Category: Nerdery

Of GoPros and automated video

Rachel and I recently returned from an amazing once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip to Chile. The highlight by far was the five nights we spent “glamping” outside of Torres Del Paine National Park down in Patagonia.

We got a GoPro for Christmas last year and, outside of a handful of smaller hiking and kayaking trips, haven’t had much of an opportunity to put the thing through its paces. This trip was the perfect use for it and I have to say I came away pretty impressed.

The resolution that this thing is shooting at is absolutely incredible to me given its size. And the wide-lens fisheye thing it has going is absolutely perfect for our purposes. We both wanted to be in the photos and video we were shooting as well as getting all the natural grandeur of the Chilean wilderness.

Probably my biggest beef with it is that it’s difficult to use to take photographs. I got a monopod (don’t call it a selfie stick!) explicitly for this purpose and figured that hitting the shutter on burst photo mode would still give us time to frame a nice photo before it finished taking shots. Not so. I also had the unenviable habit of making a squinty face whenever I checked that it was on, which didn’t look so great in 1080p.

But anyway, cutting together footage was a curiosity once we were back stateside. I had used GoPro’s video editor with some success in the past so that’s what I used on the first pass. Unfortunately, their templates are pretty limited, so if you want to get more creative with the music or the cuts you have to start from scratch. Here’s how it turned out:

I also recently started using Google Photos, and their platform has this near-magical “Assistant” that swoops in and programmatically creates animations, collages, stylized Instagrammy stuff and, yes, video. Check out this montage it created and tell me its not as good or better than the GoPro software.

Live events, the final frontier

Yesterday I spoke with former federal prosecutor David Locke Hall about his new book “Crack99: The Takedown Of A $100 Million Chinese Software Pirate” for a WAMU event at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle.

I was nervous about getting out from behind my keyboard and doing a live event in front of people, but I genuinely believe this is what public media needs to be doing in order to stay relevant in this flattened age of ours.

There are only a couple events left in our initial run, but I trust there will be a Pt. 2 and I’m excited to be part of it.

Historic Launch Puts Satellite Built By Fairfax Students Into Orbit


It was a historic day at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia Tuesday night, as a group of current and former students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology celebrated the launch of TJ3Sat — the first satellite built by high school students ever to be launched into space.

Students seize on opportunities

TJ3Sat was just one of 28 small “cubesat” satellites, many built by universities across the country, sent into low Earth orbit Tuesday night. The excitement was palpable in the viewing area in the minutes before the Minotaur I rocket took flight, despite a 45-minute delay.

Few people anticipated the launch quite as much as Thomas Jefferson senior and TJ3Sat Student Leader Rohan Punnoose.

“This is probably one of the most amazing days of my life,” said Punnoose. “This is a life-changing experience.”

Punnoose is just one of the more than 50 students who worked on the TJ3Sat program over the course of seven years.

To read the full story, go to WAMU.org
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Carl Sagan Collection Opened With Help From ‘Family Guy’ Creator


A collection of 1,705 boxes of materials from American astronomer and celebrated pop science advocate Carl Sagan was officially opened on Tuesday at the Library of Congress.

The library was able to acquire the late astronomer’s papers with a donation from Seth MacFarlane, the Emmy Award-winning creator responsible for popular TV shows like Family Guy and American Dad. He worked with Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow and long-time collaborator, to release the collection.

Both Druyan and MacFarlane joined the dedication on Tuesday.

Included in the materials is correspondence between Sagan and many of the biggest figures in astronomy and science in the 20th century, early drafts of some of the articles and books for which Sagan is so well known, and even early notebooks and report cards from Sagan’s academic career.

To read the full article, go to WAMU.org.

Blook Back: Pump Six And Other Stories

Pump Six and Other StoriesPump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What words would one use to describe this collection of Paolo Bacigalupi’s short fiction? Dystopian? Cynical? Grim?

I’m onboard the adjective train until that last stop. While Bacigalupi paints a picture of a future wrought sectarian violence, chemically-mutilated gene structures, economic collapse, widespread drought and famine, and sinister corporate dominance, I don’t think he ever tips over into the realm of the negative.

It’s perhaps best realized in the titular work, Pump Six. Humanity is reduced to a bunch of hormonally-wrecked layabouts good for little more than eating and screwing. But at the core of the mess is an eminently human narrator, completely overwhelmed with the task at hand, but resolved to try and find a way to fix it.

The allegory for a modern activist, particularly in the environmental realm, is obvious. Our challenges are the consequence of dealing with human nature, but they are not insurmountable.

After all, if we don’t deal with it, who will?

View all my reviews

Blook Back: Inferno – The World At War

Exactly what I was looking for in a sweeping history of World War II: an unflinching view of the great war from start to finish that focused principally on the perspectives of the “little people.”

Probably the most significant thing I drew from it was the actual nature of the war. In hindsight, history often treats major decisions and campaigns as deliberate, precise and calculated. In fact, they are usually operated in a bumbling, haphazard fashion that costs thousands of people their lives.

As an American, I also noted interesting parallels to modern times that we are not often told. Most notably, that the American public was even then extraordinarily impatient and intolerant of casualties. Hawks in Iraq and Afghanistan often bemoan the American peoples’ impatience with war as though it’s a product of Walter Cronkite during the Vietnam War. Hastings conveys the fact that western democracies have always been that way.

It also dovetails into the way Hastings says we fought the war — which is principally with the use of total air superiority and with a ridiculous overindulgence in artillery. Even with those deficiencies, the United States still made a significant contribution to the Allied victory by virtue of its industrial might.

It makes one wonder, though, with our greatly diminished manufacturing capacity, how we would wage a real war today? American fighting doctrine relies almost completely on advantages we’ve had on the battlefield since 1943. If our war machine sputtered and we lost control of the skies, the prospects for the American military would not be fantastic.

Such flights of intellectual fancy are why I read works like Hastings’. Fantastic stuff.

Blook Back: The Wise Man’s Fear

Another absolutely ripping yarn from the pen of Patrick Rothfuss. I was led to believe that this second installment was a failure because it does little to advance the story of Kvothe the Bloodless, but I have to heartily disagree with that sentiment.

In The Wise Man’s Fear, Kvothe takes his first serious sojourn into the wider world since he took resident at the University. My biggest criticism of the last book was that the adventures away from the school felt like tacked on filler. Not so in this work, as Kvothe’s adventures under the Maer, hunting bandits, cavorting with Felurian, studying at Ademre, and finally returning home show us some of the truth behind this bloated reputation of a virtual living god that we’re introduced to in the first book. We finally learn that, while there is a hard nugget of truth to Kvothe’s reputation, it is largely hot air.

It’s hard to express what a relief this is. Another one of my complaints about the last book was a displeasure at being told that a protagonist was super gifted at everything he tried, just like EVERY other protagonist in pulp sci-fi and fantasy ever. Oh, he’s a child prodigy who is great at the lute, and fighting and magic and thieving and memorization and woeing women and on and on? What a relief that he’s also the result of a bunch of rumors and hearsay.

In any case, this series has so far been very much about the ride, and not the destination, so unlikely many others, I’m not dissatisfied with where it ended. I can see why some are concerned, since there appears to be an inordinately large period of time to cover to stitch together the two narratives in the final book of what has been described as a trilogy. I’m confident that Rothfuss will either split out the series into another book, or failing that, rely on ebook publishing to give us a 2000-page monstrosity next time.

I know I will be lined up (at my computer) to buy it!

Blook Back: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one of the more interesting reads I’ve undertaken this year. I decided to read  it because of the enduring cultural legacy of the book more than anything. It’s a work that is widely credited with helping the abolitionist cause, and cultural echoes of it continue to this day.

What I found most interesting, however, was not that it was a study and criticism of slavery and pervading attitudes amongst slave owners of the time, but as a work that presents a very utilitarian and uplifting view of Christianity as a slave religion.

When I was in college, I found Frederick Nietzche’s argument that Christianity was a slave religion incredibly persuasive. It’s a value system that encourages men to turn their will to power in on themselves. It celebrates the meek, the patient, and the martyr. In the figure of Christ on the cross, it tells humanity that suffering is the natural condition of life, and discourages man from seeking to better his situation through force by dangling the carrot of immortal bliss in the afterlife.

Nietzsche makes an excellent case that this has the effect of making virtues of weakness and cowardice. He says that Christian morality sets up artificial boundaries intended to tie down the strong-willed by undermining their natural proclivities. Man as a species cannot achieve its true potential while saddled by needless ideas like guilt and humility.

For a long time, I too was willing to cast aside Christian morality as well, principally because it’s far from clear that the religion passed from the apostles all the way to the modern church has anything to do with the actually teachings of Christ, but also because I recognized and accepted Nietzsche’s contempt for a system that seeks to constrain my natural urges and desires.

Reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, however, opened my eyes to the sheer power of Christianity. I had taken to think of the term “slave morality” in a disparaging light — as though adhering to it reduces one’s circumstances to that of a slave. That turns on its head though when the person espousing the belief actually IS a slave.

In the figure of Uncle Tom, you see a man who would have been utterly destroyed if he did not have this faith promising him an eternal reward for his good deeds. Stuck in circumstances for which he would never be able to break free, Christianity was as a salve that kept him alive. It’s hard enough to live day to day as an atheist, but to be a slave to another man’s will without even the promise of an afterlife to redeem one’s suffering? That is just unimaginably dark.

A society governed by this morality remains deficient in the ways outlined by Nietzsche, but it’s now clear to me that the religion of the downtrodden serves more of a purpose than mere sedation.