Ease of Use is a Problem?

I work with complicated software and various engineering and hardware problems every day. Such is the life in post production. The average consumer should not have to deal with the issues I deal with. That is why there are software bundles like iLife to make things easier.

Christopher Dawson, technology director for a Massachusetts public school district disagrees. He thinks software like iLife is too easy and impairs students:

It simply hands so much to the students that they struggle with software (whether Windows, Linux, or even pro-level software on the Mac) that isn’t so brilliantly plug and play. Yes, iLife rocks in many ways, but the level of spoonfeeding it encourages actually makes me think twice about using it widely, especially at the high school level.

So his argument is that some software is difficult to use, therefore easy software should not be allowed.

When working in a professional setting, yes, you need to understand your tools inside and out to better understand how to get your work done. I see the effect lack of knowledge has all the time with edits we get back from freelance editors working in Final Cut Pro at home. We get 16:9 anamorphic footage edited letterboxed in 4:3 sequences, tapes captured as stereo instead of split-mono,  extraneous use of layered plugins to achieve a “look,” 24 layers of video with 76 layers of audio, most of which are empty… the list goes on.

That said, these are technical problems and not creative ones. When you’re in school (especially high school), little should stand in the way between the creative vision that is in your head and the final result, including software. There’s no reason for students to know NTSC frame sizes, what 3:2 pulldown is,  or the difference between RGB and YUV, that is, unless they want to learn more. In which case, let them grow out of the simple software and use the more advanced packages.

As for the assumption that using easy software causes students to struggle with more compliated software? I’ve been on both sides. Many, many times, it doesn’t matter what you’re used to, complicated software is still complicated.

If high school students are having trouble picking up “pro-level software on the Mac,” it’s not because they’re used to plug-and-play. There’s a reason it’s called “pro” software ((For the record, I started out on Media100 as a freshman in high school, then moved to Premiere & Final Cut Pro my junior year. I would’ve killed for something like iMovie where I didn’t need to make sure I captured my video as Motion JPEG-A through the Aurora card for it to play back out successfully)).

[via Daring Fireball]

Safari 4 Beta Tabs

I may write up a more detailed post later, but I wanted to get this out there now.

Safari 4 Beta, like Google’s Chrome has the right idea about tabs, but the implementation is horrible.

What’s right:
The tab now encompasses the URL bar & navigation bar, which represents the contents of that tab.

What’s wrong:
The title bar should be a title bar, not a container for tabs.
The tab now also encompasses the Bookmark bar, which is not in any way associated with the content of the tab, except to provide quick navigation to those pages. It does not change with regard to the different tabs, so why is it included as part of the tab?

Tabs, which usefull, still provide with unique UI challenges. I’m glad to see steps taken in the right direction, but it’s still by no means utopia.

Content Providers Demand Hulu Remove Boxee Support

Last night, both Boxee and Hulu announced on their blogs that content providers wanted Hulu pulled from Boxee. From Hulu’s blog:

Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes. While we stubbornly believe in this brave new world of media convergence — bumps and all — we are also steadfast in our belief that the best way to achieve our ambitious, never-ending mission of making media easier for users is to work hand in hand with content owners. Without their content, none of what Hulu does would be possible, including providing you content via Hulu.com and our many distribution partner websites.

boxee-hulu-break

For those unfamiliar with Boxee, it is a media center application built around X-Box Media Center (XBMC). It provides access to your own videos, music, and pictures as well as streams from ABC, Netflix, and formerly Hulu.

Hulu provides users a great, legally sanctioned way to view television and film content. If you have never tried Hulu, please, take a look. Many shows are put up for viewing the following day. The great thing about Hulu, though, is that it’s content can be shared and embedded (or streamed, as was the case with Boxee). All the content is ad supported (one commercial where there would typically be 5-8 in a break). It seemed like a great win-win.

However, for some reason, content owners still must not get it. The commercials were still streamed to Boxee, so why they would want to remove a complete outlet to view that content is beyond me. The only thing I can see is that they still want on-line video content to fail. Or perhaps they were disillusioned that if content was watched through Boxee and not a web-page, it wouldn’t count as a view?

Whatever the case, this seems a “two-steps-forward and one-step-back” scenerio.

UPDATE: After talking with Dembro, we have come to the following conclusion:

Me: or maybe 3.) They have no f**ing clue what they’re doing and just want to exercise a little control over the content to make themselves feel better.
Dembro: yeah
Dembro: that’s probably it

And he also wrote his own post, though slightly more angry than mine.

UPDATE 2: I’d also like to point out that I had this post up (with heartbrake picture) 6 minutes before it was on Ars. So really, Chris Foresman copied me.

UPDATE 3: Mike Hedlund at O’Riely Radar has it exactly right:

Emphasis added: portable computing devices. Not to your TV — from your TV. To your dumb-ass laptop, you smelly, hairy, friendless, gamer-freak nerd. (Sorry, I hate to talk about you that way, but that’s how they think of the Internet. I think you smell great.) To your TV is something completely different, and from the “content providers'” point of view, completely wrong. Aren’t Apple and Tivo and YouTube bad enough as it is?

KERN – Typography Nerds Can Have Fun Too

Kern GameThink Tetris, but upside-down, with letters. That’s the best way I can think to describe KERN (App Store), a new game for the iPhone. From the site:

KERN is a minimalist typography experience challenging you to precisely place a missing letter into a falling word while avoiding any unnecessary ligatures!  Practice and prove your typographical acumen with a score that gives new meaning to point-size!

The design is beautifully minimal and well thought out. It’s also easy to pick up and well worth the $0.99, even if your not into typography. I think this might be my new go-to game.

Video of the game play available after the break.

[via @rohdesign]

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Red delays Scarlet and EPIC

In an announcement on the Reduser forum this morning, Jim Jannard of Red Digital Cinema has stated they are no longer working overtime to push the release of Scarlet and EPIC. These cameras are still in the pipeline, they have just moved to a more typical development schedule.

I see no reason to continue to pay for rapid development and pushed schedules when the world is not ready to buy our product in the quantities that justify our urgency.  […] Retail camera sales are currently off 40-50%.

While it may be a blow to those who were hoping to get their hadns on one of those cameras once they were pre-announced, I can completely understand their decision. If the volume of sales won’t be there, it doesn’t make sense to push development as hard as they probably were.

Jon Chappell of Digital Rebellion highlights why this isn’t such a big deal, which I completely agree with. There may even be an upside. This may translate to more Red One sales, which could mean more support for the Red One in post. We’re getting there with RAW support in FCP, AE, and Premiere, but it could stand to be improved… especially 4k support in FCP.

Please Enjoy This Commercial Break

So it turns out that commercials might not be such a bad thing. A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that test groups enjoyed a tv show more when there were commercials inserted.

In one experiement, two test groups were shown an episode of Taxi; one with commercials, the other without. The group who viewed the show with commercials enjoyed the show much more. According to the author, the theory is that commercials provide a contrast to the show. At each commercial break, the viewer is reminded that that show they were watching is much better by comparison.

I have a different theory, one that the Freakonomics blog shares: TV shows are written and edited with commercial breaks in mind. Some shows like Arrested Development and The Office make great use of the few moments right before those breaks. When watching those shows on DVD (while still great) the breaks suddenly seem slightly awkward. In other shows such as Lost or Heroes, the commercial breaks can give viewers a time to talk with others about what they just saw, theories they have about the show, or what they think will happen next.

Freakonomics sums it up nicely:

Filmmakers don’t seem to need commercial breaks to keep audiences interested. Or could Sam Mendes have pushed his Revolutionary Road into a Golden Globe for best drama by chopping it up with a few well-timed words from his sponsors?

The answer is “no.”