Readability on the iPad

I bought an iPad recently, mostly because many of our customers in the video production field seem to be finding them useful for all kinds of things. I couldn't really see why I personally would want one very much since any time I would use an iPad I could probably just as easily use a laptop. But I was completely prepared to be convinced that it is as cool as people say.

And mostly I like it. It's got a nice form factor, it's surprisingly snappy for surfing the web, it's a great ebook reader, etc. Dropbox has a very nice iPad app that makes accessing files on my other computers pretty easy. I still haven't found the killer feature that makes it indispensable, but it's growing on me.

There are only two things so far that are bugging me. The first is the whole model of getting files onto the iPad. It is based on synchronizing with a single computer via iTunes. But I want to put movies onto it from one of several computers around here where they are being produced. The only way seems to be to pick one computer as the master for sync with the iPad, copy all the movies onto that computer, import them into iTunes and then sync. Ugh. It's baffling to me why it has to be this inconvenient.

The other minor annoyance is the readability of the browser. This may seem ungrateful of me because Safari on the iPad is surprisingly good as is. It's fast, you can resize it easily and quickly with a multitouch gesture and it's just all around quite beautiful.

But often, once I've found the page I want to read, I don't want to have to resize it and move it around to get it framed just right on the screen. It would be much better if there were a button that I could press to reformat the main content like an ebook. Thanks to the Readability™ tool, you can get pretty close to just that. There are just a few little steps to get there. :)

The general idea is that the Readability tool is a bookmarklet that needs to be added to Safari. Here's how. (Thanks to Ken Clark for explaining how to get bookmarklets on the iPad.)
  1. Go to the Readability site using a browser on your computer. (I used Chrome on a PC.) Set up the options. I used the following: Style=Newspaper, Size=Extra Large, Margin=Narrow.
  2. Drag the Readability badge to your bookmark toolbar to create a bookmarklet there. Edit the bookmarklet, copy the text of its URL and get that to your iPad. You could mail it to yourself, for example, and read the message on the iPad. I used Dropbox.
  3. On the iPad, copy the text to the clipboard.
  4. Open Safari and click the "+" to bookmark any page. Change the name of the bookmark to Readibility and save it in the Bookmarks Bar.
  5. Go to the Bookmarks manager, navigate to the Bookmarks Bar and click Edit. Paste the text into the URL field of the Readability bookmark.
To use it, open any page that you want make more readable. Go the Bookmarks manager and click the Readability bookmark. It will take a few seconds to reformat the page (it has to fetch some CSS from the Readability site, etc.) but after a short pause you will have a wonderfully readable page.

Here is a movie review from The New Yorker as displayed on the iPad. (Click the image to see a full-size version.)

And here it is after applying the Readability bookmarklet.

Update: It works on the iPhone too. I'm still experimenting with the best settings.


Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Kevin Millsip

Kevin Millsip, sustainability coordinator with the Vancouver School Board, describes this generation’s mandate to spearhead a U-turn in attitudes and actions toward sustainability.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Ifny Lachance

Cycling advocate Ifny Lachance hosts and produces the community radio show, Pedal Revolutionary Radio. Here she presents creative ideas for community events promoting transportation by bicycle, including Critical Mass, Bicycle CARCass, and pie-jousting on a bike.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: David Ramslie

David Ramslie, sustainable development program manager for the City of Vancouver, presents a brief history of the green building movement in Canada, plus present and future building innovations.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts, artistic director for Urban Ink theatre company, reminds participants in the sustainability discussion to open their eyes to the stories and ideas of others in order to find places of commonality.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Tegan Adams

Tegan Adams, teaching and research assistant in the faculty of land and food systems at the University of British Columbia, challenges listeners to create a personal food ethic – to consider where their food was produced and how, then make choices that promote sustainability.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Jaime Kowal

Photographer Jaime Kowal believes in the power of visual storytelling to educate and inspire others. In this presentation she invites individuals to share their images and ideas for a greener Vancouver on GreentheCityVancouver.com, a website created by her company Graphic Activist.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Initiatives Summary

Steven Cox lists several notable on-going sustainability initiatives in Vancouver: Growing Chefs, 100 Mile Diet, Al-Fresco, Car Free Days, Richard Campbell and the Third Wave Cycling Group, Front and Company consignment store, Make Shift, Lanefab laneway housing, Ocean Wise chef Robert Clark of C Restaurant, Shark Truth and the Living City Design Competition.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: John Robinson

Dr. John Robinson, executive director of the University of British Columbia’s Sustainability Initiative and a lead author on the last three reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, presents UBC initiatives to accelerate sustainability in the areas of building design and operations, community engagement, and partnerships with the private and public sector.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Eesmyal Santos-Brault

Eesmyal Santos-Brault, green building expert and principal of Recollective, describes a number of collaborative sustainability projects he is involved with. Informal projects include the Vancouver Design Nerds, GreenBuildingBrain.org (a free database of green building resources) and The Hive (a collaborative office space). He also introduces Fallingwater Cottages, Recollective’s new project with Patkau Architects.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Ken Lum

Internationally-celebrated artist Ken Lum presents his vision for a sustainable city as a community that is not indifferent to trauma, that values cultural differences, and is accepting of diverse lifestyles.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Preet Bal & Poonam Sandhu

Preet Bal and Poonam Sandhu of Sandhog Creations Society discuss their voluntary effort to promote recycling during the annual Vaisakhi parades in Vancouver and Surrey – parades attended by 50,000 and 100,000 members of the East Indian community respectively.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Ernesto Gomez

Ernesto Gomez, cofounder of the Nuba restaurant group in Vancouver, draws on Nuba’s own business model to demonstrate how companies can not only embrace a commitment to value and sustainability in their product offerings, but also help build a better community.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Denise Taschereau

Denise Taschereau explains her career trajectory from a degree in environmental management to self-professed “swag baron” and owner of Fairware promotional products. Her passion for helping companies align their corporate buying with their values stems from an awareness that individual choices “in high volume” have a huge impact.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Mark Holland

Mark Holland, senior planner with HB Lanarc and a member of the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Team, casts a vision for Vancouver in the 21st century as a city that brings people together through play. Ideas presented include providing locally-grown food, celebrating marine activities and the arts, and recognizing pets as “exciting members of the urban cast of characters.”

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Keynote by Mayor Gregor Robertson

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson outlines “greener city” measures already undertaken by the City of Vancouver over the past year and the city’s 10 goals for the next decade. In closing, he encourages Vancouverites to share their green ideas at Talkgreentous.ca.

iPod-compatible version

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 12: Intro by Steve and Jane Cox

Vancouver has set it sights on becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020. But just what would it take to reach that goal? On June 23, 2010, over 2,000 Vancouverites packed the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for Pecha Kucha Volume 12, the kick-off event for the City of Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Conversation. We invite you to listen in on this special Pecha Kucha edition sponsored by the City of Vancouver and the University of British Columbia.

The following set of 16 presentation videos was created for the City of Vancouver in under two days, thanks to Pluraleyes and Singular Software Presto for Sony Vegas Pro.

Hosts Steven and Jane Cox, directors of Cause+Affect Design, provide an overview of the origin of Pecha Kucha and their motivation for spearheading this initiative in Vancouver. Pucker up and practice saying “Pecha Kucha” with help from this clip.


Let me depart from the usual tech and tech event flavor of this blog to write about something I care about deeply.

I don't buy lottery tickets because I figure I have won the lottery several times already: I am a white mail born in Canada into a middle class family. How many more advantages does a person need? The impulse to want to help others who, simply by accident of birth, do not have the same opportunities I have had is very strong. So what is the best way to do this?

Like most businesses I'm sure, we at Singular Software get a lot (and I mean, a lot) of requests to donate our software or other things for various causes. It would be easy to just say yes to all of them, but I used to consider them carefully and support the ones that seemed genuine and worthy. I'm glad I took the time to do so because a few of them were for purposes that I strongly disagreed with. And of course some are simply not genuine.

But in recent months I have been examining more carefully what I and my company can do to actually achieve something and be effective. Every one in business is keenly aware of the difference between activity and accomplishment (or should). Our charitable giving should be looked at in the same light. And mine, I'm afraid to say, has been mostly activity with questionable accomplishment.

So now I am taking a much more active approach to my philanthropy (modest as it is). But, perhaps paradoxically, one result is that I have less time to assess and respond to incoming requests and may seem less generous than before.

Here is how I explained it to one particularly persistent request for assistance.
I have given a lot of money to various causes over the years and have concluded it was a complete waste. The reason why is that it was passive and reactive, with no real attention being paid to the impact it might have. My response to this is not to pull back, but rather to redouble my efforts, take the time to devise a donation strategy, pick my battles and be very conscious of whether I am being effective. This takes a lot of time, but I like how it is working out.

Part of the strategy is to allocate my time carefully. There are only so many hours in the day that I can spend on philanthropic efforts. Every minute that I take to write letters like this one is a minute I can't spend finding the most effective way to stop the trafficking of women in Vietnam or free a political prisoner in Burma. We get a lot of requests for donations to all kinds of things. We can either say yes to all of them or no to all of them, but there is no way we are going to take the time to investigate them to see which ones we feel we should support. Instead, we will use our time to identify the efforts that make the most sense to us and we will put a lot of support behind those, without having to be approached about it. In other words, don't call us, we'll call you.

So, no, I don't know your organization and I am not going find out about it. I will assume that you are a good person who is sincere in what you are trying to do. If that is the case, then I think you will agree that there are many ways to do good things in this world and that we should be respectful of the time and efforts of those who are doing what they can, even if it is not directly supporting our own specific cause.
On re-reading the above, the tone is a little harsher than it needed to be. (I overreacted a bit to the sixth attempt from this person to contact me.) I have all the respect in the world for those who are taking an active role, whatever it is, when so many don't. But the opportunity cost is too high to just be reactive.

This is not to say that I will never consider a request for support. But if the message doesn't hit me the right way right off the bat, you may just get a link to this blog post in response.

There seems to be a bit of a minor revolution happening in the realm of aid, philanthropy, NGO strategy and social entrepreneurship. I am late to the party, but I am catching up. I plan to write more about this in the future.

Update: In the case that prompted this post, I took the time to learn more about the effort behind the request and have given them the support they asked for.


NV10: How (Should) Journalists Use Social Media

Social media is having a significant impact on the way that we share news and stories, and so is also changing how journalists go about their work. In this panel discussion with Kirk LaPointe, Managing Editor of the Vancouver Sun, and Lisa Johnson, a reporter with CBC television, we get some fascinating incites into the use of social media tools in the hands of journalists.


Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Jesse Korzan

The 2010 Winter Olympics bid proved to be the perfect springboard for the budding web design talents of Whistler ski bum Jesse Korzan, now with Work[at]Play. From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 11.


Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Todd Smith

Todd Smith draws on his expertise as an art director, motion designer and design educator to investigate the creative and collaborative process behind a truly great idea.
From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 11.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Christine Jung

Christine Jung, CEO of Hexart Studio Corp. and a ten-year veteran of the New York fashion scene, showcases how you can dress to impress online playing High Heels & Chocolate, a social network game that will debut on Facebook in August 2010.  From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 11.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Michael Gordon

How do we make our city a fun place to live and play? That's what Vancouver City planner Michael Gordon has on his mind as he commutes to work on his skateboard.  From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 11.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Brian LeRoux

The future of software: mobile, open, and free. Brian LeRoux, Lead Software Developer at Nitobi, pitches this vision of tomorrow's Internet, developed through open source collaboration, and demonstrated by their own open source PhoneGap software.  From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 11.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Lauren Bacon

Lauren Bacon, web designer and co-founder of Raised Eyebrow Web Studio Inc., challenges the belief that the real and virtual worlds are totally separate. Let Lauren convince you that the Internet reflects some important truths about the real world.  From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 11.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Glenn Entis

Computer graphics has come a long way from the early days of vector graphics displays and geeky movies like Tron, as Glenn Entis shows in this quick retrospective from his experience in the special effects industry over the last 30 years. Now as President of the local chapter of SIGGRAPH, he is excited to be hosting the SIGGRAPH 2011 conference right here in Vancouver.  From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 11.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Mara Branscombe

Dancer, choreographer, yoga teacher, and producer Mara Branscombe celebrates life as a "wild living endless forest of possibilities"! She was the rehearsal director for a flash mob during the 2010 Winter Olympics that saw over 3,000 people dancing in unison to highlight the imagine1day project for children's education in Ethiopia.  From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 11.

NV10: Telling Stories in Land and Food Systems

Agriculture students are passionate about saving the planet, but not so practiced at communicating. In this talk, a panel of four from UBC's Faculty of Land and Food Systems describe how equipping these students with basic journalism skills and podcasting technology is helping them to articulate their enthusiasm.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Irwin Oostindie

Long time advocate for social change in Vancouver's downtown east side, Irwin Oostindie is leading a project to transform the old Woodward's building into the W2 community media arts centre.  From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 11.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Heather Redfern

As Executive Director of "The Cultch" (Vancouver East Cultural Centre), Heather Redfern has overseen a major renovation of their theatre, which has become a focal point for a thriving creative arts community on the east side.
From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 11.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Kevin Vallely

Whether he is man hauling in record time to the South Pole, skiing the Iditarod trail, or slogging through the jungles of Borneo, Canadian explorer and architect Kevin Vallely finds himself wrestling with the question: "What are you looking for?".
From Pecha Kucha Vancouver Night 11.

Pecha Kucha Vancouver 11: Ryan Opina

Previously with Nokia, and now Lead User Experience Designer at Big Park, Ryan Opina demonstrates that we present ourselves digitally through an average of five online personas.


NV10: Monica Hamburg: Finding Your Online Voice

With a fun combination of wit and wisdom, Monica Hamburg advises the budding blogger on how to develop an authentic online "voice". From Northern Voice 2010.

NV10: David Ng: Good Science

David Ng describes Phylo, a cool trading card game to teach biodiversity. A study showed that children could easily identify and describe a large number of Pokemon characters, yet knew very little about the real world of plants and animals all around them. Inspired by the success of Pokemon, David Ng's group at UBC has successfully leveraged a web community to rapidly develop Phylo, and to draw attention to 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. From Northern Voice 2010.


Nice way to add tweets to your blog

The folks at Plublitweet have put out a neat little bookmarklet that makes it easy to embed a Twitter message in a blog post or on the web. Not only is it stylish-looking, but it's got live links. There are other goodies that it provides, but I'll let you visit their site for details.

Here's an example of what it gives you:

PluralEyes is awesome! RT @thedvshow: FCP Tips: @PluralEyes w/5D MK II - Final Cut Pro http://cli.gs/57PDtThu May 06 04:08:07 via Echofon

And another ...

@kevinshahinian love the Pluraleyes as well! Simply magnificent...Wed May 05 22:05:38 via Twitterrific

OK, I admit it, this is just an excuse to brag...

what did I ever do before PluralEyes... Brilliant.Wed May 05 19:52:56 via web


DemoCamp: Drupal Geo Openlayers

Mack Hardy (@affinitybridge), Directory and Technical Lead at Affinity Bridge, talks about cool things you can do with geo in Drupal.


Pecha Kucha Vancouver 9: Stephanie Hodges

Finding real food and cooking it yourself. Stephanie Hodges, nutritionalist and "adventure foodie" at Vitalis, integrates scientific research from East and West, culinary wizardry and common sense in the presentation at Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 9.

DemoCamp: Canpages API Contest

Amy Rae, Director of Business Development at local search firm Canpages describes their nation-wide programming contest for smart phone application developers. There's a $5,000 prize for the first-place winner.


Pecha Kucha: Michael Ziff

Michael Ziff, co-owner of Hip Baby, sees code everywhere. He explains what that means and weaves a thread that ties together many unexpected phenomena in this presentation at Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 9.

PKVN09: Michael Ziff from Singular Software on Vimeo.


DemoCamp: The Business of Geo

Parveen Kaler (@kaler), founder of Smartful Studios, speaks about the business of Geo Location and Location Based Services. Currently, the Geo technology stack is fractured into disparate slices of functionality. Who owns the data and what functionality currently exists? Parveen looks at where data and functionality gaps exist within the stack. This motivates the types of applications and services that can be built today. It doesn't make sense for a viable business to build a product without a revenue model. He enumerates different methods to monetize Geo Location services and describes how to build a revenue strategy.

DemoCamp: Compass Engine

McElroy Flavelle, CEO of CompassEngine, talks about tools and services for developers to build the next generation of location-based games.


Careful: 23 Hour Day Coming Up

As a committed advocate of the 25 hour day, I dread this weekend. Many parts of the world will switch to daylight saving time on Saturday night. Clocks will be moved ahead by an hour, people will lose an hour's sleep and there will be dire consequences. Don't say I didn't warn you.


DSLR Sync Drift in Final Cut Pro

This post is a follow-up to my earlier post about the 99.9% speed problem that some people encounter with Final Cut Pro. I have learned a few things since then so now I can explain better what is going on. I have also simplified the procedure for avoiding the problem. Thanks go to Philip Bloom and Robin Charters for illuminating discussions about this unfortunately complex topic.

Symptom: My sound drifts out of sync!

You carefully synchronized your audio track with your video. (I hope you used PluralEyes :). It lines up nicely at one point in the timeline, but the farther away you get from that point the more out of sync the audio and video get.

There are a couple of different reasons why this can happen. Perhaps the clock in your audio recorder is not very accurate. (The Zoom H4 and M-Audio Microtrack are not very good in this regard. The Zoom H4n however is excellent and is highly recommended.) Another possibility is that some frames were dropped while capturing.

But if you are working in Final Cut Pro, a far more likely explanation is that it has not been set up exactly right. More specifically if you sometimes work with NTSC frame rates (like 23.98 or 29.97) and sometimes with non-NTSC frame rates (like 25 for PAL or 30 for the Canon 5D), then you have to take some care.

This problem is not specific to video from DSLRs but their rise in popularity and the accompanying increase in the use of dual-system audio techniques has resulted in the problem showing up more often.

A not-recommended solution

Some people solve the problem by changing the speed of the audio clips to 99.9% or 100.1% depending on which version of the problem is happening. I don't recommend this approach because it causes the audio to get resampled twice for no reason, which extracts a performance and quality penalty, and because it can cause issues in downstream processing. Better to set up FCP properly in the first place.

The recommended solution

In this section I'll just tell you what to do so you can get back to editing. But if you want to know why, you can read more about that farther down.

The key points to avoid the problem are these:
1. Don't mix NTSC and non-NTSC material in one sequence. (Instead, use Compressor to conform everything to a common frame rate.)
2. Use an Easy Setup that matches your clips, especially with respect to the NTSC properties of the frame rate.

How to avoid the problem in the first place

1. In FCP, close all open projects. Update: It wouldn't hurt to also turn off the option to automatically re-open the last project in FCP. (Uncheck the box Final Cut Pro > User Preferences... > Open last project on application launch.)
2. From the FCP menu choose an Easy Setup that matches the frame rate of your video clips. If you can't find an exact match, pick one with the same NTSC properties as your video. For example, if you are working with 30.00 fps material from a Canon 5D, then choose an Easy Setup with a 25 fps frame rate.
3. Quit and re-start FCP.
4. Create a new project and import your clips.
5. Add your video clips to the timeline first so that Final Cut will auto-conform the sequence if that's needed.

How to fix a broken sequence

The following procedure is not foolproof but it has worked for people, and it's pretty quick to try. I just wouldn't rely on it.

Maybe you've already done a lot of work on your project and can't bear the thought of starting over again from scratch. The following procedure will let you solve the problem for an existing sequence, but it may have to be re-done if you add more audio clips later. Because of this fragility it is not our preferred procedure.

1. Select the problem sequence in the FCP browser, right-click it and choose Export > XML.
2. Open that XML file in a text editor.
3. Look for the tags <ntsc>. If they all say
or if they all say
then you don't have a problem. But if there is a mix of TRUE and FALSE values, you need to change them so they are all the same. What value should you pick? The one that matches the NTSC-ness of your video clips.

Once you have fixed the XML, you must go through the procedure to establish a new Easy Setup as above or the NTSC changes won't stick.

Why does this work?

When you add a video clip to a sequence, FCP knows what frame rate to use: it just looks at the video clip properties. Audio doesn't have a frame rate like video, but FCP needs to assign it one because many editing operations are tied to the video frame rate. So when you add an audio clip to a sequence, FCP has to pick a frame rate for it.

That choice is apparently made based on the sequence presets (which are set by the Easy Setup), and can depend on what settings are in the cache, not just those that are currently selected. You have to go through all the re-start, etc. steps to ensure that the cache is cleared. FCP seems to be able to adapt to whatever frames-per-second are chosen, but it needs some help to get the NTSC property right.

But you don't need to understand those subtleties. You'll be safe if you always follow these steps: (1) choose an appropriate Easy Setup, (2) restart FCP, (3) create a new project.


PluralEyes on the Digital Convergence Podcast

I was interviewed today by the very nice Carl Olson for the latest episode of his Digital Convergence podcast. We talked mainly about PluralEyes but managed to fit in some thoughts on left-brain/right-brain duality and making 3D movies too. Digital Convergence is a new podcast about all matters to do with making video with the new breeds of hybrid DSLR cameras. Carl has put his finger on a hot topic and it's good to see a well-produced podcast on the subject.


Beauty Night 2009

The Beauty Night Society hosts its annual "All I Want for Christmas" fund-raising fashion show featuring pin-up designs by Nancy Black. Enjoy the inspiring story behind show ... and enjoy the beauty!


Pecha Kucha: Anne Pearson

Anne Pearson, owner of Vancouver Special Art+Design, roams the world to bring the best examples of affordable, clever design to Vancouver. In this presentation, Anne gives an interesting retrospective on how the urban daily experience in Vancouver has changed over the years. From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 9.

Trust Agents co-author speaks at Third Tuesday

Julien Smith, co-author of Trust Agents, speaking at Third Tuesday.

Props to Carlson Media for the nice recording.



Pecha Kucha: Su-feh Lee

Su-feh Lee, dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director of Battery Opera talks about how she uses the materials of "time, space and the human body" to help people make dances. From Pecha Kucha Vancouver, Volume 9.