

So I’m going to make a brief thoroughly modernist series, Port Fairy Water, Series 2 (aka when is an interactive movie an interactive movie?). It is only going to use the content that I’ve generated for the Port Fairy Water vogs, though I’m constraining all content to be 208 x 117 pixels. It will all play within the browser space and I’m hoping to iterate a series of simple possibilities around mouse events, video, and six sound tracks.

Peer to Peer

I note that the Canadian government is instituting a levy on things like iPods and that the money collected will be distributed to artists, presumably because it is assumed with tracks being ripped sales are being compromised. Thank goodness for the Canadians. In Australia there has been a surcharge on blank audio cassettes for years. The surcharge is collected and distributed via the Australian Performing Rights Assocation (and the PPCA) to artists, on the understanding that the major use of blank audio cassettes was to duplicate albums. Now, given all the nail gnashing about MP3, AAC, and so on, why can’t a similar surcharge be placed on blank CDR’s, and on things like MP3 players? As they do in Canada? We already have devices to collect copyright payments for the photocopying of articles and book chapters (audited and administered by the Copyright Collection Agency), or to require businesses to purchase a licence if they wish to play radio publically in their shops. Why is the move to a similar and existing system for CDR and MP3 (and DV tape and MiniDisk, etc) something that isn’t regarded as a solution?

I can imagine one rationale is that I can rip a CD on my PowerBook, and distribute it without ever having to buy a CD to burn it onto, and I could play it off my PowerBook for free via something like iTunes. I could also transfer it to others via email, ftp, etc. That’s true. But I still buy quite a few blank CDRs, even if I don’t burn audio CDs on them, most of them are for moving data around or providing things to students, and so what you lose on the CD I may or may not rip you would certainly make back in the spindles of 50 blank CDRs I very regularly purchase.

Language Technology Reserch.

The Language Technology Research Group at Melbourne University (about 700 metres up the road from my office) is an interesting collection of projects and research. A lot of computational linguistics and the like, from what I can see, though the list of Baden Hughes’ possible research projects for graduate students makes interesting reading. Seems some of this material would be very much in ACH type territory. (I think, he mumbles…)

Gravity

This is a minor online art work that is impressive. Simple, slight lateral use of frames, a humour that has the implication of making visible the basic conditions of a HTML based art work. A work that looks back towards the origins of net.art (I don’t have the details of the piece so for all I know at the moment in might have been written in the golden age of net.art). It’s minor nature should not be underestimated. I’m a great believer in the ability of some works of art doing what Deleuze describes as stuttering. They make language or a form stutter. They are ‘minor’ or marginal works in terms of a dominant code, language or vector of power. Deleuze’s examples are Kafka, or even Godard (who can literally and figuratively make film ‘stutter’). Here it is a minor work, apparently an aside, not monumental in scale or grand in ambition. But it works, it has humour and even perhaps the smallness of its aim is why it complements html so well, its stuttering is that it takes HTML and demonstrates that with a paucity of code and an explicit requirement for the user to do something the work works. The call to action is significant, without scrolling you can’t and don’t ‘get it’. It is only about getting it. That’s it.