Fancey in “The Office”

Yes­ter­day I learned that (Todd) Fancey of Fancey (and of The New Pornog­ra­phers) did a song for an episode of “The Office.” Here’s a quick video:

I can’t tell if that’s him on the album cov­er but man I hope it is. From Fancey’s MySpace blog:

If you have a chance to check out the hilar­i­ous and Emmy nom­i­nat­ed “Din­ner Par­ty” episode of NBC’s “The Office” (Aired a cou­ple days ago April 10, 2008), you will hear a song called “That One Night”. The lyrics are by the bril­liant writ­ers Gene Stupin­sky and Lee Eisen­berg. I did the music and made the record­ing. I was thrilled to be asked because I tru­ly love that show, it’s the BEST. Spe­cial thanks to Ali­cen Schnei­der and Dave Mad­den of NBC.

Video: That MTV “Vertebrae” Commercial

Hey, I didn’t say it was good.

I guess what I find so fas­ci­nat­ing about it is: When did MTV ever con­done being unpop­u­lar? Between the Spring Break pro­gram­ming and drunk girls cry­ing on The Real World, it was an odd change of pace, but one that remind­ed me of the atti­tude MTV used to have, in the ’80s, before they became shame­less cul­ture-mon­gers. Still, it’s impor­tant not to ignore that this guy actu­al­ly is attrac­tive, and dressed fash­ion­ably, and — at least at my school — prob­a­bly would have been pop­u­lar. I guess it would have turned too many view­ers off to have pre­sent­ed him as acne-rid­den, over­weight, with­out any sense of style, and lis­ten­ing to black met­al?

Some­thing I for­got to men­tion last time is that this was part of a series of com­mer­cials, if I remem­ber cor­rect­ly, that played on the “V” in “MTV,” although I for­get the titles of the oth­er install­ments.

Thanks to La fille des mon­tagnes (“The girl moun­tain”?) for send­ing me the video.

FFmpeg Quality Comparison

Flash video is so great.

Any­way I used to use Medi­a­Coder to con­vert to flash video, but when it gave me errors, and refused to tell me the specifics of those errors, I took it old school to the com­mand prompt with FFm­peg (which Medi­a­Coder uses any­way). This gives you a lot of use­ful info about the source file you’re encod­ing, such as audio sam­pling rate, frame rate, etc.

Want­i­ng to find a bal­ance between pic­ture qual­i­ty and stream­a­bil­i­ty, I began encod­ing a short length of AVI video at dif­fer­ent com­pres­sion lev­els. FFm­peg calls this “qscale” (a way of rep­re­sent­ing vari­able bitrate qual­i­ties, much like LAME’s -V para­me­ter), and the low­er the qscale val­ue, the bet­ter the qual­i­ty. The avail­able qscale val­ues range from 1 (high­est qual­i­ty) to 31 (low­est qual­i­ty). Going worse than a 13 qscale pro­duces unac­cept­ably poor qual­i­ty, so that’s as low as I went for the pur­pos­es of this test.

I encod­ed 3:14 min­utes of an AVI, resiz­ing it to 500×374 pix­els, and encod­ing the audio at 96kbps and 44.1KHz, which sounds fine, and is a neg­li­gi­ble part of the ulti­mate file size, so going low­er wouldn’t be very ben­e­fi­cial. Plus I find that good audio can cre­ate the illu­sion that the whole thing is of high­er qual­i­ty. Poor audio just makes it sound like “web video.”

Here are the results, cour­tesy of Google Spread­sheets:

FFmpeg quality vs. filesize chart

The file­size, of course, goes down as qual­i­ty goes down. And the loss in file­size also decreas­es, not just in amount, but in per­cent­age as well, as indi­cat­ed by the red line. For instance, the val­ue of the red line at qscale 3 is 33.97%, which means that in going from qscale 2 to qscale 3, 33.97% of the file­size is shaved off.

How­ev­er, because these loss­es are not per­fect­ly expo­nen­tial, I knew that there had to be qscale val­ues that were more “effi­cient,” in a sense, than oth­ers — val­ues that, despite being high, and caus­ing a low­er change in file­size than the pre­vi­ous step in qscale, still caused a com­pa­ra­bly large change in file­size. For instance, still look­ing at the red line, you’ll notice that going from 2 to 3, as I said, shaves off 33.97% of the file­size, while going from 3 to 4 only shaves off 23.93% of the file­size; and that is a 29.56% decrease in change-in-file­size, which is a rel­a­tive­ly large cost. We want the change-in-file­size to remain as high as pos­si­ble for as long as pos­si­ble.

Now, if you fol­low the red line from 4 to 5, you’ll see that that’s a 20.32% loss in file­size, which is pret­ty close to our pre­vi­ous 23.93% loss in file­size in going from 3 to 4. In fact, we’ve only lost 15.09% of change-in-file­size from the pre­vi­ous step. So these are the val­ues we real­ly want to exam­ine: change in change-in-file­size, rep­re­sent­ed by the orange line.

This is nowhere close to expo­nen­tial, nor does it fol­low any pre­dictable decline. It darts around, seem­ing­ly at ran­dom. And we want to catch it at its low­est val­ues, at points that rep­re­sent changes in qscale that were near­ly as effi­cient as the pre­vi­ous change in qscale. So the most desir­able qscale val­ues become, quite obvi­ous­ly, 5, 9, and 11.

What this means is that if qual­i­ty is your pri­ma­ry con­cern (and you’re not crazy enough to encode at qscale 1), go with 5. qscale 5 turns 3:14 min­utes of video into 30.62MB, which requires a down­load rate of 157.84KB/s to stream smooth­ly. qscale 11 will give you about half the file­size, and require a down­load rate of 77.37KB/s. But, because that’s the lev­el at which pic­ture qual­i­ty real­ly begins to suf­fer, and because most peo­ple don’t real­ly mind buffer­ing for a few sec­onds ini­tial­ly, I’m prob­a­bly going to stick with qscale 9, whose videos take up 91.58 kilo­bytes per sec­ond, and which is by far the most effi­cient qscale any­way, with only a 4.92% change in change-in-file­size.

One caveat: This whole exam­i­na­tion pre­sup­pos­es (as far as I can tell) that if it were pos­si­ble to mea­sure and chart the changes in the actu­al per­ceived visu­al qual­i­ty of videos encod­ed at these qscale val­ues, the curve would be per­fect­ly geo­met­ric or expo­nen­tial, with no aber­ra­tions sim­i­lar to those above, and with all extrap­o­lat­ed delta curves show­ing no aber­ra­tions either. Giv­en that, it might be eas­i­er to believe that every step you take through the qscale is of equal rel­a­tive cost, and that there are no “objec­tive­ly prefer­able” qscale val­ues. But that is a lot more bor­ing.

Conan Xmas: 2000

Tom Han­ks cel­e­brates Christ­mas on Conan in 2000. This has been doc­u­ment­ed as the last fun­ny thing Tom Han­ks ever did.

Mirac­u­lous­ly retrieved from the land of for­got­ten tele­vi­sion moments, four months after my plea on a Conan forum, to replace the taped copy I lost years ago. Because I like to hoard things and save them for­ev­er (ahem), I’m always dis­ap­point­ed when the inter­net fails to be effec­tive in dredg­ing up even the most insignif­i­cant cul­tur­al minu­ti­ae from the past. I’m get­ting used to it, but in the mean­time, this was a warm­ly reas­sur­ing moment in my life.

Kirk Cameron, and stealing video from abcnews.com

Last week­end Kirk Cameron and Ray Com­fort debat­ed some smug athe­ists over the exis­tence of God. Kirk’s and Ray’s claim was, to para­phrase, that they could prove, 100%, sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, the exis­tence of God, with­out invok­ing faith or the Bible. The athe­ists were to prove, not that God doesn’t exist, but that Kirk and Ray can’t prove oth­er­wise. The debate took place on Sat­ur­day night and was taped to be streamed on abcnews.com the fol­low­ing Wednes­day and Thurs­day, with select por­tions being tele­vised on an episode of Night­line.

Here’s Slate on the sub­ject:

First, I grew excit­ed at this promise, then began to won­der why no the­olo­gian, philoso­pher, or sit­com star in record­ed his­to­ry had done it before—Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, Tina Yothers, whoever—and real­ized I was in for a let­down. Comfort’s cadences were not even those of a preach­er but of an infomer­cial host, and the God Squad had but three argu­ments on behalf of the big guy: All things have mak­ers; the human con­science is evi­dence of a high­er moral pow­er; if you read the Gospel, then Christ will be revealed to you. For rea­sons too stu­pid to type, this was not an air­tight case, and the athe­ists made quick work of it in tones of juve­nile sar­casm.

They also threw in the first mover argu­ment, which tech­ni­cal­ly dif­fers from the watch­mak­er argu­ment. The con­tent of the debate is of almost no inter­est, of course, as it close­ly par­al­lels count­less con­ver­sa­tions that have tak­en place before it. But its being pre­sent­ed by ABC is sig­nif­i­cant, even unprece­dent­ed by recent stan­dards of net­work tele­vi­sion. Which isn’t to say that reli­gion and God are nev­er men­tioned on TV, but that when they are, they are dis­missed as irrec­on­cil­able, deeply per­son­al things that don’t invite inspec­tion beyond that of the effects they have on people’s behav­ior. They are approached as moral and cul­tur­al issues — nev­er as meta­phys­i­cal ones. And the idea that a large-ish por­tion of the Amer­i­can pub­lic might see peo­ple earnest­ly dis­cussing the nature of infin­i­ty and causal­i­ty, even if inept­ly, only hours after Ugly Bet­ty, fas­ci­nat­ed me, despite my con­fi­dence that none of it would be illu­mi­nat­ing, and that it was a rat­ings stunt.

I didn’t see the “dis­tilled” ver­sion on Night­line, and the YouTube videos were removed before I could watch or save them, but I hear they did a pret­ty bad job with the mate­r­i­al. At the moment, the entire debate is still avail­able at the story’s ABC page, but, know­ing that they prob­a­bly won’t last, and with a ten­den­cy toward obses­sive archivism and a dis­dain for ABC’s intractable flash play­er, I col­lect­ed them myself. Alto­geth­er they’re about 97 min­utes. If you’re short on time and have to be choosy, watch the “Mock­ing Dar­win” seg­ment, which con­tains the most lolz, and a guid­ed, pic­to­r­i­al tour of an under­stand­ing of evo­lu­tion so pro­found­ly mis­in­formed that even Lamar­ck is rolling his eyes. And he’s dead. As I watch this debate, I keep expect­ing Kirk to break char­ac­ter. Then I think, Ray must have some dan­ger­ous­ly com­pro­mis­ing pho­tos of him.

From the Colum­bia Jour­nal­ism Review:

We could go on, but why? Night­line felt no respon­si­bil­i­ty to take the issue seri­ous­ly enough to include, say, a sci­en­tist or a the­olo­gian in the debate, so oth­er than point­ing out the dumb­ing down of the nation­al con­ver­sa­tion, we’ll just leave it at say­ing that we expect more of Night­line, and the Amer­i­can peo­ple deserve bet­ter than being forced to endure half-baked pub­lic­i­ty stunts dressed up as news.

Thrown in at the end are some recent dis­cus­sions Bill O’Reilly has had with Kirk Cameron and Richard Dawkins, in which Bill presents his own fucked ver­sion of an anthrop­ic argu­ment, express­ing amaze­ment that we could have “lucked out” by hav­ing such a hab­it­able plan­et land on us, and plen­ty more frus­trat­ing­ly neb­u­lous rea­son­ing for your teeth-gnash­ing plea­sure.

The videos were record­ed using a years-old tool that I’ve want­ed for as long as I can remem­ber. Cam­Stu­dio records the activ­i­ty in a select­ed por­tion of your screen, and spits out an .avi. Its cur­rent ver­sion is from 2003, but, thanks to its open-source­ness, is still being devel­oped. It gives you the option to use dif­fer­ent record­ing codecs and to tweak their para­me­ters, but the only way I was able to get results was with enor­mous files, approach­ing 1GB for 15 min­utes of 320×240 video. Which is a pain in the ass, but it works.