Friday, December 21, 2007

Pixelated Videos

I have written before about how the transition to digital technology is changing the notion and perception of 'static', whether new generations would recognize the references to static in pre-digital media, now that a transmission or playback error no longer takes the form of visual or audio 'noise' but pixelization or silence. Yet recently I saw a Verizon commercial where the daughter tried to get away from her curfew by having her friends imitate traditional static and her mother on the other end of the line pointing out that that was simply impossible on Verizon's network, after which the daughter switched to claiming the sounds were ambient noise.

I was thinking about this recently in the context of YouTube and the art form of the music video. It seems like a natural match, short video and a medium for showing short video, but it is actually a really bad fit in my opinion. Pop-music videos, like pop-music, rely on a lot of dynamic changes, like beats, to stay interesting, often punctuated by dramatic moments. In other words, something's gotta happen often, and have a big wow from time to time, or we get bored. Thing is, digital video is really bad at both, the encoding algorithms rely on there being very little difference between one image and the next to be able to pack video in what little bandwidth we actually have. Beats, visual or audio, going bam bam bam bam are about a full change between one image and the next. People moving over a static background means very little difference between one image and the next, so there is a lot of room for information to be pushed down the pipe. Have a the background moving as well, or changing color or brightness rapidly, and there is so much difference between one image and the next that the channel cannot keep up.

Somewhere in the early nineties, as music videos grew up from their infancy of just recording performances with camera tricks and their adolescence of trying to be a movie, the Brits started shooting videos with an insane amount of cuts and movement, foreground and background, to keep visual interest. I was recently thinking about the prime example of that style and wondering how it would survive on YouTube, and by coincidence it got posted on my flist today.

Bros -- "I Owe You Nothing"

Total YouTube failure. There isn't a single frame where there isn't pixelisation, where every face isn't some form of a blur -- and those boys were so airbrushed already -- and the backgrounds are just a mess. Look, this video isn't art and never was meant to be, but it was a prime example of its time, and it basically cannot be seen properly in this new medium. Contrast that with a video of which the director explicitly tried to make something that would work as well on a TV screen as YouTube. It had to be dynamic and exciting on the 60" screen, but not become a blur on the 2" one. It was done with very static backgrounds. Static camera shots. If there is movement, it is controlled. Close-ups are always still. The going in and out of focus on the face is so managed that the pixelisation works with it as a cute effect.

Rhianna -- "Umbrella"

Incidentally, I do not believe for a moment that was Rhianna herself dancing en pointe. I never got a full shot of her doing it. I am ready to be told wrong. I am also now wondering whether sets and editing rooms for video shoots will have rudimentary YouTube encoding equipment on hand to see directly how well a shot or cut will show up.

Not all of the early and mid-nineties videos are completely lost, of course, but often do not fare so well. Take the following one, one of my absolute favorite videos, which uses dance as its main visual hook. It stalls on my underpowered laptop from time to time, takes out fluidity or power in the movements, and chances are very visual dramatic moment at 3:52 simply gets dropped on the digital floor never to be seen because it uses one of the most awkward objects for digital video to try to encode: smoke, and lots of it. The result is an approximation of the performance: you kinda know what everyone intended, but you just can't really sink into it because your brain constantly has to fill in the blanks YouTube drops.

New Order -- "True Faith"

I can't wait for a better medium than YouTube for music videos. I consider it a bad fit. Music videos weren't made for YouTube, and YouTube obliterates them, makes them absolutely irritating. All the subtelty of lighting and motion becomes a stuttering mess. A medium that makes Mark Romanek's work look anything but sleek and crafted doesn't deserve it.

David Bowie -- "Jump They Say"

No, YouTube should be used for its own art and entertainment that was specifically made for it. Not to broadcast media that was made for a different form of transmission, but for people who start fresh, whose work does not rely on what YouTube is bad at, but use YouTube for what it is good at: the conversation YouTube is embedded in, to layer idea upon idea upon idea. Make it have its own stars, like Tim recently showed me.

kevjumba & Happy Slip -- "Put It In Purse"

Monday, December 17, 2007

Twitter Is Weird

Why is twitter not sending me an update to my registered IM when someone I follow updates? I am expecting a IM window to pop up from showing me the update form this person. Isn't it supposed to do that? Does anybody have it working?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Recruiters Suck

Hey Kelly, sweetheart, I really do not feel any more confidence in your recruiter powers when you send me mail telling me that you mistyped and that the job was at Yahoo!, not Google as you wrote when you originally sent me the open req.

I don't know why they seem to be all called Kelly. Meanwhile, I am expecting a call this week again whether I want to be a J2ME Blu-Ray content developer in Culver City (No.). And I will tell this recruiter that s/he is the 7th one to call me, because Ascent Media and Sony are calling one recruiter shop after another to fill those spots, and they all do the same Dice search and end up with me. I do not just not want the job because I am moving back to the EU, I also do not want the job because it has Outsource It To Romania As A Cost-Cutting Measure In 2 Years written all over it.

Off to deliver two broken computers I found in our basement storage to the Safe Waste people.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


My Yahoo! email account is getting an unreal amount of 409 spams. I think I made 5 million tonight alone going through all the UK lotteries, UN grants, and cheque-cashing commissions waiting for me.

Why that account?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Google Maps

Well, Google Maps for Symbian Devices is nice, and the fact that it will do aproximate positioning based on which cell tower your phone is attached to if the phone does not have GPS is actually useful: ok, so you won't get proper turn by turn directions, but a local search actually ends up being properly local within a few blocks. But a nice new feature that would integrate Google Maps beyond what a standard GPS can do, is to allow me to select a destination from my phonebook. Yes, I can save a destination into the phonebook, now I should be able to, when I want to enter a location, be able to click through and pick a name from my phonebook if it has a street address stored. I have a lot of addresses in my phonebook.

And then the next step is that, when I am going to a location, Google Maps should keep a running estimate based on current movememnt and expected traffic how long it will take to get to the destination. And make it really easy to call, or better, send a one-click text message to the person in the phonebook you are going to sayong how late you will be. Try that, TomTom.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Show Me Off

This is not easy to type with two kittens on my lap. At least they are sleeping.

So I was thinking some more about Amazon's Kindle, based on a conversation I had with Karen about how she was ok with electronic books but wanted a representation of them to be able to show, and I remembered that one of the lessons of the industry I am in is the intense relationship people have with mobile personal technology. It's not just for communication, or music; these devices become symbols, extensions of the owner's personality, signage about which tribes and institutions and feelings the user wants to broadcast belonging and allegiance to.

The same is true for newspapers and magazines: the benfits are not just their content, but being seen with them. Executives want to be seen reading the WSJ and not New York Post, design weenies want to be seen with Wallpaper, scoffing will ensue if music people are seen with the "wrong" music magazine. If publications weren't public signifiers, plain brown paper wrappers would never have been invented.

Kindle obliterates that benefit. All you will be broadcasting to the people in the train or street or bus or waiting room while using your Kindle, is that you use a Kindle. Kindle turns a form of identity-broadcasting off. This is a loss of benefit that Kindle has to also work against beyond all other issues it has.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

And I Repeat

My recipe for making LJ decentralized and under individual control, while retaining the community-aspect and friends pages.

Now I also want a script that migrates a previous journal to a new system, and a server that you can use to update old comments and RSS feeds when a friend tells you they migrated to their new system. It may be time to blow LJ up into the new blogging paradigm for everyone.