Our digital heritage, but, for how long?

The thing with technology is that it never slows down. Technology marches on and, for the most part, we embrace and move with it.  That means our methods of preserving our heritage, from books to music to art and entertainment, changes with that technology.

For over a hundred years, we were mostly an analog society. For centuries prior, our method for recording things consisted of cave art, stone tablets and printed material on different forms of paper. The printing press revolutionized our ability to produce printed material for the masses.

In the late 1700’s, humans began experimenting with methods for recording things both visually and aurally. Photography came to practicality in the mid 1800’s, while methods for recording sound followed in the latter half of the 1800’s. Radio and crude television followed. Moving pictures were perfected around the 1890’s.

By the 1920’s, we were enjoying most of our modern forms of entertainment: radio, television, film, recorded music and plays, etc.  And, for the most part, the technologies, while getting better in quality, pretty much stayed the same. In fact, the basic principals did not change. Once could take an early phonograph, from, say, 1915, and play it on a turntable made in the 1980’s and you could understand it.

Better forms of recording both audio and pictures came along, but were still analog and, mostly, interchangeable. Magnetic recording was stagnant through the 1980’s.  It was the latter part of that decade where it all started to change.

Something called ‘digital’ began to force its way into both our lexicon and our lives.

Indeed, today, we have digital television, digital music, digital films (kind of ironic, that name is) and digital photography.  Our lives are digital now.

And that’s the problem.

How do we preserve our heritage?  Clearly, digital is NOT the answer.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I have zero desire to give up my Zune MP3 player for a bulky Walkman cassette or 45rpm disc. I like my Nikon DLSR and HD television is way better than 250 line, black and white tv.

So, since I am such a digital person, what the hell do I mean that it is not the answer? Well, simply, it changes too quickly.

I recently came upon a box of old computer gear that I brought with me to my new home (well, it was new to me, two years ago!) In the box, there were a few diskettes, an iOMEGA Zip Disk, and some old CD-ROMS.  I also have a number of LaserDiscs and a box of about two hundred VHS tapes.  This made me think: I better transfer what I can to DVD before I can no longer do so. Some of those tapes are of my son as a baby as well as some now deceased family members. I also have years of recorded material from a local television station that no longer exists.

So, if I transfer this material now, I buy, what, maybe ten years before I can no longer play those DVD’s. Then what? I keep reading that physical media is dead. What do I do with my memories?

I have gigabytes of photos. I cannot, realistically, print them all. I could burn them to DVD, but, again, what about when DVD drives become scarcer than a Baird television scanner?

I also realized that I am not alone here. And it is not just individuals either. What about museums? Governments? Hell, Hollywood will have the same issue: many television shows and movies are now shot on video and distributed electronically.  Those formats and storage mechanism will not last. What happens to them?  In a hundred years, hence, we could still play back Edison’s old movies: they are, after all, images on film. Film, as long as it is properly stored, will last a very long time and the means to view it are simple. The same cannot be said for that YouTube video I uploaded last fall. Bits and bytes are not ‘real’. They cannot be shone through a bright light and viewed.

This is going to be a real problem going forward.  How do we rectify numerous storage methods, mechanisms and, more importantly, the bloody digital rights management schemes to keep us honest?

The funny thing about our digital society is what would be left if something catastrophic occurred and rendered our electronic means of playback useless.  We would be able to watch the Marx Brothers and Birth of a Nation, but not listen to Justin Bieber or watch Twilight. Hmm…maybe that would not be such a bad thing after all.

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Assembling the great vacation video with Movie maker and photostory 3

Vacation. A time to play, relax, spend time with your family and take photos and video.  Most people, upon vacation end, want to assemble those photos and videos into something they can then share with others. So, what you do need to create something that looks better than something you’d see on America’s Funniest Home Videos? Well, you are in luck. There are several freebies you can obtain that will do the trick.

For Mac users, you have iMovie and that’s pretty much all you will need. iMovie has several nice templates for assembling the parts of your video as well as licensed music for you to include.

For Windows users, you also videostabilizationhave several choices including Microsoft’s Movie Maker. Movie Maker has come a long way since its debut with Windows ME. With each release, it has gotten better and better. Microsoft recently released an update to the application.

The update is not earth shattering, but it includes several features found in applications you would pay real money for, including video stabilization and audio control.

Video stabilization is the biggie.  It works very much like the feature in packavideotypesges from Adobe in that it does crop the video a bit, which is achieves the illusion of stabilizing the picture. While it is not as dramatic as I have seen in other packages, it does waudiomixingork and works surprisingly well.

Other features include audio dubbing, better audio mixing, and the ability to emphasize the music track or the video track. You can also speed up the video. Oh, there’s also more options available to export your video to…including Android and Apple devices like iPhone and iPad. Of course, Microsoft’s own devices are there, including support for Zune and Windows Phone.

Another tool that is still available, again from Microsoft, is Photostory 3. Photostory works strictly with still photos. It allows you to stitch together photos to make a video. You can take the resultant video and incorporate them into your Movie Maker projects.  There’s a great site you can go to for PhotoStory 3, click here to go there. Microsoft has a great site about PhotoStory 3. Click here to visit that page.

PhotoStory 3 has three really nice features that will make your video look more professional: ‘Ken Burns effect’ which allows you to ‘pan and zoom’ on a photo to emphasize parts of the photo; auto music generation so you won’t need to worry music rights if you upload your creation to YouTube and the ability remove the bars from the left or right or top and bottom.

Finally, Picasa from Google has several features to help with cleaning up your photos as well as a crude video slide show. I like Picasa mostly for its ability to clean up a photo. Windows Photo Gallery works well, but Picasa has a bit more control and options for cleaning them up, including white balance features.

You can burn the resultant to video to DVD using the Windows DVD Maker included with Vista and Windows 7.

These free tools will work well together and, with a little effort, your video can look and sound great and your cost will be in time, not money.

Windows 8: gripes and missing features…are they really that bad?

Win8StartWindows 8, Microsoft’s next iteration of it’s vulnerable Windows operating system, is due out later this year, with a release ‘preview’ due up in the next couple of weeks.  After a ‘developer preview’ and a subsequent ‘consumer preview’, the operating system has garnered a fair amount of praise and criticism.

Some of the criticism is warranted, others…well, not so much.  For example, the lack of a start button seems to really bother some and is the number one complaint, followed closely by Metro’s seemingly unfriendliness for mouse and keyboard.  These are more personal preference, in my opinion, than short comings of the operating system.  Microsoft is attempting to re-invent Windows and they have a desire to just break with the past and killing the start button is just one way to do so.

Another way, as announced recently, is to ditch much of the eye candy they introduced with Vista. In fact, in a blog post, Microsoft proclaimed that Aero (the fancy special effects for window presentation such as see through borders) is tacky and that they are getting rid of it. Now, MY preference would be to keep it as it made that rather staid and plain Windows desktop look a bit more attractive.  So, Microsoft is killing off many of the things that made Windows, well, Windows. Some of the other things that are getting removed include:

  • DVD Movie playback – you will need a third party solution for this
  • Windows Media Center – it will still be available, but will cost money and you MUST be running Windows 8 Professional (just like in the XP Media Center days)
  • Aero
  • Blue Screen of Death (replaced by a uninformative frowny face and friendlier message)
  • Start Menu and Start Button (similar functionality available via the start screen and a hotspot in the lower left corner of the screen)
  • Previous Versions replaced with File History
  • Overlapping, multiple windows in Metro (there is a snap feature that lets you see two apps at once)
  • Flip 3D appears to be gone. Alt-Tab still there.
  • Traditional menus in many desktop apps (like Explorer) replaced with the ribbon UI

The biggest criticism that actually makes sense is the stark contrast between the Metro and Windows desktop interfaces. Microsoft has done little to ease that while many third parties have designed very attractive themes that follow the Metro look and feel and make the desktop feel like it is part of Windows 8.  However, I get why Microsoft has not done so much, they really are trying to kill traditional Windows.

Negatives aside, there is much to like about Windows 8.  Metro presents a whole new interface (that dates back to the Zune and Windows Media Center) that is attractive, clean and does not rely on gee-whiz effects to work. Yes, I am contradicting myself here: I LOVE Metro’s clean look yet LOVE Aero Glass.  I think they both can co-exist, but, if Microsoft really does not want Metro, fine. I’m sure the fine folks at StarDock already have an Aero Glass mechanism in the works for Windows 8.

One really nice thing about the new operating system is its speed. Boy, is it fast.  Start up is very quick, even on the Celeron based computer that I am using to write this post.  Not only is it fast, it’s memory requirement is pretty conservative: this machine has 2gb of ram and performance is very snappy, unlike it was with Vista or even Windows 7 (which is still my favorite version of Windows.)

The lack of a touchscreen, for me, in no way hinders my ability to use Metro applications. I find the mouse and keyboard to work very well. Yes, it took some getting used to, but it just seems like second nature now. I do find myself wanting to reach up and touch the screen (no, not out of disgust) and move those tiles.  It is going to be great with a touch screen, but is great with mouse and keyboard too. 

Over the next few weeks, we should learn about what will be in the final shipping version.  The release candidate is due to be unleashed the first week of June, so we should have a good idea of what is to come. Stay tuned for more.