Tag Archives: video

STEM Channels on YouTube

I have my own channel on YouTube where I have uploaded a dozen videos (all taken by me). Over the years I have also subscribed to a lot of other channels so that as of today I have 86 subscriptions. Each day when I go online, as well as checking my email and Facebook feed, I go to YouTube and look at the list of new videos on my subscribed channels. There is some really excellent content out there.

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Silverlight, the other Flash

If you follow this blog then you may recall me railing against websites that require the use of the Adobe Flash browser plug-in, which I removed from my iMac in November 2010 and never reinstalled. I watch quite a lot of YouTube (too much to be honest) and lack of Flash was a challenge. For a long time my solution was to use Connor McKay’s YouTube5 Safari Extension but in September 2014, when I had turned off Extensions for some reason, I noticed that YouTube seemed to be working fine – presumably it had started serving HTML5 to browsers without Flash. A few days ago YouTube went further and announced that they are now serving HTML5 by default (at least in Chrome, IE 11, Safari 8 and beta versions of Firefox). They are also deprecating “old style” Flash <object> embeds and their Flash API.

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Liquid History

Official Source of the Thames

Official Source of the Thames

My friend Martin is drama teacher who moved from Oxford to London a few years ago and recently gave up full time teaching to work on various projects of his own. One such project was to make a film related to his move and originally it was going to be based around a journey from Oxford to London on a boat called “Old Boy” that belongs to his friend Chris in Oxford. However, it would have taken a couple of weeks to get to London and back and Chris couldn’t spare the time so there was a change of plan. Martin’s new idea was to cycle from the source of the Thames to the Thames barrier, filming along the way. Knowing that I am a keen cyclist he asked me if I wanted to join him and as things progressed I became more involved with the project.
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YouTube Suddenly Requires Flash

In November 2010 I removed the Adobe Flash Player plug-in from my iMac and have never re-installed it. This broke a number of websites but there were some simple workarounds to get things going again. In the case of YouTube I installed Connor McKay’s YouTube5 Safari Extension which had been working very well until recently. Note that YouTube does have an experimental HTML5 Player which I have tried but it has some limitations and the YouTube5 Safari Extension seemed like the better option (use one or other, not both).
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The Dude Abides

The Coen Brothers have been responsible for some excellent films including The Big Lebowski starring Jeff Bridges as The Dude, who is introduced as quite possibly the laziest man in Los Angeles County. In the scene where he is lying in bed with Maude she says “Tell me about yourself Jeffrey” and he responds by saying that he was one of the authors of the Port Huron Statement and one of the Seattle Seven, hinting at a less lazy past.

Recently I came across an 18 minute video by Jeff Feuerzeig called “The Dude” which explains that the character was actually based on a real person called Jeff Dowd. Jeff is an American film producer and political activist who really was one of the Seattle Seven and went to jail briefly following a violent protest against the Vietnam War. The Seattle Seven were all members of the Seattle Liberation Front.

In researching my facts for this blog post I came across a 2008 interview of Jeff Dowd by Jon Zelazny on Eight Million Stories. Well worth a read.

iMovie 101

A few weeks ago a friend showed me some footage from his GoPro HD HERO which had been attached to the front mudguard of his motorbike when he was following me on my Moto Guzzi. I have been thinking about buying the same camera so I thought I would try editing it on my Mac and uploading to YouTube – you can view the result below. The process was not too difficult but there were a few pitfalls which I will go on to describe.

The file I got was a 2.09 GB 960p MPEG-4 movie at 29.97 frames per second. The camera can also shoot 1080p, 720p and WVGA, all of which are 16:9 aspect ratio, whereas 960p is 1280 x 960 pixels which is 4:3 aspect ratio. More on resolutions later. All I wanted to do was isolate a clip, mute the audio, and add a suitable soundtrack. There may have been other ways to achieve that but I decided to buy the latest iMovie from the Mac App Store and learn to use it. When I first started up iMovie there was a message saying “iMovie needs to generate thumbnails for the videos in your iPhoto Library” (I already had the latest iPhoto and there were a number of short videos in my iPhoto library that had been imported from my Canon Digital Ixus 400). Once the thumbnails had been generated I was able to see these old videos in the iMovie Event Library but the video I wanted was in a separate file so I had to import it using File -> Import -> Movies… where I created a new event for it. I wasn’t sure whether to “Optimise video” but in this instance I chose not to.

The next step was to create a project using File -> New Project… where I set the aspect ratio to 4:3 and the frame rate to 30 fps. I then selected the clip I wanted from the thumbnails of the event and dragged it into the new project. Muting the audio was as easy as selecting Clip -> Mute Clip. I had already decided on what I wanted to replace it with – a track called “Son of a Bush” by Public Enemy from my iTunes library.

It wasn’t obvious how to add audio but I found it under Help -> iMovie Help -> Get Started -> Enhance your project -> Add background music from your iTunes library. Following the instructions I opened the “Music and Sound Effects” browser, searched for the track and then dragged it to the project window. The instructions were quite specific about dragging the song not onto a clip but to dark grey area to the right of the last clip, which puts it in the so called “background music well” of the project. So that is what I did and it worked – sort of. The problem is I didn’t want the track to start immediately and it was important to get the audio accurately synced to the video, which I could not seem to do. I found the answer in this YouTube video from macmost. All I had to do was ignore what I had read and drag the song onto the clip itself rather than the background well. I was then able to move it around until it lined up the way I wanted. At that point I was basically done so I selected File -> Finalize Project.

So now all I had to do was upload it to YouTube, which you can do directly with the Share -> YouTube… menu. The trouble is, “Size to publish” was set to “Large” (720 x 540) pixels and the higher resolution options (1280 x 720 and 1920 x 1080) were greyed out. I accepted this anyway but it would have been nice to upload at a higher resolution since the original footage was 1280 x 960 pixels. I did find a partial workaround in this post on the Vimeo forums. Using File -> Project Properties… I changed the aspect ratio from standard to widescreen, opened the “Cropping, Ken Burns and Rotation” window, selected the “Fit” option and then finalized the project again. Now when I opened the Share -> YouTube… menu the size was still set to “Large” but now “Large” was 960 x 540 pixels as opposed to 720 x 540 (which just means that there is a blank bit on either side). Also the 1280 x 720 option was no longer greyed out so I could have uploaded at this higher resolution but I chose to leave things as they were. Ideally the camera would have been set to shoot 1080p and I guess I would then have been able to upload to YouTube directly at 1080p – useful to know if I do get one myself.

Rebellious Media

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Rebellious Media Conference in London. The conference was initiated by Peace News as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations and was organised by a coalition of radical media groups. It was held over two days with Saturday’s events taking place at the Institute of Education, moving over to nearby Friends House on the Sunday. On the Saturday night I stayed in Streatham Hill, a seven mile cycle ride each way. I have been snowed under since the conference but finally have time to blog about it. I won’t go into loads of detail, just a few brief notes on the sessions I attended. It is worth noting that the conference was originally to be called “Radical Media Conference” until an advertising agency called “Radical Media” issued a legal threat based on the frankly ridiculous claim that they control the phrase “radical media”. But the law is an ass and not wanting to risk punitive damages the organisers came up with the alternative (and I actually think better) name. So, here we go.

For most of the conference there were numerous parallel sessions but on Saturday morning everyone was together (or in an overflow hall with a video link) for the keynote speaker, Noam Chomsky. I was of course aware of Chomsky’s formidable reputation but I had never actually read any of his books or seen him in person. He clearly has many ardent followers though and I even overheard someone excitedly telling their friend that they had been waiting their whole life for this moment! They had to wait a little longer though while Milan Rai of Peace News welcomed people to the conference and introduced the session, which was called “Radical Media, Radical Priorities”. Chomsky was then introduced by long-time friend and colleague Michael Albert of Z Communications. Chomsky (perhaps predictably) chose to talk about Occupy Wall Street and it was interesting to hear his perspective on it. He argued that some of the more concrete demands of the protest are not very radical at all, while some of the more radical ones (an end to capitalism) are clearly unachievable, at least without the backing of a strong and organised labour movement which no longer exists in the United States. He then took a fair number of questions and provided generally sensible answers. Perhaps you can tell that I was not overly impressed, but then he does have the sort of reputation that must be very hard to live up to.

For lunch I lead a small group to nearby Planet Organic where we got food to take away and eat in Gordon Square. After lunch I attended the session called “Whose Internet is it? Are We Loosing the War?” with a panel of experts including Hamish Campbell of visionOntv, Becky Hogge (former excecutive director of the Open Rights Group and author of “Barefoot into Cyberspace: Adventures in search of techno-Utopia”) and Bill Thompson (veteran Internet and technology commentator/journalist/critic). Douglas Rushkoff who teaches media studies at New York University was supposed to be appearing remotely but in the end we just got to see video which he recorded specifically for the conference. The session was OK but I knew a lot of the stuff already and in retrospect I should have gone to something else.

For the final session on Saturday I chose to attend “War and the Media” and was glad I did because there were three excellent speakers. The first was Mark Curtis, author of “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam”, who spoke about how the UK supports autocratic regimes in the Middle East. He also said you have to be careful about what you read on the Internet and ridiculed a few conspiracy theories, including the one that “9/11 was an inside job”. In the question and answer session he was challenged by a woman who said that she does believe that particular conspiracy theory and was offended by his off-handed dismissal of it. She got some applause but Mark got a lot more when he stuck to his guns and called it a ludicrous theory with no supporting evidence. The second speaker was Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group who spoke about how mainstream journalists (particularly in the BBC) are afraid to report truthfully on the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The final speaker of the session was the renowned journalist John Pilger, author of “The War You Don’t See”, who talked about how the mainstream media fails to report wars objectively. He impressed me more than Chomsky.

On Sunday morning I arrived a bit late and joined the session called “Escaping the Hamster Cage: Practical Alternatives to the Corporate Net”. It was advertised as a geek-friendly session, aimed at geeks and the geek-interested rather than a general audience. There were a couple of people who seemed to be leading the session but basically it was an open discussion and there were a few people present who I knew through the Internet but had never met before in person. Hamish from visionOntv was using his laptop to make notes on the Rebellious Media Interactive website that he had set up – if I make any more notes on the session I will do so over there. This was undoubtedly the most useful session I attended and I came away with a copy of Tech Tools For Activists.

After the morning break I attended “Open Data: Information for Activists” facilitated by Javier Ruiz of the Open Rights Group. There were three good speakers; Martin Keegan of the Open Knowledge Foundation, Chris Taggart who spoke about OpenCorporates, and Judith Towend of Hacks/Hackers who talked about what can be achieved when you get journalists and open data hackers together to work on projects. It was interesting stuff but by this point I was suffering from information overload and couldn’t take it all in properly.

I loitered around for a while, got some food from the Veggies vegan catering stall out back, chatted to a few people and then decided to head home. It seemed to me that the conference was a great success and certainly gave me lots to think about.

Living Without Flash

Mac OS X 10.6.5 included fixes for 55 vulnerabilities in Adobe’s Flash Player. This is part of the reason why Apple have now stopped shipping Flash on all new Macs. Of course users can install the Flash plug-in themselves but having Flash installed can reduce battery runtime by up to a third (see Ars Technica review of the 11″ MacBook Air), so there are good reasons to avoid it. The problem is that although Flash is a proprietary technology controlled by Adobe it is widely used to serve video on the web. This situation arose because although HTML has always included a tag for embedding static images it has not until relatively recently had a tag for embedding video. With HTML5 that has all changed but Microsoft have been dragging their feet and Internet Explorer (unlike all the other major browsers) does not yet support HTML5 video. This means that websites have been slow to adopt the new technology because they generally need to support IE users. However, with the success of Apple’s iPhone and iPad (neither of which support Flash) content providers have been given a kick up the backside and an increasing number of websites are now able to serve HTML5 video.

For a long time I had been using the ClickToFlash Safari plugin to block Flash on my iMac. One of the main benefits was the elimination of all those distracting Flash adverts but when I did want to watch a Flash video I could play it with a single click. The problem was that Safari was telling websites “Yes, I have Flash” so they were not serving alternative content when available. About a month ago I read that Steven Frank had removed the Flash plugin from his Mac altogether and I followed his lead, installing the YouTube5 Safari Extension so that I could still watch stuff on YouTube.

After removing Flash from my iMac I found that certain things no longer worked, for example Google Street View, the flickr slideshow and the excellent TED website. However, I then read about the iPad user agent string trick on Daring Fireball. The “Develop” menu in Safari has a “User Agent” option and if you set it to “Mobile Safari 3.2.2 – iPad” then websites think you are browsing on an iPad and may well give you something that works without Flash. The trick doesn’t always work but I am going to persevere with my self-imposed exile, partly out of stubbornness, partly in solidarity with people who are using devices that can’t do Flash, and partly to inform webmasters through their logs that there are people who run Mac OS X without Flash.

So what do I miss most? That is easy – the BBC. I am subscribed to the BBC news feed via RSS and often go to a story that consists mainly of an embedded video where I just get a message telling me I need to install Flash. Although the BBC site apparently works on an iPad it goes to some lengths to check that you are really on an iPad and is not fooled by changing the user agent string. This is very annoying and there doesn’t seem to be a way around it. I have no idea why the BBC is going out of its way to unnecessarily force users to install a proprietary plug-in. The same thing applies to BBC iPlayer on the web but here there is a workaround – I use a command line tool called get_iplayer.

QuickTime Player and Ogg Video

I am running a fully updated install of Snow Leopard on a late 2009 21.5 inch iMac and have noticed a strange problem with QuickTime player (10.0) and some Ogg Video files. I have two Ogg Video files I downloaded from the Internet – call them good.ogv and bad.ogv for the sake of argument. Both these files play fine inside their icon and in Quick Look. If I double click on good.ogv then it opens and plays fine in QT but if I double click on bad.ogv then QT opens with a small window that says “Loading Movie…” and it hangs there for ever. What’s more, having tried to open bad.ogv, if I then double click on good.ogv it doesn’t work either – it hangs with the same message. The player has not completely hung because if I double click on an mp4 file it plays OK, it just won’t play any ogv files until I quit it and restart.

Has anyone else noticed this? If you want to try it yourself with the files I used then good.ogv is here and bad.ogv is the Ogg Video download from here.

Update: I forgot to mention that both files play fine in the old QuickTime Player 7, which can be installed from the Snow Leopard DVD.