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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

••◊ Grip Clamp Basics

Dom and I shot this short tutorial last weekend.  He wrote it; I directed.  Now I finally know the difference between a Mafer Clamp and Cardellini Clamp.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

••◊ Optimizing Videos for YouTube

I'm sure this will be a multi-part post as I learn more about YouTube. You see, Video Gear is now shutting down as a sales and rental house. San Diego has always been a small community for video; mostly wedding and corporate video. There's a strong contingency of indie filmmakers, but they typically don't rent equipment. When they do buy, they buy the cheap stuff from Amazon or B&H since it's not worth owning expensive/professional equipment for YouTube shorts. Even more so than Los Angeles or New York City, you have to develop your own thing here in San Diego. There's no infrastructure to rest upon.

What this means is that we are re-launching the Video Gear tutorials as their own thing. Dom and I plan to continue with the videos with ad and sponsor revenue from YouTube.  I've taken down the Vimeo site simply because they don't have a revenue stream.  I love Vimeo.  Honestly, their site management is so much simpler than YouTube and they let you update a video instead of just dog-piling a newer version or losing your view count.  We had more views from the artist community on Vimeo than the tutorial community on YouTube.

So,...getting back to the point of this post...I want to share a few things I'm learning about YouTube now that I've taken over management of the Video Gear channel.

1.  SEO matters (great big DUH!).  However, SEO isn't just about adding a whole bunch of keywords.  Use Google trends to identify keywords and key phrases that matter.
2.  SEO uses the *first* part of your video's title.  Make that count as much as possible.
3.  Numbering your videos lets people know that this is a series and more are available.
4.  Create playlists so people can binge watch your videos.
5.  Use "End Screens" to advertise more videos and let viewers subscribe.  This also means that you need to edit in 20 seconds of time at the end of your video for the End Screen elements to pop up.
6.  Use cards to advertise other videos related to the current content in the middle of your video.
7.  List social media contacts in the video description.
8.  Subscribe to related channels, and hopefully many with more subscribers than you.
9.  Ask viewers to share their work from your tutorial in the comments section.
10.  Make a "Creator's Video" that tells viewers who you are, what you do, and what you want to provide to them.
11.  Use thumbnails with large, bold text that can be identified at postage stamp size.

I'm still learning as I go, but these are the basics I've learned in the last few weeks.  The YouTube Creator Academy has been a wonderful resource to come up to speed and I highly recommend checking out some of their tutorials.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

••◊ DIY LED Light With High CRI

I've spent the last year on a personal electronics project, purely out of an engineer's propensity for exploring.  The project finally came to life during the holiday shutdown a few weeks ago. 

Since 2006 I've been working on films and watched the dawn of (terrible) LED lights.  They started out anemic with extremely poor color rendition.  In a nutshell, it was clearly a developing technology.  Only people who didn't care about color, or didn't know better, used the early products and their cheap-o knock offs from China.  That is...until they saw their footage and realized that there was *no color* in the talent's skin or everything looked extremely green (been there myself).  LEDs quickly developed a bad reputation, much like digital audio developed a bad reputation for it's early incarnations. 

Then along came the automotive industry and government energy policies to transition consumer LED lighting products over to LED.  All of a sudden people expected LEDs to actually look good and the video industry is still riding that wave.  Also, the video industry started to develop remote phosphor panels so the product developers could finally tightly control the color rendering capabilities of their fixture.

My initiative was started when I saw the new violet based "white" LEDs from Yuji.  I specifically liked the spectrum of the VTC5730.  The problem with most (not all) blue based "white" LEDs is that they have a large spike in blue, nothing in violet, a dip in cyan, a large "hump" in yellow-green, and not enough in flesh-friendly red.  It's a compromise to get something that looks decent to our eyes, but cameras don't adjust their perception based on the general color in the room and memory.  They just record what's there.  So blue-based "white" LEDs often had a reputation for making people look green (too much green, not enough red).  That's changes with violet based LEDs.  Now there's very little of any gap in the spectrum and the LEDs output very closely matches real daylight (I used the 5600K LEDs).

Here are a couple pictures of the front and back of the fixture, which you can compare to the CAD pictures above.

Learning CREO Elements took a few weeks and a few re-do's of the CAD when I messed up (big time!).  However, that was the point of doing a project like this.  I have no plans to enter the LED lighting market.  I just wanted to exercise my brain outside the familiarities of my paying job.  Learning the new CAM computers in our machine shop was likewise a growth exercise. Now I feel like I'm pretty confident in creating new parts if I need them. What I also learned is that machining is a pain and I'd rather be designing...so for my next project I plan to buy a case.  It's worth the money in terms of my sanity.

The PCB's were all done through ExpressPCB.  That's why all the boards are 3.8" x 2.5".  They offer a special deal if you use that specific PCB size.  It's also why there are six LED "bulbs" in the design.  The one in the lower left corner has a temperature sensor installed for safety since the LEDs are only rated to 70C.  The firmware debug cable is sticking up outside the top ventilation grill.  I've just been too lazy to remove in the last week.

I originally intended the LED light to be a platform where I could drive multiple types of LED "bulbs".  The drivers can easily handle 120mA to 700mA LEDs (standard driving currents).  If I was to do this project again I would just take all six LED driver boards and combine them into one with 120mA drive only.  That would have made cable routing much easier - it's currently a mess inside and something I need to think about for future projects.

A part of the project that was necessary from a development perspective was the LCD display.  Obviously it's not need for operation, but I wanted to be able to see specific drive levels and the thermal response of the system.  I didn't have a way to simulate the thermal conduction of the light before constructing it, so it was a matter of applying educated engineering practice/guesses and crossing my fingers.  It turns out that the bulb gets up to about 61C when fully cooking.  The LED max out at 70C, so it worked out.

I also included a forced cooling ventilation system at the bottom.  This really helps with keeping the bulb temperature down.  What I learned here is that the vendors don't exactly tell you what to expect in terms of fan noise.  The first fans I bought were TERRIBLE in terms of noise.  When I bought the second batch it made a HUGE difference in terms of audible noise. However, they still aren't silent, despite vendor claims.  What I did as a compromise is only make the fans turn on when the bulb goes past 40C and the speed ramps up all the way toward 60C.  I figured if the light was that close I wouldn't need the power output and it's best to have the fans turned off for audio recording.  One of the main issues here is that I didn't have the option of a custom heat sink extrusion, like Cineo or Arri LED lights.  I had to buy an off the shelf heat sink and machine it to work, which meant compromise.  If I had the option of a custom extrusion I probably would have ditched the fans altogether.

Here's the final working light - turned way, way down.  At 5 feet, ISO 100, 24fps, I measure f4 and a quarter at full power.  That's about 240 foot-candles, which is pretty respectable output - on the order of some expensive pro-level LED fixtures.  I can clearly see a difference in a fully sun lit room at mid day. Some improvements could be made by using actual white solder mask and other optical optimization around the bulb.  I'm sure I'm loosing some light just due to the 1/4" thick plexi-glass in front of the bulbs.  I had to cover the bulb boards in white silk screen because ExpressPCB didn't give me an option of solder mask color - yet another compromise.

Overall, it was a great learning and growth opportunity. I learned to generate my own mechanical CAD in both 2D and 3D.  I learned CAM machining.  I also learned about thermal management and developed a new LED driver topology that I haven't seen elsewhere (mainly for cost reasons).  If I was to expand this project I might add a mount for barn doors and a soft box.  I might also create bi-color LED bulbs boards, which is mainly a matter of soldering together new bulb boards with a mixture of LEDs, a bit of firmware magic, and adding another knob to the UI.

For now, I'm just going to move on to the next project.  As I mentioned, there's no commercialization initiative here.  I just wanted to create something as an engineering art project.  I've learned what I'm going to learn.  Now it's time to move into the wild world of audio.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

••◊ Sunriver Oregon travel photography blog: Day 7

The final full day of our trip was mainly spent driving from Sunriver back to full fledged civilization on the western side of the Cascades.  It's strange how you mentally adapt to a location and normalize it.  For a week we were used to the arid high desert landscapes of central Oregon, mainly surrounded by pine trees, prairie grass, and long haul semi's.  Rather than take the main highway from Sisters back to Eugene, we took the back roads, allowing more time to adapt to concepts, like traffic. Our first stop of the day was along the lava fields just outside of Sisters. 

The viewpoints remind us once again that Oregon, cold as it is in winter, is a very volcanically active place.  For me, normally I would associate volcanos with Hawaii, despite living through the Mount St. Helens blast during the 1980's.  We stopped at a hiking trail when we saw a sign for the Pacific Crest Trail.  It was our final opportunity of this adventure for a heroic picture along the trail.  There, we built a couple rock statues at the trail sign.  I doubt they're last more than a year, but perhaps a hiker or two will stop to notice them.

Further up the road (literally) was the Dee Wright Observatory at the summit of McKenzie Pass.  This observatory was built entirely out of the local lava field rocks by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the great depression.  In the central turret you can stand at the center of the room and look out little holes that have labelled openings for the various mountains surrounding the area.  Unfortunately with 400 speed film I wasn't able to get a picture of the room - there just wasn't enough sun that day.

Also, at the top of the turret there is a compass from 1937 that points to the various mountains.  Now that I look at the compass I can see that the road points west, but from the orientation of the lava fields it feels like south.  Maybe it would have helped if we had more sunshine that day.  Some crazy cyclists were defiantly biking up the road to the observatory in shorts in 40-something degree weather, which made us ask if they were from California (or somewhere they don't believe in layers).

After a brief stop in Eugene we headed to our final destination of the trip in Salem.  Doug and Julie Zander hosted us for the night and Julie prepared a nice breakfast in the morning.  Continuing my goal of trying to capture food pictures, we laid out the spread for a quick photography session in the morning.  Julie is an old friend my mom's and I used to go cycling in Washington with Doug.  We even did the Seattle to Portland bike ride together once.  They recently moved back from Florida to Oregon after offloading their kids and missing the Pacific Northwest for many, many years.  My mom insisted on getting pictures of them at the local park before we left.

People from other parts of the country, especially southern California, only talk about the rain when discussing the Pacific Northwest.  They just don't understand.  The Pacific Northwest is it's own very deliberate lifestyle and environment and that's the way people who live there want to keep it.  It rains...which is OK.  That's what creates the calm, natural beauty of the place.  Just like in Sunriver, we learn to adapt to our environment.

Monday, December 26, 2016

••◊ Sunriver Oregon travel photography blog: Day 6

On Day 6 we decided to visit Mt. Bachelor and drive around to the neighboring lakes.  No, the picture above isn't of Mt. Bachelor.  Unfortunately when we arrived at the Mt. Bachelor parking lot we found that the mountain was shrouded in fog all the way down to the chair lift and the mountain was shut down, which meant no chair lifts to the top.  So this translated into no photos of Mt. Bachelor, which turned out to be OK since there are about a dozen or more significant lakes surrounding Mt. Bachelor all with their own characteristics.  Weather was highly variable this day between sunny and drizzle, as you would expect in the fall. 

The picture above was captured from a hiking trail just north of Mt. Bachelor along the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway at Fall Creek Trail.  The mountain in the background is called Broken Top.  Its sits just southeast of the Three Sisters range.  Glaciers have eroded this 100,000 year old volcano, thus the name Broken Top.  On a more adventurous day I would have liked to hike to the top, but we weren't adequately equipped or motivated for this long of a hike.  Today was more about hitting the tourist highlights.

What I did see from the parking lot was a woman in shorts and a hiking shirt heading up the trail, while we were bundled up in the 40-something-degree weather.  It make me feel like I've either lost touch with my Pacific Northwest roots, or I'm not crazy enough for these hardcore nature conquistadors.  

Our first stop was at Todd Lake, however the Lake was completely in cloud shadow by the time we arrived.  So our first photographic lake stop was at Devils Lake.  What you noticed here is crystal clear turquoise water.  It was more like something you would see from a tropical tourist destination than a Pacific Northwest lake.  Kayakers were out enjoying the day. 

We stopped at Elk Lake, however by this time bad weather was rolling in and we decided to just stop and eat lunch in the car, hoping that the weather would roll through.  Lava Lake didn't offer anything photographically, so we turned back from that one as well.  Heading further south on Highway 46 we came upon Cultus Lake.  It was surrounded by golden yellow trees, which I believe was more indicative of the time of year.  The wind had blown the rain clouds through, leaving a nice sunny fall afternoon feels to the place.  Just look at the photo below and tell me you don't hear the sound of leaves rustling in the wind with the lake gently lapping the shore.

The highly variable weather was back by the time we make it to Crane Prairie Reservoir with quickly approaching drizzle.  The general store was shut down, probably for the season, leaving the place with a more abandoned feel.  I think the photo of the boat launch below captures how the area felt.  When the resort is operating the reservoir is filled with fishing and boating tourists.  What I noticed about this area is a difference in the trees.  Certain trees have a vibrant red bark (not shown). 

We were tired of all the car travel and started heading back on South Century Drive when we spotted a sign for Pringle Falls.  Thinking there might be something to see we headed in that direction.  As the forest ranger explained to us, Pringle Falls is more of a community than a thing.  The picture below was about as much waterfall as Pringle Falls offers.  The next day we were heading back to civilization and this was a nice, calm fall afternoon way to end our visit of central Oregon.  Next week...back to civilization (and the burden of traffic).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

••◊ Sunriver Oregon travel photography blog: Day 5

Day 5 of our Sunriver, Oregon trip felt much more photographically satisfying than the previous day at Crater Lake.  For one, I was very aware of my camera's battery charge and wasn't going to let it die again!  Yes, I know I need to buy a spare battery, but I still stubbornly haven't.

Our first adventure this day was to the nearby Lava River Cave.  It's part of the Newberry Volcanic Monument and is run as a tourist attraction by the U.S. Forest Service.  The cave formed from a lava river nearly 80,000 years ago, with the roof formed by the exposed lava that cooled and left a tube.  The floor is made up of sand that came from the eruption of Mount Mazama (see previous entry) and travelled into the cave from drips of water from the ceiling.  At certain parts of the cave you can even see stalagmites and stalactites.

The tourist part of the cave is about a mile long.  You walk down the steps shown in the first photo below and keep walking on a metal scaffold the first few hundred feet - then you actually end up on the cave floor once you've passed the initial rock piles.  The reason they don't let you go past a mile is because bats live in the cave and they don't want humans to harm the bats with disease or noise.  At certain points you also have to crouch down to get through the cave, so it's not for the casual walker.

One important point I need to advise is that it's*cold* in the cave.  Most times of year it's around 42 degrees.  Be prepared with layers.  I got to the end of the cave and suddenly realized...oh crap...I gotta pee!  It's so cold that your body has the same reaction it does to all cold...increase blood plasma density.  So my trip out of the cave was A LOT faster than the trip in!  There were a few times when I had the thought, it's a dark cave - turn off your flashlight - who's going to know?  But I was a good hiker and made is back to the restrooms (barely) - which is a truly challenging task with so...many...stairs.  So heed this advice, "go" before you go in. 

Our next stop was the much, much warmer Fort Rock in central Oregon.  The "fort" was formed 10,000-12,000 years ago as a volcanic eruption in the middle of a 900 square mile ice age lake.  The resulting magma shot up and formed a cone around the eruption.  Since that time, one side of the cone has eroded away from primarily southwest winds, leaving a semi-circle.  Fort Rock is one of 40 such formations in the area, but it's the most well known.  Today you can hike (very short) into the fort or up onto a cliff to get a good view.

Archaeologists have found sandals buried by dust from the eruption of Mount Mazama at nearby caves overlooking the (former) lake dating back nearly 10,000 years ago.  This was some of the first evidence of humans in Central Oregon, and at the time the first evidence of humans in north America.  In the 1960's Reuben and Norma Long donated the area around Fort Rock to Oregon and it eventually became a Oregon State Park.  Also note that Cycle Oregon contributed funding to make that happen. 

Across the street from Fort Rock there's a museum of preserved buildings, which offer great photographic opportunities.  Unfortunately the museum was closed the day we visited, but I was still able to grab pictures from outside their fence.  I mostly stuck to film photography for this part of the trip since it seemed like a good way to add an "older" aesthetic to an old place, and for the most part I'm pretty happy with the results.

On our way home we made a detour to Paulina Peak, which is a nearly 8,000ft peak along the Crater on the Newberry Volcano.  The peak was named after Chief Paulina, a  Paiute native American leader best known for guerilla attacks on encroaching settlers.  The view of Newberry Crater is north of the peak.  From there you can see Paulina Lake on the left and East Lake (obviously) on the right.  I like the way TripAdvisor.com labelled the last few miles of travel up the gravel road to the peak...“Paulina Peak Overlook view is worth the white-knuckle drive.”  My poor height fearing mom was driving (slowly) as typical Pacific Northwestern Subaru Outback adventurer-ers were zooming past us up the hill.  Of course I was thinking, "this would made an awesome place for a rally car race!"  Somehow I didn't inherit my mom's sensibilities for risk.

When we made is home we settled down to a nice warm bowl of hearty bean soup.  My mom needed to rest after that drive.