Tuesday, October 09, 2012



Tanks, a set on Flickr.

I took these photos a while back when touring "Pony Tracks Ranch", the largest private collection of tanks and heavy artillery in the U.S., and maybe the world. It's now the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Science of the Full Moon

By the time I finish this blog post, it should be exactly a full moon: 8:28:30pm, according to my iPhone app.

I am a very scientific thinker, yet I believe in the power of the full moon.  Why?

Scientists observe things carefully and try to draw correlations and conclusions. Some of them we can prove, some we can't. But I am really good at noticing and recognizing patterns, and that's where science starts: observation and pattern matching.

It is my observation that people are weird around the full moon, and more passionate, and more impulsive, and more romantic.

Does the moon cause this?

Not directly, as in gravitational pull or tides or anything like that. But we all see and experience the moon, and it affects us, like daisies or sunshine or the ocean. In that sense, yes, the full moon affects human behavior and makes us slightly crazy ... in a good way.

I will drive up windy Highway 84 tonight and try to see the moon at every opportunity, and I will think of my Mom, in Maine, who just finished doing the very same thing.  She loves the full moon.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Beginnings of iMovie

I just ran across an email exchange between me and Steve Jobs from 1998, in which the very beginnings of iMovie are envisioned.  It was from a discussion before I was hired into Apple to actually build iMovie.
I was ridiculously long-winded, and Steve was very terse.  That's how it was. Many years later I saw him typing an email and understood why he was always so terse: he was a very slow, two-finger typist!  I know, hard to believe.
Here is the email, unedited.


From: Steve Jobs
Date: Mon,  8 Jun 98 12:32:41 -0700
To: Glenn Reid
Subject: Re: questions

I'd also love to just drag special effects on my video timeline and have
it know what to do.  Automatically find the nearby splice and install the
transition effect perfectly and all automatically.


X-Sender: rtbrain@
In-Reply-To: <<9806060028.AA00332@ni-master.pixar.com>
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 1998 18:37:46 -0700
To: Steve Jobs <
From: Glenn Reid <
Subject: Re: questions

>I think Avid Cinema is the closest and best thing out there.  Can
>we do better?

Depends on what "better" means.  Obviously one could go way off
the deep end on features but not get it right (there are lots of
examples of that :-)

The biggest hurdle, I think, is conceptual: to make people believe
they can do this themselves and that it's not complicated.  Desktop
publishing was an easy leap for people because it was only a little
more complicated than a typewriter, which they understood.  By
contrast, 3D has never caught on because nobody thinks they can do
3D, and to a large extent, they're right.  Too damn complicated.

Video is right in between stovetop publishing and 3D: it's possible
to bring it to the masses, but it has to be dirt simple.  Avid
Cinema is close to being that.  I like their top-level approach, which
is four steps:  1) Storyboard, 2) Bring Video In, 3) Edit Movie,
4) Send Movie Out.  It doesn't get much simpler than that, unless
you get rid of Storyboard.  They have a fair number of editing
tools, a timeline, and other things that resemble video editors
more than they resemble stovetop publishing, and I'd be tempted
to simplify those even more.

What I think is needed is the "SimpleText" of video.  It doesn't need
to do much other than let you read in some movies, do some splicing
and editing, and write it back out.  Get rid of the dead time, the
places where you said stupid things right into the microphone, etc.,
and send it to grandma.

The hardest thing about editing video is finding the stuff you
want on a tape and getting rid of the stuff you don't want.  There's
no magic to that: it's just grunt work.  We might be able to do
some guesswork to find the transition points, but it would only
be guesswork.

The key will be to find a conceptual leap that thinks of video
differently than ever before.  If you've ever looked at the "Variations"
dialog in Photoshop; something like that.  Instead of giving you
a dialog box to adjust RGB (who knows if a picture needs "more red"
or "more magenta" by looking at it?) they show 10-12 variations
that would result from adding blue, magenta, etc, and you just click
on the one you like.  It then shifts your choice into the middle
and lets you keep clicking to improve the image by choosing the one
you like the best from the variations presented to you.  It's brilliant.

I think there's still some room for this king of conceptual leap
in video editing: something simple and elegant that makes finding
what you want easy.  The only thing that comes to mind right now
is a kind of "binary search".  You show two points in the video
and let them click somewhere between, as in "I think it's a little
after the birthday hat, but the backyard stuff was quite a bit

   "birthday hat"                                          "back yard"


You click around where the X is and it narrows down the search again
and again, until you find the end point.  It could be quasi-animated
or aided by guesswork somehow.

Anyway, I'm digging in too deep, but I think there is room for
innovation and simplification.  I'm guessing, from talking with
Sina and Will Stein, that what you're after is the Democratization of
Video Editing, the simplest and most obvious tool yet for doing
basic editing.  It seems like it could be done.



Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dumber and Dumber

I read today about "Mountain Lion", Apple's continued dumbing down of MacOS X.  I sat up a little straighter in my chair.

Everywhere I look, things are getting dumber.  A "smart phone", maybe, but it's really just a small, dumb laptop with a phone in it.

Our country is getting dumber -- our blockbuster IPO's are fluffy stuff like "social networking", the Super Bowl and Desperate Housewives are the pinnacle of entertainment, while science is being slowly but systematically bred out of our youth.

Nobody can spell or write well any more.  Our goods are not well made, sound bites have replaced thoughtful discourse, people say they want to "Fix America" when they really just want cheaper gas and more crap to watch on TV.

So-called Mountain Lion got me thinking about the Renaissance today, and how we are spiraling backwards by almost any cultural or intellectual measure.

It has been almost 500 years since Leonardo da Vinci died, at the age of 60.  He contributed more to the world in one short lifetime than the rest of the world's population has managed in the subsequent several hundred years.

What the hell is going on, and we aren't we doing anything about it?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Social Networking and the River of Crap

Learn what is floating downstream in your personal River of Crap.

All the social networks now have at their core what I call the River of Crap.  That is the central news feed that is pulled from your contact list and what they choose to post or "share".  It is effectively a newspaper, where the writers and editors are your friends/contacts.  It really can be a river of crap, but luckily you can filter it. Some of it is advertising, just like a newspaper, and some of it is truly interesting and relevant.

I've been building, using, and thinking about social networking for a long time. At its core, it's not what we all think it is.  It is not a way to "stay in touch", it is not a "friends list", it is not a place to "upload photos"....

Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus are a form of personal branding: it has become how we tell the world who we are, and we do it by showing others the things we like.  A few decades ago we did this with bumper stickers and T-shirts and baseball caps with logos on them.  Now we do it by posting on a social network instead.  When you share a picture of Obama with words superimposed on it, you are making a statement about yourself.  When you Like a post that criticizes Susan G. Komen foundation for pulling funding from Planned Parenthood, you are essentially putting a bumper sticker on your virtual car.

Facebook and Twitter are also editorial services, where the editors are people you know.  The most common reason stated for not liking Facebook, or not wanting to participate, is the sense that you have to constantly read about "what other people had for breakfast."  While that's true sometimes, it misses the point.

I used to monitor Google News every day, and sometimes I still do check it.  But it is an automated filter, and it is not nearly effective as my own personal Rivers of Crap.  If anything interesting or important is going on, I read about it first on a social network.  Don't you?

There are slight (but important!) differences between Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus when it comes to the River of Crap, and how it gets filtered.  This may well be the sorting algorithm by which the winner is chosen, in the long run.

Facebook has some hidden algorithm that decides what you should see.  It's complicated, and doesn't feature all your friends equally.  Everybody notices this, and nobody really likes it, but you can't quite tell what it's not showing you, so nobody complains all that much about it.  It is a filter, but you can't control it.  The remaining filter controls are all basically "hide" in one form or another.  If you don't like a post, or a person's posts, you can hide it, or them, from your Feed.  When I talk to people I realize that most Facebook users don't really use this.  They just accept the River of Crap for what it is, and use Facebook more or less based on that.  That is probably why Facebook tries to automate the filter on your behalf, because few people take control and do it themselves.

Twitter doesn't have filtering, they have Search.  Your River of Crap is just there, scrolling by, and perhaps because of the real-time focus and 140-character limit, people post a lot more frequently to Twitter than other networks.  It's a faster flowing River of Crap!  But to filter and decide what you want to read, you end up using #hashtag searches to follow topics.  Less good as a newspaper metaphor, but better for research, because you can find information posted by people whom you are not following.

Google Plus introduced Circles as a new way to aggregate the people you're trying to follow or pay attention to.  It is complicated, both in terms of posting (do people really make the decision to post to circles other than Public?) and in trying to use it to filter what you read.  And it combines the two-way nature of Friends lists (facebook) with the one-way nature of Following (twitter) but in doing so, it confuses most of us.  Frankly, the whole thing doesn't work very well yet as a social network.  But it is a more powerful mechanism in the long run.  Like many powerful mechanisms, if nobody uses the power, and people just stare at the River of Crap and decide whether to participate or not, it will likely not win hearts and minds.

What's interesting to me is that the people who build and run these services don't seem to understand what they have built. They don't offer Newspaper-like filtering, or topic-based viewing, or any other way to control the River of Crap.  They still think they're building networks of Friends.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Jackling House

I wonder if the people who prevented Steve Jobs from demolishing the Jackling house for so many years feel bad?  From reading their page, it sure doesn't look like it.

I mean, it got demolished anyway, but Steve died and didn't get to build his dream house.

Nice going, guys.