Saturday, April 17, 2010

Did "Kick-Ass" kick ass?

After a long, excruciatingly boring day at work yesterday, I came home, changed my clothes, and Kristen and I went to go see Kick-Ass.

As a precursor, a bit of history. I've been a comics geek, off and on for a very long time. Part of the reason I got back into comics was, after the crash of both the market AND the creativity in the mid-to-late 90's, Marvel released the Ultimate line.

Now the Ultimate line of comics wasn't in line with the main series versions of the popular Marvel figureheads. The whole purpose was to create a new set of continuity; to wipe the slate clean. Instead of a reboot, it was a complete re-telling of the classic Marvel stories. A lot of people hated this idea: it messed with everything everyone had come to love about these iconic characters and storylines. But what was evident, even from the get-go, was that the Ultimate line retained the heart and soul, of the classics. The same themes were there, the same emotion. It was a contemporary re-imagining of some truly legendary tales.

I said that the Ultimate line got me back into comics, and that's a half-truth. Really, my focus was Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man and Mark Millar's Ultimates books. Spider-Man, to me, took everything I loved about the webslinger and trimmed off all the fat. All of the usual suspects were there, but they were new, they were fresh...and it was fun. The whole book breathed new life into the tired Spidey mythos while retaining the gravity and spirit of the character. But again, it was fun, and despite some truly emotional storylines, it wasn't much more than a funny-book.

The Ultimates, however, was the real deal. Taking the basic Avengers team-up idea, Millar made a truly cinematic comic book, feeling more like a serialized summer blockbuster than any comic I had read before. The scope was epic, the characters were fully realized, and, best of all, it felt like you were rekindling a friendship. Bryan Hitch, the artist on the book, modeled most of the characters after actors, further cementing the idea that you were reading/watching a real Avengers movie.

The irony is, this wasn't far off.

Remember in the Iron-Man movie where Sam Jackson shows up? Nick Fury? Yeah...right out of Ultimates. Nick Fury was always a grizzled old white man...not a black guy with an eye-patch. But the Ultimates showed Fury as an elusive, mysterious head of shield with a hip new styling. By way of Sam Jackson.

Not all of the actor re-imaginings made it to screen though. Iron-Man was originally Johnny Depp, not Robert Downey Jr. Bruce Banner was originally Steve Buscemi, not Ed Norton. Captain America as Brad Pitt (Chris Evans in the upcoming movie) and Thor...Thor was supposed to look like Jesus, and Chris Hemsworth doesn't look like Jesus to me.

But it looks like the basic ideas are there. The Marvel movies are Ultimate movies more than anything else. And that isn't a bad thing. You see, the thing is that the original Marvel stories (and I mean the ORIGIN stories) were kind of hokey. Kind of two dimensional. And the costumes...Christ, they would NOT work on screen at all. So the Ultimates inspiration gave the movies a vague sense of realism, and to date it seems to be working out pretty well.

So...long story short, I kind of loved the Ultimate line, but "The Ultimates" in particular was the crown jewel. The main reason for that was Mark Millar. You probably won't recognize the name unless you're a comics dork, but you know his work.

Millar was the man behind Ultimate X-Men, which essentially fueled the style of the movies. Along those lines, he also worked with Bendis on Ultimate Spider-Man and wrote the first six issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four, which, for better or worse, inspired some choices of both of those film franchises. Millar also wrote the comic version of Wanted, which is pretty great. The movie blows, but that was because they threw out the whole premise. Really, check it out, it's awesome.

Recently, he did Marvel 1985, about all the Marvel characters invading Earth in, you guessed it, 1985. He also wrote Old Man Logan, which see's a passive Wolverine in a future where the villains finally won and most of the heroes are dead and gone. And then of course, there's Kick-Ass....

Millar, with John Romita Jr. (who's art I HATE with a fiery passion), got the go ahead from Marvel to create what they described as the most violent comic ever made. By now, you know the idea: what would happen if someone actually decided to dress up like a super-hero and fight criminals. With little to no training, you can guess how something like that might unfold. And you wouldn't be too far off.

The comic, without spoiling anything, centers around a Peter Parker-like character who crushes on the popular girl, is ignored by almost everyone, and comes from a semi-broken home. The difference here is that Dave, the main character, is actually a REAL teenager. He wacks off all the time, he fantasizes about his English teacher, and his friends are as dorky as he is. He's a typical teenage comic nerd, and it's eerily similar to how I remember some of my highschool experiences being. The difference is, Dave does something about it...he orders a costume and decides to fight crime.

He decides to name himself Kick-Ass, a not-exactly inspired name, and arms himself with glorified beat-sticks. After a training montage (not really training per-se, but instead a whole lot of "this is awesome!" kind of self-ingratiating), Dave decides to confront some thugs while prowling the street. It doesn't go well.

In summary, Dave gets fucked up. He's stabbed, beaten, and hit by a car. Before he passes out, he takes off his costume and hides it under a nearby car. So the ambulance comes and finds a bloody, beaten, naked teenage boy in the middle of the street.

After months of surgery, where-by many metal-plates and equally reinforced things are placed in his body (foreshadowing, much?), Dave returns to school. His crush, the popular and gorgeous Katie, starts noticing him, going so far as trying to hang out with him. Problem is, the reason she's doing it is because she thinks he's gay. Turns out, as Dave was being patched up by teams of doctors, a rumor ran around the school that Dave was found naked downtown in a particularly seedy district...a district known for it's gay prostitution. It's not a stretch to think that Dave was "working it" and a sale went down badly, and since he hasn't said differently, that's the prevalent theory. Because Katie is only talking to him because she sees him as a potential gay-best friend, Dave plays along...the first of many slightly-implausible aspects of the book.

The second, and perhaps most glaring, implausibility is that fact that Dave goes BACK to fighting crime. This time he trains though, semi-legitimately, and manages to actually take a couple of thugs down. All of this is caught on camera, and his video goes viral. He sets up a Myspace page for "hero requests" and uses that as a tip-box for potential wrongs to right. Kind of like Spider-man/Batman for the digital age.

Dave's actions come to the attention of a local mob boss, as well as other would-be heroes. Two such heroes, who've actually been training much longer than Dave, are Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, a father/daughter team out to take down the mob. The difference between Dave and BD/HG are that they KILL people. Dave's just trying to bust some skulls and scare potential criminals, but Big Daddy and Hit-Girl are all about dealing justice in the bloodiest way possible.

Additionally, the success of Kick-Ass inspires another comic book geek to don a suit. Red Mist, a mysterious and more popular version of Kick-Ass, appears seemingly out of nowhere and has a lot more resources. But like Kick-Ass, it seems his motivations are to live out his comic fantasies as opposed to the gory symphony that BD/HG are conducting. I won't say more about Red Mist, because his character is crucial and his true motives offer a turning point for the book.

But that's the basis of the comic. Let's talk about the movie.

Kick-Ass the movie actually follows pretty close to the book. The characters are close to their comic counter-parts and the violence is just as stylized. The problems lie where they depart from the comic, for seemingly unknown reasons.


First off, McLovin didn't really work for me as Red Mist. Until the end of the comic, it wasn't clear that his character, a spoiled little rich son-of-a-mobster, was playing Kick-Ass the whole time. The movie, though, states from the get-go that this guy is looking for Daddy's approval and wants to be a part of the family mob business. This takes away from the character a bit, cause at no point to you question his motivations, and a no point do you think that the guy is actually cool. He's a bitch, with Daddy issues, and while this theme is in both stories, the way that the movie reveals that early takes the wind out of the sails a bit.

Another issue is Dave's relationship with Katie. Now I didn't mention this before, but in the comic, Dave doesn't reveal his alter-ego to Katie. He only tells her that he isn't gay and has loved her all along at the end of the book, and her reaction is realistically to freak out and have one of her jock-friends kick his ass. Oh yeah, and she later sends him a picture of her blowing the same jock friend while flipping the camera off, a particularly biting way to tell someone "it's over." I get that they couldn't retain all of this in the movie, but it's approach just seems...ludicrous. A little past the half-way mark of the film, Dave reveals his identity as Kick-Ass to Katie, while also professing his love. Unlike the comic, she see's this as a good thing, and proceeds to deflower a stunned Dave. Not only that, but they start DATING afterwards. Not just dating though, but turning into horny little rabbits and fucking in public parking lots against dumpsters. I have two problems with this. First, I was a teenage boy. I was horny as hell. I wacked off a lot. I had crushes, some of whom I wacked off too. It's natural. But when you GET the girl, especially when you're a geek, you don't just turn into a voyeur who bangs her in a parking lot. You might have sex like crazy, but not with reckless abandon. I get it, he wears a costume and fights crime, that empowers him, but fucking in a dirty parking lot is not only stupid, but ludicrous. My other problem is the fact that Katie even accepts this in the first place. While I think the book had the dark and unhappy ending just for the sake of making it depressing, the movie didn't have to have Dave reveal everything to her half-way through (for NO REASON no less) only for her to just say "fuck it" and fall madly in love with him. Again, ludicrous.

I also took offense to both the story of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl and Nic Cage's performance there-in. In the comic, there are TWO origin stories for these characters, with the former being similar to the movie, and the latter being the real reveal at the end. The movie took the first one and ran, completely omitting the true origin. In the book, as well as the movie, it says that Big Daddy was a cop, a good cop, and that he had been framed by a corrupt system for getting too close to the truth and was punished as such. His wife was killed (in the movie, it says she committed suicide) and he decided to take his young daughter far away and train her so that, one day, father and daughter could enact revenge on the mob that robbed them of a normal family life. This is a comic book storyline, and something that works in the first half of the book. When the book turns darker, it reveals the true origin story in full, which in itself is much darker. In the true origin, Big Daddy was obsessed with comic books. He was a fanboy, and longed to do what Kick-Ass would later accomplish: donning a costume and fighting for the side of good. He had a wife and a daughter, and one day got fed up with the boring monotony. He takes his daughter and disappears, leaving his wife to wonder what the hell happened to them. To fund his mad vision, he sells off portions of his comic collection in order to arm himself and his daughter for the battles ahead. He tells Hit-Girl the fanciful origin to justify his actions and give her a reason to fight by his side for "revenge." So really, Big Daddy is a whack-job asshole who ruined his daughters life to live out his comic fantasy. This is one of the best parts of the book...the way that this "hero" is revealed to not only be just the same as Dave, but that he took it too far and turned into a maniacal villain himself. The move COMPLETELY IGNORES this. And that's a problem. You see, Nic Cage's Big Daddy is pretty good. But he plays him as an Adam West Batman, something that only a comic geek would do. Thing is, by not revealing the true origin of this family fighting team, you take away the reason for that slice of ham. Sure, Big Daddy has Hit-Girl read comics in the movie to train her, but that's the ONLY mention of his comic obsession (besides the fact that he draws cartoon portraits of all of the mob members as a hit-list). The other problem with this is, "Where did a cop get all this money?" The movie tries to explain this by saying that, as they kill mob members during their nefarious dealings, they take the dirty money to fund their crime fighting operation. My issue with this is, where in the hell was the start up capital? Yeah, I guess he was pre-trained in some combat in the police force, but that doesn't give you access to the fire-power and gadgetry involved with taking down a group of mobsters. It's an odd and strange storytelling omission that they had no real reason to leave out. By making the fake origin the real origin, it makes the movie less tragic, less dark, and less believable.

Then again, all of my problems lie in the changes. In the book when Dave is being tortured, he has a car battery attached to his nuts. Painful, right? In the movie, he just gets beaten up.

In the book, Dave realizes towards the end that he HAS become somewhat of a super-hero, due in part to his inability to feel pain because of the surgery/metal playing. While the movie shows all of the plating in his body, they make no mention of his aversion to pain. This was a powerful scene in the book, considering someone who longed to be a super-hero (as in, have a power and not just be a hero, or a guy in a suit) actually BECAME one, to a degree. By leaving this out, you essentially tease the audience at the beginning with the foreshadowing and then never reveal the realization. Cinematic blue-balls, really.

In the book, Big Daddy has his brains blown out. In the movie, he is burned alive, allowing him to see his daughter one last time and provides an awkward death scene/goodbye moment.

In the book, Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl lead a last-ditch assault on the penthouse suite of the mob-boss. Kick-Ass beats the shit out of the traitorous Red-Mist in a truly one-sided manner. Hit-Girl confronts the mob-boss, and he gets the upper hand, beating her face with a meat-tenderizer. Kick-Ass bursts in, shoots the mob boss in the balls, and Hit-Girl gets the kill-shot by slamming a butchers knife into his skull. In the movie, something far-more ridiculous happens. Hit-Girl takes the elevator up alone, taking out a bunch of mobsters single-handedly. She runs out of ammo and gets cornered with no way to fight back. Kick-Ass shows up, WITH A FUCKING JET-PACK, and mows down the rest of the mobsters with the jet-packs attached gattling guns. He and Hit-Girl proceed to the final room, which houses Red-Mist and his mob daddy. Red-Mist tackles Kick-Ass into a judo-training room, and they duke it out, eventually knocking each other out and ending in a draw. Hit-Girl fights the boss hand to hand, and gets beaten down. Just as she is about to be shot in the face, Kick-Ass wakes up, grabs a nearby bazooka, and shoots it at the mob-boss, shooting him out the window to explode over the New York skyline. He then FLIES Hit-Girl home with his random fucking jetpack.

I already mentioned how Dave's reveal to Katie ends in the book, but Hit-Girl ends up with her mother (remember, in the book her mother was fully alive). She ends up going to school and living a relatively normal life, though it does show her kicking some bullies' asses. In the movie, she ends up living with Big Daddies old cop partner, and going to the same school as Dave, also showing her kicking some bullies asses. The movie ends with Dave getting the girl and living happily ever after. The book ends with Dave in the fetal position crying in his room. The very last scene of both the movie and the book is the same, showing Red-Mist monologuing about how he's going to be the worlds first super-villain. Roll credits.

Now, I realize, movies need to change certain things from their respective source materials. It's reality. For instance, the whole thing with Katie sending Dave a picture of her blowing some dude. Wouldn't quite work. Going into the movie, I knew they would end up together, but I thought it would mirror the book in that, first off at least, she hates him for lying to her, but then she realizes that he's a hero and he really does love her, and she comes around. I pointed out the problems with the movies real approach, so no need to re-iterate. The movie also, wisely, trimmed some fat from the book regarding Dave's dad coping with his wife's death, some of the Myspace shit, and a couple other nagging plot details.

What I don't understand is why they changed so much. This movie was hard-R rating from the get-go, so why not show Dave's balls hooked up to a car battery? Why not show the mob boss being shot in the balls? Why not show the darker origin of Big Daddy and Hit-Girl? It just seems like change for the sake of change, and that's not always a good thing.

Now you might think I hated the movie from all this ranting. I really, really didn't. In fact, I liked it quite a lot. The casting and acting was pretty perfect, aside from Nic Cage and McLovin, though admittedly I kind of hated both of them going into it. The girl that played Hit-Girl (too lazy to look up most of these people's names) was perfect, equals parts cute and horrifyingly destructive. The actor that played Kick-Ass was believable, and his friends offered some comic relief. Mark Strong was awesome as the mob-boss, and the actress that played Katie did well with what she had. If I hadn't read the comic, I would've LOVED the movie, as it was stylish, funny, vulgar, bloody and an all around manic romp.

But the fact is, I did read the comic. And since Millar is a cinematic comic writer, I see no reason to change most of the story as it was written. That's the real fault of the movie, and I don't really know who was to blame. I don't think every movie should stick to the source verbatim (Watchmen SUCKED and it was almost a direct adaptation), but with something like this it's just dumb to try to fix what works. I really do think that this movie is a step in the right direction when it comes to comic movies, but the unneeded changes really brought down the experience for me.

In summary, if you haven't read the comic, see Kick-Ass ASAP. It's really a fun flick. If you had read the comic, be aware of the changes and gauge your expectations accordingly. Had I not fallen into the hype-machine and tempered my expectations, I would have fallen absolutely in love. As it is, I just have a half-stiffy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Update: The Rendering Situation


I believe I mentioned in my last post how I hate Canon's lie about 24p video. I mean, it IS 24 fps video, but in a 60i stream wrapper. This is not only a pain in the ass, but requires you to remove pulldown to get true 24p.

Since yesterday, I played around with Premiere Pro CS4 and After Effects CS4, and have come to two conclusions: 1) Yes, it's just as painful to new users as I remember, and 2) I'm not getting the results I needed. This, after rendering twice in After Effects (Premiere won't natively handle the pulldown for some reason, so I have to export the project to After Effects, run it's 3:2 pulldown removal guesswork, and then either export back to Premiere or render from After Effects. Not seeing the point in exporting a second time, I processed the render through AE after matching the product settings to output an uncompressed .avi. Problem is, and for some unknown reason, this was just a video file, and processed an accompanying audio file as a separate .wav. What the hell is the point of that?

Kind of fed up, I went online to see if there were any tutorials on how to both remove the pulldown and export a complete and lossless file back out. Not really having any luck, I did stumble upon a suggestion on a random site (sorry, didn't save the link) that pointed to the TMPGEnc Xpress 4.0 program as a pulldown removal solution comparable to the $129 Cineform Neoscene. While I was unable to procure a copy of Neoscene, I was able to get TMPGEnc (retail $99).

Program in hand, I did a quick search for 24p pulldown removal settings on Google, and stumbled across this site:

Even though this pertains to the Canon HV20, the file systems and capture settings are close enough to the HF20, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Using the instructions listed in the first post (Exporting to uncompressed .avi instead of the lossy 1440x1080 MPEG-2 outlined) I was amazed that it only took about 20 minutes to re-encode. Opening the new file, I genuinely had a tremendous grin on my face.

Not only is the footage identical to the original file, but there was no ghosting to be scene. I verified through import into Premiere and Vegas that the file was, indeed, natively 24p. Now the thing is, when you transfer files from the HF20 to the computer, because the 24p is in a 60i wrapper, there is no ghosting. When rendering after editing, however, it doesn't matter if you use 60i as the output or 23.976 fps...ghosting is prominent. The only fixes, as I said before, are to remove pulldown outside of the program or to just shoot in 60i from the beginning.

TMPGEnc allows me to remove the pulldown efficiently (we're talking 25 minutes for a 10 minute video here...efficient enough for me), then export to either a lossless format or something of an intermediary for easier editing. In a word: perfect. The results are pretty amazing, and the best part is that the output files are comparable in size to my input (in this case round-about 2GB). This allows me to gauge both disk-space necessary as well as if my publication carrier of choice (in this case, Youtube) will allow the video. Just what I was looking for, essentially.

So it seems that this chapter in the never ending battle of noob-production has come to a close. Now I need a Blu-ray burner, a decent shotgun mic, an adapter for additional lenses (as my pal Bob pointed out), and...there was something else. Hmmm....I know! A plan for actually filming my ideas!

Yeah, you can tell I sweat the small stuff, can't you?

And so ends another exciting installment of "Justin Gets His Shit Together." Tune in next week, where we find our hero pursuing a big person job, paying off his small mountain of debt, and generally learning to become a productive, functioning member of society!

Bitch ya later, folks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rendering video is a son of a bitch!

Another day, another rant.

Yesterday, I finally posted the long awaited (or, since no one cares, randomly new) camera reviews and an overview of my Asus EeePC 1000HE netbook. Again, since no one cares, I'll leave it up to you to view the Youtube videos.

Anyway, the two camera reviews were uploaded directly to Youtube (the Powershot SD780 IS review was shot with the HF20 and vice-versa) and varied in terms of processing time. Since the HF20 review was shot in 720p/30fps .mov, it uploaded an processed fairly quickly. The Powershot review was uploaded in 1080p mode in "24p," my framerate of choice, in .mts format. This one took longer, one because the file was bigger and in a less accessible format, but also because everything about the file was larger/more complicated. Nevertheless, they both posted without a hitch.

The Asus review, however, was not so lucky. Due to my own idiocy, I over-ran the time on the review by about 6 seconds. This wouldn't normally be a big deal, but considering Youtube is a bitch about that 10 minute rule, it wouldn't do. "No problem," I thought, "I'll just throw it in Vegas and do a quick edit/render."

No problem indeed.

The editing wasn't an issue. My system (2.66GHZ Core 2 Quad 8200 with 6 GB DDR3 1600MHZ RAM running Windows 7 Ultimate) can handle the AVCHD files natively with no hiccup. My Vegas Pro 9.0 is the 64-bit version, so I eke out a bit more optimization from the cores. Like I said, the editing wasn't an issue. And the PROCESS of rendering wasn't an issue either, as the system was more than capable of performing the task.

Problem is, I had to render it (18 minutes for a 10 minute clip) SEVEN TIMES to get an acceptable file.

That's my problem with any editing, and I'm new to this so it might just be my noobosity checking in. But why in the hell can't I load in like files (or even trim ONE file) and have the output match the input? I had to test tons of different output render settings (tried MediaConcept .mp4...shit. Tried uncompressed .avi...shit. Even tried .wmv...shit) with no luck. Frustrating/time wasting to say the least.

Here's how I finally got a decent output file, and this was only after scouring/begging on the internet for hours:

1) Re-started the whole project as new.
2) Set project settings to 1920x1080 at 23.967 progressive scan
3) Loaded .mts file in
4) Edited it down
5) Chose render as, with the following settings:

Sony AVC, .mp4, 1920x1080, CABAC encoding, 20000000 bit-rate, best render settings, default audio.

Took 23 minutes to render. When it was finally done, I checked the file really quick just to see if the quality was bearable, then I loaded it into Youtube. Twelve hours later, it finally processed and I realized that, while the tolerable, the video quality left much to be desired. The main issue was the ghosting (watch the video and see the part where I wave my hand really quickly over the netbook towards the beginning of the video itself...blur and ghosting like a bitch). The quality itself isn't bad, but the ghosting ruined it for me, and I couldn't fathom what the issue was.

Enter: Eugenia.

Here are three links I found to be insanely helpful, and if you are encountering this problem with any of the Canon AVCHD camcorders, I suggest you check them out.

If you're not interested in reading those posts, I'll summarize.

Basically, the problem isn't with Vegas per-se, but with the footage itself. What Canon says is 24p isn't ACTUALLY 24p at all, but an odd restructuring of 60i. It looks like 24p in raw footage, but Vegas doesn't recognize it as such.

Now there are a couple of fixes for this. First off, I could just shoot footage in 60i from now on, but that isn't what I really want. I want that 24p, that filmic quality. So that option isn't really an option. The next fix is to remove the pulldown from the footage, which results in an honest to God, genuine 24p image. Problem is, this can get expensive.

For people without FCP or a Mac for that matter, the best, and one of the only options for pulldown removal and intermediary footage is Cineform's Neoscene program. The program is available from Cineform's website for $129. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but my normal *ahem* "sources" are fresh out of legitimate Neoscene programs. The trial is free, but lasts 14 days, which is a stop-gap solution more than anything.

There ARE freeware methods, but reading the tutorials makes it more trouble than it's worth. You would have to download somewhere around 10 different programs and codec packages, essentially render the video from the get-go, and RE-RENDER after editing, and even then the results aren't stellar.

Yet these two options are the only way to avoid ghosting when using Vegas.

Solution: Adobe Premiere CS4 and Adobe After Effects CS4.

While I wanted to avoid the Adobe suites (a little too daunting for me, at least from my limited use of Photoshop), it seems as though the CS4 suites not only handle AVCHD natively, but allow for 24p pulldown removal natively as well. This not only cuts down on time, but also the hassle of jumping through numerous hoops to get a working 24p render.

So, to summarize, it isn't really a Vegas issue, but an issue with the setup of the Canon AVCHD camcorders. To lie and tout true 24p is wrong (with a little workaround, it is true, but not out of box), and the fact of the matter is I shouldn't HAVE to remove pulldown. That said, a suite that is otherwise comprehensive, like Vegas, should include native pulldown removal, or at least a downloadable codec/plugin to add such functionality.

Haven't had a chance to do anything with the Adobe programs yet, but I'm off tomorrow so I'll be sure to tinker with it. Needless to say, it's been a huge hassle so far trying to get non-ghost images from my final renders, and I'm hoping the benefits of Premiere/After Effects native abilities outweigh my personal aversion to the software itself.

Who would have thought that my biggest problem wouldn't be the on-system editing of raw AVCHD and instead some bullshit pulldown issue?

So it goes, so it goes.

More to come.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Canon Vixia HF20 Review

Also as promised, the long awaited Canon Vixia HF20 review. If you wait a little while, Youtube might get around to processing the HD stream, though it isn't really necessary.

Canon SD780 IS Review

As promised, a quick video review of the Canon Powershot SD780 IS. If you wait a bit, you can get the HD option on the Youtube stream, but it isnt entirely necessary.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Not at all what I intended

So even though I was planning on doing a Steel Panther write-up, today felt as though it were constantly in my way, so I'm going to switch gears for a second.

Today was one of those days that I really, really hate. I woke up tired, which happens to the best of us, but I was also a bit sick-feeling, which is never good. After trying, and failing, to wake up, I finally got myself going and started getting ready for work. As a precursor, it has been stated by my boss not once, but numerous times, that on Mondays it isn't necessary to show up at 7 a.m. anymore since our weekly manager meetings now fall in the middle of the day. That said, I still try to get to work somewhere around that 7 mark, if only not to lose out on any hours. Today, for instance, I managed to get to work at clock in at 7:18...not ludicrously late by any standard, but again, I was told it didn't matter.

So I walked in this morning, clocked in, and headed to the front of the store, where it looked like most of the managers were moving/prepping for a new fixture. Almost immediately, I was told that I had "missed" the meeting...the same meeting that we've had mid-day for the past couple of months. My store manager proceeds to playfully berate me, listing the litany of problems with my tardiness. I know it was slightly kidding, but it irked me nonetheless, but that was just the start of it.

Lately I've been keeping an eye on and maintaining the graphic novels at the store. I've used some unconventional sorting methods, but things have been looking great and staying that way. And sales are up, so that's always good. So coming in today, after being off all weekend, I noticed that not only was the section wrecked, but it also looked a lot more bare than when I left the store Friday night. Curious, I asked the other managers if anyone had maintained or returned anything from the section over the weekend (this would be odd considering it's usually too busy Saturday and Sunday and I had just pulled all the returns last week) and no one remembered anyone processing anything out. After finishing up the fixture moves, I decided to take a look around.

The hold shelves had nothing comics related, so I moved on to the return shelves. Same situation. I checked the return logs to see if anyone processed out any returns over the weekend. Nothing. Completely vexed, I decided to re-maintain the section and try to pinpoint what was M.I.A.

All sorted, I went through and wrote down everything I knew had been there on Friday. There were plenty of titles I remembered seeing, but didn't see now. Using that list, I cross-referenced with the computer system to see what had sold, and to my utter amazement NONE of the 65 titles had sold. Some showed one copy on hand, some showed multiple copies, but NONE of them were on the shelf. Conclusion: we got robbed blind, yo.

Considering this is kind of a big deal, I let my boss know and he kind of just shrugged it off. That would've been an odd reaction, but the fact that he then proceeded to tell me that there were more productive ways to spend my morning sent me from confused to just generally pissed off. For about two months, I've been the only one keeping up with that section (a notorious cluster-fuck if there ever was one), and all of that work has given me a sense of responsibility over it. So when it gets messed up, or depleted, due to some jackass five-finger-discount shopping, I'm naturally ticked off. Add to that the fact that none of my superiors or contemporaries seemed to give a shit, and I was pretty livid.

Already irritated, I proceeded to do what I had initially intended with my day, which was finish the audio move. This proved far more frustrating than I had hoped, due in large part to the company's bad habit of planning something without thinking about measurements or logistics.

Regardless of my irritation, I got it done, just in time for lunch. My wife had a job interview today, and she showed up just as I was heading outside. Apparently the interview went great, but unfortunately I took out some of my frustration on her. Truth be told, there were some things she should have asked in her interview (hours? benefits? requirements?) and didn't, which irritated me even more. But ultimately it wasn't worth fighting over, and I really wish I hadn't lashed out at her over something so trivial, but alas...that's how it goes some times.

After lunch, I was going to try and look at some camera footage to see if I could pinpoint the dickweed who had stolen all the comics, but instead, what did I do? I sat in a meeting. Yes, a manager meeting. The same manager meeting I was told I missed that morning. The same meeting I got grief over. Blah.

Clocked out at 3:30, went home and was still in a bad mood. Fought with wifey a bit more, brooded a bit, and shot some of those video reviews I had promised in the last post. Tried to upload them to Youtube, but got an error, and then found out Youtube was down for maintenance. Fan-fucking-tastic. Then I found out that a video converter I downloaded was a trojan, so I spent the better part of an hour scanning and getting rid of that shit.

Now I'm typing this, and I'm calmed down, but this was just one of those exceptionally shitty days that comes around every-so-often. Hopefully tomorrow won't suck quite as much, but I'm not holding my breath.

I've gotta finalize the taxes and try to re-upload those videos, so that's it for now.

Keep an eye out for the videos and updates to come. Maybe even a Steel Panther write-up sometime between now and infinity. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

New camera, Fort Howard, Picasa and more!

It's been a while. I was supposed to update this regularly, like how I was also supposed to do a daily, or at the very least bi-weekly, vlog series. Ah well.

Anyway, I had sold my two Flip cameras a couple months ago in favor of a Canon HF20. I had shot a couple of videos on Youtube with it, and promised to do a video review, but never got around to it. I WILL do it at some point, I've just been lazy as of late. In short, the camera rocks, having excellent video quality and all the features needed to actually do some semi-professional looking videos. The only downside, especially considering I sold the two pocket Flips, is that even though I have a true performance camcorder, I have no real portable option. The HF20 is small, to be sure, but it's not like I can fit it in a pocket like I could with the Flips. I was looking into rebuying one at some point and was anticipating their next upgrade, which I knew would be coming up soon.

A couple of days ago, Best Buy leaked some images on Engadget with what's being called the "SlideHD" and frankly...I wasn't very impressed. It doubles the storage of the latest minoHD from 8 gigs (2 hours)to 16 gigs (4 hours), but that was never an issue considering the battery only lasted two hours anyway. Additionally, they added a flip up screen which looks like it has no real practical purpose. Adding to the negatives against it, it looks like the thing is going to cost $280...ridiculous for a pocket cam, especially one thats only 720p at 30fps.

Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed in the newest offering from Flip/Cisco, so I checked out what good old (read: shitty) Kodak has been up to. Looks like their newest offering, the Kodak Playsport ZX3, is just a waterproof version of the Zi8. This isnt a good thing. The Zi8 had some major problems, none of which have been really fixed at this point. Believe me, I know: I owned three of them before giving up on it. So the Playsport wasnt an option either.

When I got the Flip, I gave my wife my Sony Cybershot T500 (I think it was the was thin, had a touchscreen...too lazy to check now). It was a nice little camera, but the video was lacking and I never really found myself taking a ton of still photos. Since then, I haven't necessarily had the urge to take stills, but there have been a couple occasions where a good point-and-shoot would've come in handy. Without a pocket camcorder OR a point and shoot, my ability to shoot anything on the fly has been severely lacking.

Enter: Amazon. Since I had bought and reviewed the Canon HF20 on there, they had recommended me the Canon S90 point-and-shoot. I had seen a review of this particular camera on Gizmodo before, and it got some pretty glowing comments for it. Problem is, even though it was released last year, it was still almost $400. And, it only takes stills.

While I was looking at the listing though, I saw the Canon SD780 IS, a point and shoot that takes 12.1 megapixel stills AND shoots the typical 720p 30fps video that all the pocket cams manage. Color me intrigued. I read some reviews, both on Amazon and elsewhere, and everyone seemed to love it. An independent vendor had listed it new for $130, and I had about $75 in Amazon gift certificates, so I thought "why not?" and bit the bullet.

I'm glad I did.

While I plan on doing a full-blown video review later (I will this time...I promise), I thought I'd leave a few thoughts on here. First off, this thing is small. Not typical point-and-shoot's the same dimensions as a credit card, barring depth. Surprisingly, it doesn't feel too tiny in the hand though, and fits in my pocket with my cellphone without even trying. The build quality is exceptional, as everything is made of metal parts with a powdercoat black finish. Feels sturdy and not at all fragile. A main selling point for me was the fact that even though the camera is incredibly tiny, it still has the same awesome Digic 4 processor that Canon has been using in a lot of cameras as of late. Thus the images are stunning, not DSLR stunning mind you, but more than exceptional for a camera of this size. Included in the tiny package is a 3x optical, 5x digital zoom lens, which is more than enough for the type of shots I'll be taking with this thing. With manual ISO, scene, coloration, and facial recognition settings, they also manage to cram a ton of features that are normally relegated to much more expensive and much larger cameras.

Beyond the excellent still shots, the main reason I even looked at this thing was the video option. To tell you the truth, it's a mixed bag. On one hand, the actual video clarity, in both fully lit shots and low light, exceeds that of the Flip/Kodak cams. Could be something to do with the lens, or the image processor, but it really does blow them out of the water. That said, this thing won't replace a dedicated camcorder of any merit. There's lots of grain in low light, though not as bad as the aforementioned two. Colors are great, but some details are lost in bright light/darkness. The main issue I have with the video has nothing to do with the image, but the sound. The microphone does a really good job of picking up sounds in all directions...but it's almost TOO good of a job. You hear the internal camera noise in every video; sometimes it's low, sometimes it's loud, but it's always there. With no external mic input like the Zi8, you really cant remedy this, which is a shame. The Flip has the best microphone of the pocket cams, and the SD780 IS doesn't really challenge the crown here.

It's a real shame the video experience isn't exactly as good as I was expecting, but for something of this size, and for the price I paid, it's really just nitpicking on my part. If this was a video camera only, I'd be kind of pissed, but seeing as it takes some truly awesome stills, it more than makes up for any shortcomings. And it's tiny. Really. This thing is small as hell. It's awesome.

So I got the thing yesterday, and did some toying around with it, but today was when I got some real testing done. Sunday's are "Family Fun Day" where my wife, my daughter, and I usually do something fun as a family. Sometimes it's going to the movies, sometimes it's sitting around playing games, and sometimes we just go somewhere. Today, we decided to go to Fort Howard, considering it was so gorgeous outside.

Now, I've been to Fort Howard before and it''s a park. In Dundalk. It's not great, it's not bad, it just is. That said, I think we had a really great day. The weather was, as I said, beautiful, and the breeze coming off of the water was refreshing. We stopped at a deli, got some sandwiches and snacks to take with us, and had a picnic on one of the tables in the park. We walked through the old forts/dungeons, wandered out onto the pier, and swung on the swings in the playground. All the while I was taking stills, shooting video, and generally trying to get in as many kind of shots as I could. After about two hours, we left and came home to clean up and relax.

After lounging around for a bit, I uploaded the pictures from the SDHC card onto the computer. Before we looked at them, I downloaded the latest version of Picasa, which I hadn't gotten around to since I got the newer computer.

As one of my previous posts mentioned, I'm now a full-blown Googlyte, using just about any Google software I can get my hands on (Blogger, Youtube, Gmail, Wave, Reader, Voice, Android, iGoogle, Chrome), and I do it only because I can painlessly share information between all of them. I can upload Youtube videos directly to Blogger. My Gmail contacts sync to my phone. I get Voice notifications in Gmail. Reader has changed how I browse the web daily. iGoogle consolidates everything to my home page. I am in LOVE with Google, and I'm not ashamed. Hence, Picasa.

I've used Snapfish and Flickr in the past, as well as Photobucket, but I've never really fallen in love with any of them. Picasa is different. Not only does it automatically add new photos to my database, but I can do basic photo tweaking (red-eye reduction, cropping, etc.) within the program seamlessly. It auto-detects faces in photos (even faces from picture frames in the background...which is insane) and auto-suggests name tags based on facial recognition within my contacts. I can create subfolders, upload to my web albums, upload directly to Facebook and Blogger, and search my photos/videos by name-tag or geo-tag. In short, it does what any good Google program does: it consolidates and streamlines my pictures/videos with all of my social networking and productivity suites. It's perfect for the kind of person I've slowly become, and I think it's actually going to fuel my picture-taking and video producing by proxy.

So after all of that, we got ready again and headed over my in-laws house for dinner and a movie. Considering I had already seen the movie my daughter picked, I took my netbook (Asus 1000HE with 2GB RAM upgrade) with me for some more updating. Since I got my new desktop, I loaded Windows 7 on the netbook and it runs like a breeze, but since I did a clean install, I lost all of my files/programs/settings. I haven't gotten around to reinstalling all of my programs and setting up things like bookmarks again, so I took the opportunity to get some of that done. I re-did my Chrome bookmarks, reinstalled CDisplay, Debut, uTorrent, Openoffice, VLC Media Player, and most of my Popcap/low-spec games, and set-up a Thor theme of wallpaper backgrounds. In short, it has become a severely less-powerful extension of my desktop experience, which I can live with quite nicely. Still got my Netflix, still got my Youtube, still got my .cbr comics, so I'm really good to go.

Afterwards, we went home, tucked the daughter in, and we've been watching Ninja Warrior as I typed this. All in all, a really good weekend. One thing I didn't write up was Friday's Steel Panther show, but I think I'll do that tomorrow. Right now though, I'm a bit tired, so I'm probably going to hit the hay.

More updates later, I promise.