Posts from December 2007.

Upgrading Video

My Everio HDD video camera.

My Everio HDD video camera.

I’m the kind of person who waits until a crisis to act. It’s a trait I’ve always had. My mother called it procrastination. I like to think of it as acting with complete clarity. With no choices left the option at hand is what must be done. There is no second guessing. Is there?

Maybe. I knew my miniDV JVC camera was acting up. It completely failed on me at the Winter Program at VHAC. But I thought I had worked through the glitches. I was ready to validate the tape was loaded properly before using it. I was ready for… nothing.

I taped my youngest daughter during her holiday performance and even knowing the current state of the miniDV camera, I could not get it to function properly or reliably.

So, I reached my crisis. I’m convinced that if I kept trying to use this camera for recording, I would lose memory after memory. Once is a fluke, twice is the start of a pattern. So, after this second heartbreaking camera snafu I had to act. And act decisively I did. I picked up a 30Gig HDD JVC everio GZ-MG130U camcorder on sale at Best Buy.

The camera is pretty nice. Simple interface. Just a few buttons. But still surprisingly complex, robust, and feature rich. It can hold seven (7) hours of video in the highest quality setting on the internal hard drive. And honestly, that’s the only setting I’ll use. It fits into the palm of my hand. And the most compelling feature, you ask? Well that would be faster than real time (RT) capturing.

In video editing RT capture was the norm. You couldn’t get faster than RT. It was like trying to go faster than the speed of light. Couldn’t be done. Crazy talk!

Well, now it can. Really! No more firewire. This camera has a USB 2.0 connection and mounts on my iMac as an external hard drive. Using iMovie ‘08 I can batch import all or a select portion of the clips on the camera, convert them for editing, and do it all faster than RT.

Read on young Video Padawan. This was not figured out in minutes. I had to work very hard at this. You see, the camera only comes with Windows based software. Inside the manual it states that you can purchase software for the Mac separately. Doesn’t that make you feel loved? But based on the reviews, I didn’t want their substandard software anyway. All the reviews I saw said, “Great camera! Crappy software.”

So, I tried working with the raw MOD files straight from the camera. Backing up the files to my iMac via the USB 2.0 connection. I then changed the file extensions to MPEG which allowed me to view them in VLC and other Mpeg-2 players. But iMovie ’06 would not edit the MPEG file. So, I worked out that with MPEG Video Stream Editor I could convert the MPEG file to DV and then import it into iMovie ’06 and use it. The only problem was that all these steps combined were not a batch process (I’d have to automate them, no click-and-walk-away-steps without a lot of hard work), and all of these steps were approaching RT just to get it into iMovie to start editing it.

I was seriously thinking about returning it for a Firewire miniDV camera and saving half of what I spent on this camera. Until a friend pointed me to the iMovie ‘08 upgrade.

Apple had listed some everio cameras from JVC as being compatible with iMovie ’08. Mine wasn’t on the list, but it was worth a shot. I have iLife ’08 already, I just hadn’t let go of iMovie ’06 yet. But it was time. After the upgrade I chose the “Play on Computer” option on the camera, and viola! The movie clips batch imported into iMovie ’08 in half the time they took to shoot. In my book, that’s a 50% time savings and I’ll take it.

I’m keeping my camera, I’m keeping the iMovie ’08 upgrade, and I’ve put together a little christmas video.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Poor Little Greeny

Sunset from my backyard.

Sunset from my backyard.

In the spirit of all Anonymous meetings, “Hi, my name is Andrew, and I’m a greeny.” I’ve been a greeny since a seed was planted in my psyche by television in the early 70’s, early in my childhood development, an image of a native american (whom I later learned was really an Italian actor) with one lone tear streaming down his face. No other ad campaign in history has affected me as such. No, not even Sally Struthers and her poor starving third world children who I could feed for pennies a day. This one tear affected me so much that to this day, I try to live my life as environmentally friendly as possible. I try to reduce, reuse, and recycle. I try. I don’t always succeed. But I try. Most of the time. When it’s convenient. And when it’s not, well, I deal with the guilt of that lone tear.

Let me tell you a little about myself. I have adult ADD. If I were a child today, I’d be on lithium. I have a warped sense of humor, a devious nature, and way too much free time. I usually get very excited about something, start it and then lose interest never to pick it up again let alone finish it. Yes, go ahead, imagine what my garage looks like.

This year I became completely disgusted with gasoline, the middle east, and the price of Starbuck’s coffee. This disgust excited and motivated me. Being a realist, I knew it was almost impossible to break the national dependency on grande soy lattes, and iced frappuccinos, so I had to do something instead about our dependancy on foreign oil. I’m not the kind of person to start a movement, or march on city hall, or protest by burning red plastic gasoline cans on top of new Hummers shinning quietly in the nighttime halogen glow of dealership lights.

No, really I’m not!

So, I figured I’d do what I do best. Start another fool-hearty project that will most likely end in disaster and ridicule. And is it any surprise I wound up where all ill begotten ideas end up, here on the Internet?

Think globally, act locally. The only true control you have is over your own life and how you live it. Change that. Show your neighbors and inspire those around you by acting. Demonstrate how easy it can be to do the right thing. Be an example.

In my quest to green my life and break my dependance on foreign oil, I decided to start small and only tackle my commute to work. Now in retrospect this is probably an area I was doing quiet well in already. I drive a Hyundai Elantra. My car gets between 28 and 30 miles per gallon city and 32 to 34 miles per gallon highway milage. I only drive 15 miles total (that is to and from work) a day. So, my 12 gallon tank lasts me two weeks. But I still feel guilty for not buying a hybrid car, even though I know the car companies were pillaging and raping the greeny’s and profiting on our collective feelings of guilt, feelings I’m sure I share with all Americans everywhere who grew up watching that poor lone tear slowly fall down that Italian actor’s cheek. There is no legitimate reason for the mark up on hybrid vehicles. And having come to that conclusion long ago, that the ROI on a hybrid vehicle was NEVER, I went with the best value for a small car with good gas milage. It didn’t make economic sense for me to buy a hybrid. Luckily, my guilt was stemmed when Penn and Teller agreed with my decision on a recent Bullshit on HBO, so I am completely vindicated and justified, because Penn and Teller know everything and never get anything wrong. Right? Right!

So, not a hybrid, then what? An electric car? Nope, can’t get an EV-1 anymore. Which by the way is reported to be the best electric car ever mass produced. But that’s just what I read, I haven’t actually watched my bootleg copy of “Who killed the Electric Car” yet. I can’t remember which portable hard drive I saved it to, or if I burned it to DVD; where did I put it? Probably in the garage.

I toyed with the idea of manufacturing a home-made electric car. To which I actually laughed at myself, out loud no less. No, it had to be simple. I had to think smaller. It was not unlike trying to build an airplane or glider, but I was no brother Wright. I can barely maintain my own bicycle. And the simplicity of the situation came to light, I decided to electrify my mountain bike.

At first I was contemplating mounting an electric engine and battery on the rear rack. Putting a gear on the motor’s axle and running a chain straight down to the rear gears on the back wheel. The more I thought about it the more I hated the idea. There had to be a better way and, of course, there was.

Shimano Gears

Hub Motor

Surprisingly, information on alternative electric vehicles was sparse on the net back in the beginning of 2007 when I was scouring the web. I searched, and searched, and searched, and finally found a few sites which were not only helpful but had the solution I was incapable of dreaming of! There I found what can only be called the most ingenious, simple, elegant solution to my dilemma: a hub motor. Yes, they built the electric motor inside the rear hub! The site that had this revelation, this magnificent solution, was a Chinese site that mass produced the motors and batteries, but I wasn’t feeling lucky enough to buy something like this from China. However, I started refining my searches based on the new information I was gathering. I came across another manufacturer’s site and they had links to local distributors. One of those distributors was www.poweridestore.com, a company in Atlanta, GA.

Having found a local distributor all I needed to do was figure out how I was going to afford it. And in all honesty, no matter what it is, when you want something badly enough you find a way to pay for it. I put it on my American Express Credit card.

I have to take some time here to say several kind words about the owner of the Power Ride Store, Earl Witcher; he is by far one of the most honest and fair people I have had the pleasure to do business with. I had a tragic wiring error which caused the controller to burn out. I drove the bicycle down to Atlanta (it’s only four hours each way) and Early spent the better part of a Saturday with me trying to figure out what I did wrong and how to fix it to get me running. I highly recommend using the black and red anderson connectors he sells. That was my fatal flaw while trying to wire my system initially. You can’t buy anything from a nicer guy.

Ascetically speaking there’s nothing to complain about. Unless you knew what an e-bike was and you were looking for it, you wouldn’t know there was anything different about my bike. Aside from a bag on the back (which holds the battery), a little black box behind my seat, a slightly modified back hub/rim, some wires zip-tied to the frame, and a few assorted switches on the handlebars, it looks like a completely ordinary bicycle.

An ordinary looking Bicycle

An ordinary looking Bicycle

An ordinary looking bicycle but an extraordinary riding experience. It is so much fun to ride! My controller has two gears, high and low. In high gear with light peddling I am able to keep a steady speed of 27 mph on level road and I have the ability to climb hills without breaking a sweat. The low gear has a high degree of torque and can propel me at a speed of 8 mph up the steepest of hills here in Charlotte, NC (also with light peddling). Keep in mind, with light peddling on level pavement you travel anywhere between 6 and 10 mph. The e-bike goes close to three times that speed and 27 mph seems very fast for a bicycle.

So, it’s fast; but, it also goes far too. I have about a 20 mile range per charge, and it only takes around six or so hours to recharge the battery. So, if you were 20 miles from work, you could ride your e-bike there in a little under an hour (assuming you don’t live in the mountains), plug it in at work to charge the batteries at your desk and be ready to ride home at the end of the day — getting in two light cardio workouts.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, practically speaking biking to work is very enjoyable for me from 55 degrees to 75 degrees when it’s not raining. This summer temperatures soared into the 90’s for days on end and although I could have gotten to work without risking heatstroke, I still would have been a sweaty mess. I rode to work maybe a dozen times before the weather just made it too inconvenient. My work does have a shower that I can make use of, so I’m thinking about packing a change of clothes and bath items to shower and change at work next summer.

I’m still looking for an electric vehicle to drive to work on the days when it’s below 50, above 80 degrees, or raining, sleeting or snowing out. My e-bike is a great start, but I want a commuter car that performs like the Tesla, and is priced like a Hyundai.
This is the first installment of my greeny projects… Oh yes, there are more to come.