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Mike Cohen's Blog

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Live Blog (tape delay) June 2009



Live blogging is fun, but kind of hard to do when you are going 60 miles per hour or in a moving vehicle. So I took detailed mental notes instead. I will try to get that same stream of consciousness language that is all the rage in the blogosphere.

Tuesday - 12:30am (Wednesday technically)

Although I have to get to work early tomorrow, I nevertheless stayed up to my usual lights out time. Tonight I was working on a budget for a future shoot. Rent something 6 times and you might as well buy it, I say, I hope. This is true for camcorders under a certain price anyway, not so much for BMW's. Too bad.

With this done, I e-mailed the Excel to myself and hit the sack.

Wednesday - 6:00am

See my previous post to see my odd waking procedure...Got it? Great.

I manage to roll out of bed at 7am, feed the cats, shower shave etc. No time for breakfast, so I grab a promotional box of raisin bran I got in the mail and a bowl of pasta from the fridge, leave my wife a note and bail. My car is a mess, inside and out. It has been raining in CT since last November, so there is plenty of mud and grime on the car. Luckily Saturns are plastic so it will never rust. The inside, while I cleaned it over the weekend, still contains lots of trash.

Who cares, right? It's a live blog. Not everything is meaningful. This reminds me of college. I was a DJ at WSAM, the carrier current AM station on campus - I think we had 1 watt. I got an award for talking too much. About nothing. Also I played a lot of Van Halen, when I was supposed to be playing songs by then unheard of bands like Phish, Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler.

Hey you wanted stream of consciousness.

Back to our story...

7:25am

Stopped for gas then fired up the iPod and hit the road. One advantage of going in early is the lack of traffic in the Waterbury, CT madness. Here's an image of our local interchange, the "mixmaster." http://maps.google.com/maps/mm?hl=en&client=firefox-a&q=waterbury,+ct&ie=UT...

Speaking of a mess, I realize I have the old timey version of the iPod, but it is really difficult to navigate songs while driving without an abrupt meeting with a guardrail. So I try to make a playlist. This week I am listening to new episodes of the Bowery Boys, NY City History podcast; TED Talks; and of course the latest episode of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me. One of these days I WILL get Carl Cassel's voice on my home answering machine.

7:45am

Pulled up to the office...now the fun begins.

The reason I intended to go to bed early last night was because I have an appointment at 2pm to demonstrate a DVD. Yesterday I made all the DVD menus, imported them into Adobe Encore 1.5 on my laptop. While CS4 is a great improvement, 1.5 is pretty stable...and portable. More on this later.

8:00am

With fresh cup of coffee in hand, I fire up three computers:

1. Laptop. Open Encore and Photoshop. Import pre-made animations (rendered to MPG2 yesterday)
2. Edit station in my office. Start capturing a DVCAM tape needed for an ongoing edit that our PA is working on this week, so it is ready when he arrives later on.
3. Edit station in another office. My colleague had done the initial final edit yesterday, pending my review and tweaks. I sat down to review and tweak.

9:00am

My, where did the time go? I have been reviewing the edit, making slight adjustments as I go. As an experiment, I export one sequence to MPEG2, just to see how long it will take later in the morning. It took about a minute, so that is good news, as there are 14 sequences going into this not-yet-authored DVD project.

10:00am

Email from my client - can I move our meeting up to 2pm from 2:30? Of course.

10:02am

Darn. I needed that extra half hour.

11:00am

Editing seems to be done. The original footage for this project is a combination of HDV 1080i and SD 4:3 DV. Options for the final edit are either HDV 1080i, but then the DV looks bad, or 16:9 SD DV, so the 1080i shots are full screen and the 720x480 4:3 SD DV is centered over black or in any number of split screen positions, or 4:3 SD DV with the 1080 footage letterboxed and the SD footage full screen. You never know what type of monitor the end user will use, so you pick the lowest common denominator, which is usually SD DV 4:3. Even though you can do 16:9 SD DV and know that the MPEG2 will play back correctly off the DVD, not all DVD players are setup correctly for 16:9 televisions.
For this project, for now, it is 4:3 SD DV, however I may switch to 16:9 SD DV for the final edit, once I know if the end user will be using 16:9-ish computer screens.

Setup Media Encoder with all sequences and hit Start.

11:05

Darn - forgot to eat breakfast. Oh well, it will have to wait.

Sat down at laptop, and started setting up the DVD navigation. With a complex project, it helps to have either a diagram, flowchart or a good memory. I find that if I logically name my DVD menus in advance, this becomes flow-charty by its nature.

A DVD project has a sequence - how you perform this sequence is up to you, but make sure you do everything:

Turn text or button objects into buttons. I find it easier to make text as text and buttons as objects in Photoshop, then convert to a button in Encore, which automatically adds the (+) symbols in the layer sets.

Check the button navigation - remember not everyone uses a mouse. Also add extra button areas so the user does not have to click the text precisely.

Assign button links - either to other menus or to timelines. Since most of the MPEG2 files are rendering, I can setup the menu navigation and the limited animations which are timelines.

Set timeline end actions. I like the end action to return to the last menu. Or if ambitious, to return to the next option on the main menu - lead the navigation.

Set menu color set colors and the color set used on each menu.

12:10pm

Ok, got the new MPEG2 files from Media Encoder in the other room. Transfer over the network to the laptop. I keep a shared folder called INBOX where everything goes, then move it as needed once you have the files.

Import the new files into Encore then make timelines for all, set end actions and link everything up.

12:40pm

Navigation, links and testing complete. Given the rainy weather and typical traffic on the Merritt Turnpike, I need to get outta here. Still need to export an ISO file burn and test the DVD. What to do...

12:45pm

The reason I put this project on the laptop is because I knew this would come down to the wire. I grabbed the mouse, mousepad, power supply and threw these and some blank DVD-R discs in plastic clamshell cases into my satchel, left the laptop running and took everything to the car. I set Encore to compile the ISO file and hit the road.



The ISO actually finished in about 10 minutes. I pulled over (you think an iPod is dangerous in the car - try a laptop) and shut down. Burning can wait.

12:50pm

Stopped at the mini mart for coffee and I have to get some food. Of course this is the one mini mart in America that does not sell prepackaged sandwiches. I wound up with a cookie dough flavored energy bar. I see why this particular mini mart is always surrounded by kids on BMX bikes. Note to self, add BMX Bandits to Netflix Queue. Nicole Kidman was a cute teenager.

1:15pm

Got on Rt 8, next stop Merritt.

1:28pm

Merritt Pkwy - right on schedule...for now. Suddenly the sky opened and traffic ground to a halt. Note to self, pick up some gopher wood on the way home.

1:58pm

The traffic and rain over, I arrived at my destination, checked in, got an ID badge and went to my client's office. Fired up the laptop to burn the DVD. Meanwhile they showed me the all-in-one PC/Touch Screen they are evaluating for this project. I knew this was a possibility, so I intentionally made the DVD menu buttons big enough to use your finger.

Disc burned, inserted into touch screen, and all is good.

3:05pm

Meeting complete, time to get back onto the slip and slide...er..Parkway, for the ride home. There was a tree down so once again it was a parking lot.

Whenever I leave the office, some secret Bat signal must get illuminated, because suddenly I get a lot of phone calls and e-mails. Well if you think an iPod and a Laptop are difficult to use while driving, a Blackberry is even worse. Even dialing the phone is a challenge if you are not using a speed dial button.

This made me think of the Operating Room. Many OR's now have voice controlled functions for such things as CO2 pressure, light illumination, camera position and even iPod controls (seriously). Why can't cars have some kind of head-up display with voice activation? We must have the technology.


One day perhaps.

Speaking of one day, one day I made this video of driving through Waterbury and up Rt 8 into the Lichtfield hills. Exciting isn't it.



4:30pm

Arrive home safe and sound. Oh yeah, the dishes. At least I unplugged the toaster this morning...oh wait, i didn't have breakfast. Which reminds me I am hungry. What ever shall I eat?

How about some pasta with clam sauce. I think this calls for another grainy home video, don't you? Sometimes non-HD, point and shoot poorly exposed video of our pets is just what the doctor ordered.



Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 24, 2009 at 6:57:45 pm travl, dvd, authoring, encore
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Round Pegs in Square Holes

Thursday - Midnight

Lately, for some unknown reason (caffeine) I have been staying up late. Too late. Oddly, after stumbling to bed around 1am I manage to wake at 6am, hit the snooze bar exactly 4 times, allowing my body to wake up on its own schedule, and still get to work at a reasonable time. A cup of extra bold from the K-Cup machine, a bowl of bran flakes (watch enough colon cancer videos and you'll tolerate the woody texture), and hit the road to the office.

Usually the last thing I do before bed, after my continuing search for the "end of the internet" is to check my work e-mail. This way I offload any of the unknown unknown worries until morning. Sometimes this check-in shows someone else's pending emergency, so I can be ready in the AM, or even fire off a quick note saying "no worries, we'll get it done" or whatever.

This particular evening, there were no such emergencies. Rather, just the knowledge that Friday was an easy few hours in the office then out on the road for a quick narration session.

Friday - The Wee Hours


Rusty, the Abyssinian, does laps around the pillows. Occasionally he puts his nose to mine, and gently taps my cheek with his paw. Cute. Meanwhile my dreams progress in the usual fashion. Namely, totally bizarro. I'm in high school, no wait, that's college...now I'm at the hospital for a shoot...but it's the wrong hospital, I was given the wrong address...I go into the OR and it is my wife having surgery...but she's not sick...I turn the corner and there is my beloved Grandma Hilda...she doesn't seem to know that she is not alive, but that's okay, it is always good to run into her in my dreams...we chat often, it brings me peace and restful sleep.

And then, just past the lucky charms tree...BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP...THWACK! as I hit the snooze bar.

Friday - Wakey Time

I drift back to sleep, sometimes dreaming about whatever random thought was in my head, sometimes just tossing and turning...my body knows when it is ready to move into a non-prone position, and that time is not here yet....BEEEP BEEEP BEEEP - damn, another 9 minutes has gone by...KERTHUNK, take that snooze bar. Amazingly the GE clock radio I got for high school graduation is still ticking. That alarm has helped me get to dozens of classes, lectures, exams, shoots, weddings and funerals on time....more pseudo-sleep passes. BEEEP, you get the idea...Was that 3 snooze cycles or only two. To tell you the truth in all the tossing and turning I've lost track myself. It's either 6:18 or 6:27.

"All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is here..in my arms. Words are very, unnecessary, they can only do harm..." My wife's ring tone circa 1985 tells me it is 6:30, followed by "Mike, it's 6:30, you have...wait...menu, calendar, view week...a shoot in the Bronx. Oh and when you get a chance, can you make me a coffee, and toast me a muffin, and feed the cats, and slice me an apple and mail that package by the door."

Yes, of course. Amazingly, I do all of these tasks, and get out of the house by 8am - no coffee today for me.

Usually, the first thing I do when I go downstairs to feed the boys (cats - you take what you can get) I grab the Blackberry and check for messages. This is a slippery slope, because like this particular day, things can get complicated. Before bed, I was content to know that the next morning I had only to do some quick edits to a video then get on the road. After the cursory message check, "not so" became the order of the day.

Emergency 1 - we need a location contract for a shoot in a few weeks. No worries, I will simply modify the last such document we had to create, get it approved by legal and off it goes - hopefully. But that is an additional task to complete before 10:30.

Emergency 2 - the CD-ROM interface sent out for approval is no right. Again, no worries, that's why you send out mockups before moving to programming.

Emergency 3 - help our intern finish a draft of a DVD, to hopefully send out. This is not really an emergency, but just something else to do. Give him a template for DVD case slipart, a label and show him how to troubleshoot the Encore DVD project and then burn an ISO.

With these things done, I still had to do those edits. Well, I know the material pretty well, and I can easily differentiate a gastrojejunostomy from a jejunojejunostomy, so all is good in the world again.

10:35 - 5 minutes behind schedule - damn.

Hit the camera room, make a quick mental checklist, then grab each item and place on the floor outside the door:

PD-170
Shotgun mic
camera case
power supply
Sony Lav mic
2 25'XLR cables
microphone stand
small tripod with camera plate
orange extension cord and power strip (you never know what kind of room you are going to be in)
Laptop, mouse, power supply mousepad
Pen and paper

hmm, that seems like everythi....TAPES!

Ok, grab a small luggage cart, carry everything to the ION and get on the road. No time for gas, coffee or lunch, gotta be in NYC at 12:45.

Stopped in Danbury for gas, gas station coffee (I love that whipped hot chocolate/capuccino machine) and a couple of donuts form the drive-through donut kiosk, then back on the road.

84 to 684 to the Saw Mill. Windy road, hairpin turns, and the lady in front of me was either on the phone, doing her makeup or drinking coffee, because she kept hitting the curb and very nearly drove into the Saw Mill River in Chappaqua.

Got to my destination just in the nick of time. Get the gear, leave the keys with a man who claims to work in the garage, get the elevator and head inside.



Went to the conference room, setup my makeshift recording studio/editing suite (a laptop and microphone - but that sounds so lame!).


Shotgun mic gets the best sound in a noise room (uncontrollable HVAC, shut off plasma screen and any fans I can locate), plus a lav for backup. My job is to monitor what is being spoken, and make suggestions for re-reads, knowing what material I will need for the edit. Sorry I can't get into more detail on the content.

Once setup, got the material I needed, packed up, and reversed the process.

Only problem is, Friday + 5pm + Greater NY = Gridlock. After the split to the Hutch it cleared up a bit, but then the 684 interchange was busy. Smoother sailing until Brewster, then the Danbury gridlock from the NY border up to Newtown was a nightmare. I stopped at Trader Joe's(good food cheap) and Stew Leonard's(animatronic animals + groceries)
for some quality food, and to get out of the car for an hour.

Home finally around 7pm. Cook dinner (spicy orange chicken with stir fry veg and rice noodles), then sit down at the computer, not to relax yet, but to do two more tasks that didn't so much creep up earlier in the day, but that would never have fit into the schedule. Download 7 videos edited by a colleague, review them before sending the client a download link. Then download another video from another project, review that and send to the client.

Finally at 10:05 I can relax. Watch some HD videos on Vimeo (check out Philip Bloom's videos) then remember that I wanted to write a blog post before bed. And now it is 1:34am and I was wondering what I could possibly have to do late at night on the internet. Maybe I'll search for a video about fitting a round peg into a square hole. In other words, fitting more into a short period of time than there is actually time to do. Or at least trying.

Seems there are 217 results. None very interesting or relevant.

So now I will brush the pearly whites, hit the hay, and close my eyes, touch noses with Rusty, then see where my dreams take me, as this strange journey continues.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen


Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 19, 2009 at 10:00:33 pmComments (1) travel, workflow, audio
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Get Stuff Done

If you are like me, you have a list of things to do a mile long.

I have made numerous efforts over the years to Get Organized.

Over time however I have learned that the real secret to Getting Organized is...drumroll please...STAYING Organized. Big difference.

Ok, so I'm organized and staying organized...whoop-dee-do.

However that's great as long as you actually Get Stuff Done, and not spend all of your time on organization.

While my workstation is simply a collection of office supplies, project management tasks are not physical objects, so you need some way to keep things orderly, and a way to not have to spend a lot of time doing it.

Didn't I just say that?

Now that I have a spacious office with two distinct work areas, I have the opportunity to really get on top of project management, rather than being buried as used to be the case.

First, we have the Command Center:



I know what you're thinking - another one of Cohen's pictures of mundane subjects...
Well..yes...but...let me explain:



The markerboard + gaffer tape = something not in the office supply catalog!

I have a field for each category of project, or client, or for a specific project. The calendar covers 2.3 months, just enough time for most project schedules, plus a field for the following two months.

Could I setup an Excel spreadsheet with the same fields? Of course. But just like with file drawers, it is out of sight, out of mind unless you remember to look at it daily. This way, I cannot help but to look at it.

On the desk we have a large stack of blank note cards, which I use for daily or weekly to-do lists, telephone notes or brainstorming. These are actually the back side of a postcard that we had printed several years ago and never mailed out due to a client decision. So rather than throw away 10 pounds of 50% blank paper, I went green...or half green.

To the right we have some file folders - these are in hanging file folders. While I do not like using file drawers, if I should choose to save a folder at the conclusion of a project, the file is ready to hang. I do a folder for in-progress projects.

Immediately to the left of the Command Center is Mission Control:



Yes, I just posted a picture of my laptop. Real exciting. Let's break it down.



Two monitors on a Premiere or Final Cut workstation is a no-brainer. But two monitors on a office computer is priceless. E-mail is always active on the right, Word, Firefox or even Premiere can sit on the Laptop display.

The rest is self-explanatory - but the goal here is to avoid piles of stuff. Neatly organized stuff, including e-mail folders, goes a long way in helping to STAY organized.

Finally we have The Warehouse:



You got it - a wall unit. The shelf below is the visual file. I have never been a fan of file drawers. If I don't need something accessible easily, I probably don't need it at all. Most paper falls into one of three categories:

1. Garbage - throw away immediately
2. Short-term - Use it today, then save until project ends
3. Long-term but not urgent - Contracts or business matters - save indefinitely but generally do not need very often

I try to print little, but inevitably you generate some paper.

So the visual file is for category 2 or 3 - unless the project has a file folder. Generally once paper goes in it stays in. Thus the previously mentioned file folders are for in-progress paperwork - papers I refer to on a regular basis as a project inches along. Using the visual file for this purpose would be impractical, unless of course you store the file folders in the visual file, but you can't fit a square peg in a rectangular hole.


Finally on the next shelf up are the project drives. We save everything. That's all well and good, but you need to keep a list of where to find everything, otherwise you have a bunch of paperweights. I try to keep this updated and saved on the desktop of all computers.

Well, thus far I have merely described the way to get and stay organized.

How do you actually get stuff done? Easy - get organized and stay organized, then all you need to do is update very small pieces of the puzzle - schedules, appointments, delegated tasks - freeing you up to actually do project tasks, delegate what you do not have time to do yourself, and of course devote time to developing new projects to add to the mix.

In other words, if you offload the burden of remembering project management details from your brain to a system, then you can naturally use this extra energy to Get Stuff Done. In theory.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jun 12, 2009 at 2:18:04 pm project, management
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I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my fluffy housecats.

Follow me on Twitter: videoeditormike

Hang out on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/videoeditingmike

LIKE my company (I do): http://www.facebook.com/pages/CineMed

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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