Myths of Ability

Weblog of IKhider

Using Blender as an NLE

Created On: June 05, 2017

I have edited a couple of videos using Blender as an non-linear editor (NLE). I was trained in Adobe Premiere Pro at Humber College, but after my earlier post on Mikeycal\s how to use Blender as a video editor series on Youtube, I decided to give Blender a try. First I went through Mikeycal\s tutorials and then worked on a couple of short videos. A lot of time was spent just trying to figure out where all the controls were. Instinctively, if I wanted to preview a video, I tend to hit spacebar, which is the standard keyboard shortcut for both Digital Audio Workstations and video software. This is not the case for Belnder which is (ALT + A). Blender is not easy to use as a video editor compared to Adobe Premiere Pro. Perhaps it is just a matter of being more familiar with the software and workflow. I have yet to edit a video in Blender that requires a lot more attention to audio such as working with interview footage and background music. For something like that, Ardour in conjunction with Blender would be needed. One major benefit of Blender I experienced is the built in color correction tools for each video strip I edit. I was amazed at the Blender Nodes, which really gets granular when it comes to color grading. Blender does not look sophisticated when you first run it, but there are a lot of powerful tools \under the hood\'. One major setback, however, are the extra long rendering times. Adobe Premiere Pro renders short videos at a fraction of the time of Blender. But that could be a settings issue. Also, previews before rendering tend to skip, so at this time, I need to render a video to test editing details. I also have yet to edit dialog scenes as the videos I shot so far just music sound tracks. I have no issue with extra learning or putting more of an effort, but I do want to see if Blender can put out as sophisticated a video as Adobe Premiere Pro. Right now, Blender is listed as '\Professional(small)\ NLE, when compared to Premiere, which is full on \Professional\'. I need to keep editng videos to see how true this is.

August 15th, 2016

An interview with Didact Gothic font designer, Daniel Johnson


Calf Studio Gear

“What I would say to also bear in mind is that as more and more 'non-experts' and 'amateurs' join the ranks of the design world, then even the designer-as-the-target-client changes for the type industry. The user swarm is very quickly filling the design industries too. I think I see evidence that the creative and design communities are generally moving more away from finding meaning in the 'quality as paramount' strategy, and more towards finding paramount meaning in any stuff that really keeps them the right side of the creative curve. And it's not due to a lowering of standards or non-education, it's the opposite; people are maybe becoming more sophisticated, fine-tuned, and discriminating in their tastes as they become exposed to more and more alternative narratives of what is 'good' and what is 'bad'.”
-Vernon Adams, font designer.

Daniel Johnson develops fonts for the Open Font Library as a hobby. To sustain his livelihood, he is a back-end software developer for a big company. To sustain his soul, he designs fonts, plays music and is a sheet-music engraver. Johnson designs his fonts using free (as in freedom), Libre software such as Font Forge and Inkscape. He is a GNU/Libre enthusiast, and in that spirit, contributes his fonts to be used, shared and modified without restriction. An educational firm in Australia liked Johnson's font, Didact-Gothic, so much, they even paid him to develop a variant for educational purposes. Johnson is modest about his fonts, but a conversation reveals just how passionate he is about his hobby as a font designer.


Didact Gothic is a sans-serif font designed to present each letter in the form most often used in elementary classrooms. This makes it suitable for literacy efforts. The font supports all of Basic Latin, Latin-1 Supplement, and most of Latin Extended-A. It supports almost all Latin-alphabet European languages. It also supports the major Cyrillic scripts, including non-Slavic languages, as well as modern and polytonic Greek. The 25 January 2013 release features marked improvements in stroke shoulders, as well as esszet, eth, thorn, and slashed o.

Ibrahim Khider: Why did you submit to Openfont library?


Daniel Johnson: They are a place where you can self-publish. I just found them on-line and it was the only to get my stuff out to the public and get it noticed. I first submitted when the site was first in its infancy. I think there were only 50 or 60 fonts there. The site went through two revisions and a lot of the typefaces I have originally submitted are long-gone and its all for the best because they are awful. They were amateur.


IK: How much time do you put into your font design?


DJ: For an initial release, 20 to 30 hours. Then I go back and refine them many times. Each iteration takes anywhere from to ten to thirty more hours.


IK: What year was Didact-Gothic designed?


DJ: That was probably 2009. An educational company in Australia paid me to create a variant on it for educational purposes. There are better fonts out there for educational purposes, but I was just happy that somebody paid me for a font (I designed.)


IK: How did the font, Didact-Gotic come about?


DJ: The running joke about it is that I wanted to give absolutely no one the excuse to use Comic Sans which is the absolute plague of the earth. Comic Sans is the butt of every type designers' jokes.


IK: What is the inspiration behind this font?


DJ: I wanted to create something simple. One of the main reasons people claim to like to use Comic Sans is that it mimics handwriting and so school teachers like to use it in the classroom. I thought, 'why don't I make something that adheres to good handwriting principles that would eliminate that excuse?'. I think Didact-Gothic approximates much more what teachers ought to be teaching kids about handwriting in the classroom. When I look at a font, I look at what I have done so far and I try to find a different direction to go from the last font because I am doing it as a hobby. At the time (just before) I made Didact-Gothic, I had not done a really simple sans yet. I had done another one called “Pfenning” that does not have the simple lines that this one does.


IK: How long did Didact-Gothic take to develop?


DJ: For your basic Western code page, probably 30 to 40 hours, maybe more. I remember where I was when I worked at it...it would have been late 2009. I actually worked on some of it when I was at work when I was supposed to be doing other things.


IK: According to the Open Font Library, submission records indicate the font was not submitted that far back.


DJ: That is because I keep coming up with improvements and revisions. A lot of what I like to do is make sure I include support for minority languages. Refinements include improvements in spacing and kerning for when characters have on them. Occasionally I design new characters for some of the, say, African languages that use the Latin alphabet. Especially with West African languages. You wind-up with letters that are adaptations of other letters. There are some fonts I designed specifically for African language support.


IK: You say you do typography for a hobby, what else do you do?


DJ: I am primarily a back-end developer. I am also a musician, one of my other hobbies is sheet music engraving. I have been a performance musician as well. None of what I do, other than typography, is related to visual art.


IK: What got you into font design?


DJ: In the early 90's I worked for my college newspaper and it was when matte fonts were really starting to become “the thing” and I collected as many as I could but I never thought it would be possible to design one. Probably about seven years ago I discovered Font Forge which is an Opensource font creation software and I thought, “I can create my own fonts, that would be kind of fun.” When you start to create a font, it causes you to look at existing type and you start to observe letter shapes more than you did before. You create a letter to look a certain way and you start to see that shape in other letters everywhere you go on a billboard or whatever. Then you notice, 'they don't extend the curve of the R quite as much as I did'. Or, the tail of the g of another font curves up.' Or realizing other directions you could have gone and it makes you a better designer next time you are starting a new type face.


IK: Do you find Font Forge gives you the tools you need to create fonts or do you use other tools?


DJ: I do not use other tools. When I first started using fonts, I used to create some of the glyphs through Inkscape (opensource vector editor), then import/export them into Fontforge. I actually find the Fontforge tools to be easier for what I need to do. I use a GNU/Linux distribution known as Gentoo. The hinting on my fonts...I don't use their hinting because it sucks. However, Verner Lindburgh, who is a contributor to the Freetype project has been working on a Trutype auto-hinter based on the Freetype rendering engine. After I create a font, I create a TTF file, export it from Fontforge, and then I run it through TTF auto-hint and that adds all the proper hinting for auto-screen rendering.


IK: Do you think the Open Font Library will grow?


DJ: The quality there will always be variable. That is both positive and a weakness. It is a non-curated site. If you design a font, there is no one to tell you that you cannot upload it there. I consider my fonts to be on the low-end of quality because I do not have the professional knowledge to take them to the next level. However, you will also find a lot of people thinking outside the typographical box. I do not think you will ever find a font there that you will want to set a book in, however, if you are trying to create something whimisical, it is a great place to find stuff.


IK: Do you have more fonts you are working on?


DJ: I always have fonts that I am working on. Though I am designing one now that a friend said he will pay me for. It is based on a Greek font I scanned off an eleventh century manuscript that the British library has put on-line.


IK: Previously you mentioned you don't have what it takes to take your fonts to the next level. What would it take for you?


DJ: For starters I would have to go back to University and get a degree in graphic design. My knowledge in typography is in the dribs and drabs that I read. There are also finer points of things that are not yet second nature to me. Basic design principles that they probably teach freshmen.


IK: What about the Opensource world? Knowledge is open and available. Add to that, if you were a typographer in the past, you were probably apprenticed into it.


DJ: One of the pro font designers for google says that in the advent of popularizing free font software—in the same way that free software has broken down barriers for free software development and distribution, now that anyone has access to free font design tools, you wind up with more low quality fonts, but you also wind up with a lot of creative ideas going that the old fuddy-duddies in the modern type offices will not come up with.





August 1st 2016

A Calf at Audio, imbued with Ardour to be Pro


Calf Studio Gear

As a multimedia practitioner, I try to incorporate Libre/Free Software into my workflow and ideally replace usage of proprietary software with Free/Libre. Audio editing is a major component of what I do. I started with Free software with Audacity, the Swiss army knife of audio editing. It is easy to learn and a good tool, especially for converting audio formats, cutting/splicing audio or just applying basic effects. At school, I was trained in Adobe Audition, a good digital audio workstation (DAW) that comes with nice plugins (extra, refined audio tools) such as iZotope for noise removal. While Audition is a very good, pro-audio tool, it is still proprietary software. A free alternative is Ardour, a Libre/Opensource DAW developed by Paul Davis with help from the opensource community. I examined Ardour a few years back and found it complicated, but after my training at school, it is now much easier to navigate and use. That is because most DAW's tend to maniplate and edit audio in the same manner. In addition to a DAW, I also need plugins for equalization, compression, noise removal, waveform analysis and the like. Enter Calf Studio Gear, which is a wonderful tool set to handle most audio challenges that come my way. On occasion, there is some obscure audio issue that only proprietary software can effectively handle, but this is increasingly becoming rare. When I edit audio webcasts or audio for video, I try to do most, if not all my work in Ardour. To that end, I approached one of the developers for Calf Studio Gear Markus Schmidt, on advice on how to handle editing for video. Schmidt was generous about his advice and he had the following to say:


Mains Hum

If you have problems with mains hum you should filter it out first with parametric filters. This one is a bit hard to counter. You need to know the frequencies of the humming, so open Calf Analyzer and loop a short piece of audio containing the hum exclusively. Zoom in (with the fader to the right) to see all the spikes produced by the hum. Click once into the display to activate the cross hair in order to find the exact frequencies of the spikes. Reduce them with very high Q parametric filters (EQ5/EQ8/EQ12). The Q depends on the spikes but I think everything between 15 and 50 should work well. Raise the frequency first with Level and make fine tuning with Frequency while holding down SHIFT. If you found it, reduce the level until the specific frequency is gone. Don’t overdo it. Afterwards use the bypass button of the EQ in order to see if the changes affect the voices too much. Play with the levels of the filters to get a good compromise.


Noise Reduction

Counter with Calf Gate. A Gate (or Expander which Calf in fact is) reduces levels below a given threshold. Use Max Gain Reduction to keep a natural feeling – cutting off *all* environmental noise would lead to a quite dead sound. Probably the default value fits. Set Threshold above the noise and below quiet parts of the voices. Turn up Knee a bit for smoother operation. Use Attack, Release and Ratio to get smooth transitions between gated and non-gated behavior (Ratio) without cutting off sibilants or first few milliseconds of words (Attack) and without leaving a tail of noise after the spokesman has ended (Release). Probably the default values fit.


Leveling

If the volume of both spokesmen don’t fit well, roughly automate the level of the strip in Ardour with more general corrections. Try to not get in the way of the Calf Gate.


Equalising

Now it’s time to set the general sound of the spokesmen. Impossible to make any useful advises apart from cutting off everything below ~ 80-100 Hz with a steep High Pass and everything above ~ 12-16 kHz with a steep Low Pass filter. The result should sound clearly understandable (~3kHz) without too much mud (~200-400Hz) and not too much „tin“ (~1kHz). At best you’ve got some good studio monitors. Take some very high quality recordings of spokesmen to have something to work along.


Enhancement

If your microphone/recording situation missed brilliance or lower end you could enhance them with Calf Bass Enhancer or Calf Exciter. They add new frequencies instead of just raising them like an EQ does. Don’t overdo the effects and always double-check with Bypass button. Use the Listen button in order to get the frequency range (Scope) you are missing some power in your recordings. Leave alone Ceiling, Floor, Harmonics and Blend Harmonics. Use Amount in order to mix in the new freequencies. Again: don’t overdo the effect.


Compression

Depending on (mainly) the spokesmen and the microphone your material may vary in loudness even after leveling. Use Calf Compressor to even it out. A compressor reduces levels above a given threshold. Afterwards one can raise (make-up) the overall level which in fact means to raise quiet parts of the signal. Start by setting the level of operation (Threshold). It should be above quiet parts and below the loudest parts. Use Ratio in order to set the main compression level, it only depends on the jumps in loudness. Start with default Attack and Release. If there are jumps sounding unusual raise Release a bit first, Attack afterwards. Don’t raise Attack too much to prevent from loud initiation of voice getting noticeably regulated afterwards. Use Knee to smooth out the operation afterwards. Raise Makeup to set the level of the loudest parts to their initial volume. Now quiet parts should be much more audible than before. Double-check with Calf Gate if you raised noise floor too much!


De-Essing

It *might* happen that Sibilants got raised by the compression. There‘ much less energy in these high frequencies so they usually slip through the compressor which bites in the ears. Counter with Calf Deesser.





July 15th, 2016

Pro video from Blender with Mikeycal




Blender is a great 3D editing and effects rendering program. However, not many are aware that Blender has other features such as a built-in video editor wherein one can toggle the settings for video editing mode. The world of video editing is dominated by the likes of Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X. The opensource software realm generally lags in the video editing realm, but there are good video editing programs like Kdenlive and Shotcut. There are also paid versions like Lightworks, which is a pro-level video editor that is opensource, but you still need a key/license to run. Blender is different because of the sheer amount of things it can do. It can get more granular that other video editors, plus there is its 3D effects capabilities, and I do see the future to include a merge between rendered and shot video graphics.


I was trained with Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud (CC) in school and find it a great program because of the tools available. But there are also other programs that are embedded in CC such as audition for audio editing and After Effects for digital effects.


To that end, I refer to Mikeycal Myers who vlogs about using Blender as a video editor through his Youtube channel. He starts with the basics of video editing in Blender such as settings, importing and editing and then exporting files, and fades. Basic stuff. But when you see the cool effects that Blender is really capable of, you can take a good video and make it great.





Riley Brandt, Linux pro-tog

July 1st, 2016

Linux Pro-tography with Riley Brandt


As a developing photographer learning the manual settings, I work with my analog and digital cameras almost daily. Editing/post-production is also important in photography and just like knowing your camera, it is also vital to know your post-production tools. The industry standards tend to be the likes of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. They are industry standards for a reason and a lot of great work can be done in them. But what about professional photography with Free Software?


Turns out, there are pro-tographers who use Libre/Opensource software as part of their workflow, more than that, they document how. Pat David is one of them. Pat David runs Pixls.us, a tutorial site on how to get the most out of GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) for professional photography editing. But some may counter that GIMP is not powerful enough to handle all facets of professional photography work flow. Enter Riley Brandt, a full-time professional photographer who put together a full-on photography course that covers monitor calibration, file management, and advanced editing techniques with opensource tools.






Gnu Social

June 24th 2016

Getting off the anti-social social


I never thought I would see the day when corporations, institutions, businesses and individuals would advertise corporations for free. This is what we have with the likes of Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, Twitter et al. These are not public service organizations doing these things out of love or civic duty. These are businesses who make loads of money off users by selling personal data and advertising. They also act as a kind of surveillance on the populace.


When I went back-to-school (relatively recently), instructors stressed the importance of getting social media accounts to rank higher for search engine optimization (SEO). The school placed emphasis on placing a profile with the likes of LinkedIn and how employers would not dare consider you unless you had an account with them. Odd to place trust with a social media network with poor etiquette. For instance, LinkedIn combs your e-mail inbox for contacts not already registered with them and then spams them mercilessly.


While I am not adverse to the idea of social media, I do not like that private enterprise runs them. I do not like that said businesses who run them routinely place their interests above users. Social media is there for public benefit, not to be capitalized. To that end, I seek ethical alternatives such as Diaspora, GNUSocial, Archive.org and similar places. For GNUSocial, their idea is that instead of one centralized social media provider, instead there is a federation that provide such services. A lot (most) of these servers are run by civic minded individuals who provide a public service. The idea is that if you have one massive social media juggernaut, they would control thought and discourse and decide what thoughts are encouraged and what is discouraged. That is a lot of power for private enterprise. A federation of users would mean individuals would form groups around common ideas and shared values where censorship is less effective.


Archive.org is interesting. They are more of the PBS of the internet, founded by Brewster Kahle who has the express goal of ‘Universal Access to Knowledge’. It is a repository of public domain books, images, web, audio, and video. Users (organizations and individuals) can register an account and share their media. I have a love-hate relationship with Archive.org which I will write more about later, but overall they do far more good.


Other social media possibilities are common interest/community based groups like LinuxQuestions.org where Linux/BSD users get together to post questions, share ideas, and form projects.






inuksuk

June 16th 2016

Myths Indeed


Why the long gap to post something? I mean, there are things like Wordpress, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al. Mainstream social media I never liked. You need to adhere to THEIR terms and conditions, sign off your images, writing, knowledge over to them. To that end, I have looked to other social media and will write more about that later. The other reason is that I have it in my head that it is best to create my own website, heck, my own content management system from scratch. As of 2013, I went back to school to take Multimedia Design and Development, and coding for the web was part of the curriculum. I graduated in 2015 with the knowledge that I have no knowledge. Thanks Humber. But knowing you know nothing means you know something, get me? I wanted to wait until I was actually good at web development, but that wait can be forever. Yet, I figure posting, something, anything, will get me motivated to get better faster. Yes, my site sucks, but over time it will suck less.


There are content management systems besides Wordpress, like Plone, Drupal, Joomla--I tried them all and was never happy with the results. If you want to do something different you cannot, you need to adhere to their constraints. I figured the best course of action is to code from scratch. I learn in the process and as I get better, can apply those granular changes I crave that no CMS can offer. It took a while to get to this point, but the only place to go from here is up. Like weight lifters who take before and after photos, I have a lot of snapshots ahead.


So what's with the blog title? Myths of Ability is a reference to John Mighton's book, 'The Myth of Ability'. Mighton is founder of Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies (JUMP) where he documents how he helps those labelled as 'math disabled' and not only proves that there is no such thing, but assists some of these students to become actual math prodigies. No kidding. Mighton has a series of books on this topic and is a tutor/teacher helping kids 'get' math. Our current education system holds a view that kids are either born good at math or not and Mighton considers this a fallacy as anyone can be taught to be good at it. Math was generally the subject I had the most anxiety in both grade and high school, (college not so much, as we learned applied math) and reading Mighton's books was a relief. On the surface, the term 'Myths of Ability' seems cynical, but in reality means the opposite. We are more able to do things than we often realize.


I was going to name this blog something cynical or clever or ironic but feel that to be positive and optimistic is the greater challenge. Part of this challenge entails that I also use this blog to teach. I teach because I need to learn and my favorite teachers call themselves students. As a graduate in multimedia design and development, I now officially begin my journey to learn design, audio/video editing, web/mobile development, photo/videography, in addition to writing. I will intend to emphasize free software, meaning:

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute and make copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

As a side note, I approached Free Software advocate, Richard Stallman about writing an article on Free Software and Multimedia. He gave me the go-ahead and this blog will be part of that path.


"It's a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you're ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any."

-Hugh Laurie