This one boots to eleven…


While at PhotoCamp, Kevin was kind enough to let me see his Cr-48, which is a Linux laptop from Google which relies on The Cloud™ to do its magic.

For some reason, one of the features he showed off was the ability to boot up really quickly. In fact, he counted while he booted up. I wasn’t too impressed.

Actually, I think my comments were along the lines of “Yeah, it takes my MacBook longer to boot up, and boy, that sure annoys me every 4 to 6 weeks…”

Honestly, I rarely shut down my MacBook, and instead just put it to sleep. Waking up from sleep takes a few seconds at most. Still… I thought I should test things by shutting down and booting it up again. To get to the login screen from a cold boot took about 1 minute. Logging in took about 1 minute. Launching Firefox (and loading 4 tabs) took less than a minute. So in total, it was probably under 3 minutes to boot up.

Believe me, I know boot time is important. The RED ONE boots fairly slowly. in fact it’s been said that when booting up the RED, it’s the longest 90 seconds of your life.

Besides all that, the Cr-48 looks like a fairly nice little laptop, despite the fact that it’s all hobbled in what it can actually do in the world of media creation and hacking…


The Photo Booth

Last year I was invited to a co-worker’s wedding. And, since so many weddings nowadays involve being creative on a budget, they had a photo booth there that they set up themselves using Sparkbooth, a great little Adobe AIR-based application. A few weeks later we were having our annual work party, and I was tasked with making a photo booth a reality. Since then I’ve been working on building a better photo booth experience.

NOTE: Need a button? Now you can buy one! Visit our store or Etsy.

For the first one I set up, I used my MacBook Pro. We connected a Sony PD-150 video camera via FireWire and selected it in Sparkbooth rather than using the built-in iSight camera. (The iSight is a small camera, with a tiny lens, so the video camera ended up providing a better image.) We also put a little sticker on the space bar that said “PRESS HERE TO TAKE PHOTOS” and hoped for the best. It worked, but there were just too many moving parts to deal with, like the camera on a tripod behind the MacBook, and a light clamped onto the tripod. It wasn’t elegant.

The Sparkbooth software is great and provides a ton of features, including the ability to upload photos to Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr, Posterous, or a dozen other sites. There are some optional features that would require a keyboard—if you prompt people to enter their name, email, a comment, or choose if they want the image uploaded or not—but the main interaction is through pressing the space bar to start the picture-taking process.

If you need a space bar, you may need a keyboard… unless you build something that can emulate a space bar. When I saw The AWESOME Button on Make, I knew what I had to do. I had to build a button.

Ready for Pushing
The Button

The button is simple, and built into a metal case. It should stand up to abuse that a normal keyboard might not, and it’s pretty simple. You can’t really press the wrong button, there’s only one.

Once I had the button, I set about getting my old iMac set up as the photo booth machine. Not being happy with the built-in iSight (the iMac is about 4 years old, and it’s definitely not as good as the latest round of iSight cameras), I ended up taking the Canon ZR800 from Time Lapse Bot and using that. It worked OK but wasn’t ideal. I didn’t want to have to deal with a tripod and more cables, etc. (I even ended up testing a floor-mount camera holder I built which took pictures of shoes for a specific event—don’t ask!)

Ultimately I settled on using a Logitech HD Pro USB Webcam C910. Its image quality is much better than the iSight, and there’s just one cable to plug in. Just one problem… while it worked fine with my MacBook, no matter what I tried, I could not select it in Sparkbooth on the iMac. I tried everything, including different versions of Adobe AIR, different versions of Mac OS X, reformatting the drive, a clean install… nothing would work. I ended up disconnecting the built-in iSight thanks to some help from iFixIt.

The Photo Booth
The Completed Photo Booth

So I now had the button and the camera. I then needed something to hold it all together. I wanted a stand to put the iMac on that was about the right height for a “typical human being,” and by that I mean: about my height. (You can also easily adjust the camera by just tilting the iMac a bit.) I ended up building a simple pedestal out of plywood and painting it white. I used thin plywood to save on weight since it needs to be somewhat portable. You can’t see it in the photo but the back has been left open, and there’s an internal shelf for the keyboard and mouse. I keep those handy in case of trouble, or if I need to change any settings in the software. The shelf actually helps structurally as well.

For the light, I used a small IKEA clamp light (you’d be amazed how hard it is to find a small, good-looking clamp light.) There’s an L-shaped piece of plywood behind the iMac that’s held onto the stand with a c-clamp. It works for now. I may upgrade the light in the future.

Booth Photos
Photos from the Booth

Here’s a selection of photos from the first official use of the Photo Booth. (Yes, there are two Munchkins on the back wall—it was a “Wizard of Oz” themed party.) I’m asking for a bit of forgiveness in calling this a “Photo Booth” at this point because, while it does take photos, there isn’t an actual booth yet… I need to save something for Phase II of this project…

Stay Tuned!

NOTE: Need a button? Now you can buy one! Visit our store or Etsy.


Three Apples

Three Apples

Milwaukee-based developer Josh Dean wonders what Apple product he should get?

Well, I’ve got two of the Apple product he’s considering, so I thought I’d share my opinion…

I’ve only had an iPad about two months now, and for me, it’s a consuming device. I do very little creating with it. That said, it’s an amazing consuming device. I use it for reading, mainly with Google Reader, for which there are many good clients. I also use it around the house as it’s often much more convenient to grab it for quick searches than any full-fledged computer. If you took away my iPad, there would be a hole in the way I access information around the house. That “around the house” bit is key to my usage. I rarely take it out of the house, but that’s just me. I could live without an iPad and still get all of my work done. For me, the iPad is much more about enjoyment and fun than it is about work.

MacBook Pro
I have a MacBook Pro, and before that, I had an iBook, and before that, a PowerBook… A laptop, for me, is a supplemental device to get more work done, or be able to work anywhere. I tend to do probably 80% of my work on desktop machines, but having a laptop lets me take the show on the road, and also lets me do two things at once. As a sidenote, the iPad has filled in much of what I used to use the MacBook Pro for around the house. As for work, the MacBook lets me do (almost) any work I need to do away from the office. It’s got FireWire, USB ports, an SD Card reader, video out, etc… The MacBook Pro is a full-fledged computing device for creating anything I need to create.

MacBook Air
I do not have a MacBook Air, and I don’t think I’d get one. It looks like an awesome netbook (though Apple will never call it that.) I used to use an Asus Eee PC 701, the first real netbook to hit the market. I loved the small size and light weight of the device, but it left a lot to be desired (not running Mac OS X was one thing.) The netbook was limited, but I learned to live within those limitations. I think the MacBook Air would be a little limiting for me, but then, I tend to want to do hardware as well as software stuff, and I need FireWire. If was just a developer writing code and didn’t need to worry about interfacing with certain hardware or having an optical drive available, the MacBook Air would probably be fine. Still, I tend to prefer the extra features a MacBook Pro affords, but again… that’s just me.

I don’t know if this will help Josh, or anyone else, make a decision, but I figured I’d share my opinion.

Here’s a few previous blog posts that may also be helpful:


The (Low Cost) Red DIT Station

If you’re on location with the RED, it’s a good idea to have a Digital Imaging Technician Station (or DIT Station) which will allow you to backup up all the footage you are shooting while you are in the field, and will also allow you to view the footage and make sure it’s all good before you leave the field.

If you’ve got an unlimited budget, I’d recommend the top of the line MacBook Pro (which can easily run $3,000-$4,000+ depending on how you deck it out) as well as a few external drives. Look at the G-Technology offerings, as they have various solutions depending on your budget and needs. The G-Raid mini is a nice, small, bus-powered drive with a quad interface (FW400, FW800, USB2, eSata.) Get a few of these. You could go with the 1TB, but the 500GB might be fine. You want your data in two places, and not “RAID two places” but “two different physical drives” places. The RED Drive holds 320GB, so if you are dumping a full RED Drive, you could just dump it to a 500GB drive (well, two drives) and mark it as “DONE” and move on. Oh, and since we have gobs of money, pick up an ExpressCard with eSata on it to put in your new MacBook Pro.

RED DIT Station
For the “dumping” of data, you can either use something like R3D Data Manager which does all sorts of checksums for the data, can backup to multiple locations at once, and has other nice features, or you can do a standard Finder copy. R3D Data Manager is $79, which is not too bad… again, what is your footage worth? If you want to fly in the Finder, and can review everything you dump, that can work too.

Speaking of software, RED has provided a number of excellent tools for free. Grab REDCINE-X, RED ALERT! and whatever else you may need at RED’s support site. REDCINE-X is a nice little app for checking the footage you just shot.

So where’s the “Low Cost” part come in? Well, let’s say you don’t have the budget for the top of the line MacBook Pro… that’s fine, get the bottom of the line MacBook Pro (at least get a Pro, you want Firewire 800!) and with that get some drives. I still really like the G-Raid minis, but you could probably find USB bus-powered drives that are cheaper (and slower!) if needed, but again, we do want as much speed as we can afford. (Bus-powered drives are nice because you never know where power will be when on location… if there is power at all.)

If you are shooting to CF Cards, do yourself a favor and get a Sandisk Extreme FireWire Reader (about $65) which will dramatically speed up transferring of footage compared to a cheap USB Card Reader. (The low end MacBook Pro has just one Firewire port, but you can plug the Firewire CF Card Reader into the the back of the G-Raid mini, which has two ports.


So we’ve go the MacBook Pro, which is $1,300 before adding AppleCare (but here’s a tip, you can get a refurb, plus AppleCare for it, for about $1,295) add in two G-Raid minis (the 500GB) at about $450, and a CF Card Reader for $65. We come in under $2,000 for this set up, which is not the ULTIMATE portable RED DIT Station, but it’s a Low Cost one, that is effective enough to get the job done.