From: Bob Rankin
Subject: TOURBUS - 12 Nov 02 - ASCII Art
Howdy, y'all, and greetings once again from deep behind the orange curtain in beautiful Irvine, California, where it clearly states that as you add units of a variable input to the production process while holding one or more fixed, total production will increase at an increasing rate, increase at a decreasing rate, peak, and decline absolute. [See? And you thought my BA in economics would never help me.] :P
My dad, the Rev. Bob "Bob" Crispen, has been pinch hitting for me over the past couple of weeks. Before we get to his latest tidbit of information, I want to remind you that TOURBUS is made possible by the kind support of our sponsors. Please take a moment to visit today's sponsors and thank them for keeping our little bus of Internet happiness on the road week after week.
On with the show ...
While Patrick has been very kind about introducing me and telling you a few interesting things, he's neglected to mention the one truly spectacular event in my life. No, it wasn't the time when Mike Vax, who played lead trumpet in the Stan Kenton band, was visiting in our apartment, and he took his trumpet out of his case, played a double high C, and put his trumpet back in his case -- though that was pretty spectacular.
No, what Patrick has neglected to tell you was that when I was a mere sprout, the Video Ranger saved my life! It's absolutely true. I was a stone fan of Captain Video, and during a personal appearance at the Allegheny County Fair I had joined the mob of kids to get an autograph, and as I was returning to my seat in the stands, I didn't notice a small truck puttering along the path I was about to cross. The Video Ranger did, though, and he pulled me back in the nick of time.
Now it was a small truck, and it was moving very slowly, but it's my claim to fame.
If you're one of those young whippersnappers who's never heard of Captain Video, Commissioner Carey, or I TOBOR, I pity you, but I can set you on the path of wisdom by pointing you to Professor Rory Coker's space heroes page, where you'll find more about Captain Video, Tom Corbett, and Buzz Corry, Commander in Chief of the Spaaaaaaaaaaace Patroooooool!.
If you have a VRML plugin and you'd like to see a 1950's sci-fi style space ship I modeled a few years ago, head to:
As usual, I digress. What I'm really here to tell you about isn't my childhood hero, but a website that's so amazing that, once you've visited it, your friends and neighbors will be calling *you* Captain Video.
Apologies to Mac owners, I'll be talking about tools for Windows in this posting, but have a little pity on us Windows folks. Video tools For PC's are widely thought of as terrible or ridiculously expensive, While you folks have some wonderful free or cheap video tools. So you Can read the following and laugh at all the calisthenics us poor Windows folks have to go through to make videos.
If you've played around with video on your PC, then one of two things has happened: (a) you've played around with Windows Movie Maker, got frustrated because it's pretty much a toy, and gave up; or (b) you've found about vdchelp.com.
Nothing I could say here can possibly do justice to the wonderful step by step instructions you'll find on vcdhelp.com. In fact, in my Opera bookmarks folder for video, there is *one* entry: vcdhelp.com. So all I'll do here is throw out a couple of pointers to things I've found especially useful: the cream of the crop.
The cream at the very top of the cream: Virtual Dub.
This is *the* video editor, especially at the price (free, open source). It will let you capture, edit, clean up, and do virtually anything to video files.
Here's one thing they don't talk about as a feature. If you've ever downloaded AVI files, you know that the morons who designed that file format put some critical information at the *end* of the file. That means if you've got a partial AVI file, you can't play it. But Virtual Dub will do its best to accept partial AVI files, and in most cases will make them playable up to the point where they're cut off. I've heard of other tools that will play partial AVI's, but Virtual Dub has done the job so well, I've never bothered to download them.
Since Virtual Dub's native output format is uncompressed AVI, and since those files are humongous, the next thing you need to do is put them on a serious diet. So let's run them through AVI2MPG2 -- note the "2" at the end of that program name. There's another program out there called AVI2MPG which isn't nearly as nice.
You can let Virtual Dub save the slices you want to keep in separate files and join them all together with AVI2MPG2.
That program will save your files in MPEG (Moving Picture Experts Group) format, which means that, unlike AVI files which can only be played on Windows machines, you can play them anywhere.
Or you can use yet another tool, TMPGEnc, which converts your AVI Files to VCD (Video CD) or Super VCD format.
If your CD burner is Nero
you can burn your video CD directly from there (select "other CD format" in the wizard that comes up when you start, and check "video CD"). If you have Easy CD Creator
or the CD burner that comes with Windows XP, then you may have to upgrade to a higher version or use some of the tools they recommend on vcdhelp.com to burn it onto a CD.
But take heart: you absolutely can take a movie, edit it, tweak it With special effects, burn it on a CD-ROM, and pop it in your DVD player and play it. Apart from the cost of your CD burning software, you won't have to spend a nickel.
Here's some more odds and ends.
(1) There's a licensing issue with the MPEG 2 format which means you have to pay to get a version of TMPGEnc that will create SVCD (Super VCD) files after the trial period has expired. You can still create Regular VCD files. They explain it on their website.
(2) You may find it helpful to compress your AVI files or recode them, say, in DIVX format. Try AVIUTIL:
The page is in Japanese, as are some of the program's menus, but don't worry: it's really simple.
(3) Do you hate Real Video files? You're not alone. TINRA (That Is Not Real Anymore) will convert them to uncompressed AVI's.
Make sure you run them through AVIUTIL or one of the other programs I've mentioned above to reduce their size. Note that in fine type at The start of that page there's a Windows GUI for TINRA. If you hate to type command line parameters as much as I do, make sure you get it. Just install everything in the same directory and it should work fine.
(4) Have you discovered that Windows Movie Maker is like a roach motel? Video clips check in in all kinds of formats, but Windows Movie Maker only saves WMV files, and you can't turn them into an MPEG or AVI or anything useful? Not so, little grasshopper. Simply rename it from foo.wmv to foo.asf, and TMPGEnc will turn it into an MPEG.
(5) Are you sick and tired of having to endure the millions of ads and the lousy bandwidth that some sites use to send you video streams? Would you like to save the video on your own computer and view it at your leisure? Help is at hand: ASFRECORDER:
(6) When you downloaded that video through ASFRECORDER, you may have discovered it won't play. The media weasels have taken advantage of a "feature" in Windows Media Player: when WMP finds an error in a file, it complains and refuses to play it, but when it finds an error in a stream, it does the best it can to play it anyway. So the weasels slip in a couple of deliberate errors. Solution: ASFTOOLS:
Let ASFTOOLS repair the stream you downloaded and the file should be playable.
(7) If the menus and all the choices on TMPGEnc are too much, there's a simpler program called AVI2VCD
You may find it's just what you need.
(8) You remember how your parents would have guests over and after dinner they'd set up their slide projector, and the guests would groan? Well, you can do the same thing on your TV! Slide Show Movie Maker takes images (Windows Bitmaps or JPEGs), ties them together with some neato effects like fades and wipes, and lets you add text and audio voice-overs.
It generates uncompressed AVI files, but by now you know enough to take it from there and turn it into a video CD.
(9) TMPGEnc has some very useful filters on page 3 of their wizard. Push the "Other settings" button and look on the Advanced tab. Yes, some of the settings will be in geek-speak and totally mysterious to everybody but a video maven, but "Simple Color Correction" is really easy. Gamma correction is easy to work with and it's the tool you'll probably use most often on your problem video clips once you get used to it.
Now, I know, something named "gamma" is scary, and when you find out it's an intensity transfer function and see the equation, your eyes glaze over. But trust me: it's pretty much just a combination brightness and contrast control, and -- here's the cool part -- if you don't like the result, it's completely reversible! You may have seen a gamma slider in your 2D graphics programs (IrfanView, Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop) next to the brightness and contrast controls, and your hand may have jumped away if your mouse accidentally strayed near it. Same thing there. Once you use it and get used to it, you'll never touch brightness and contrast again, and you'll be mad that there isn't a gamma control on your TV.
In fact, any Mac and Linux users who are still with us, that last paragraph may be the most useful thing in this whole article. Gamma is the reason pictures that look good on a PC look bad on a Mac and vice-versa, and it's the one-step control that can fix them.
One warning, though. Some graphics programs have buried way down deep in the menus a "Set monitor gamma" control. You do *not* want to touch this control unless you're a professional graphics artist, and even then, the color space controls will probably be more useful. I was the chairman of the Web3D Consortium's Color and Lighting Working Group, which sounds a lot more impressive than it is, and my monitor gamma is set to 1.0 and my color space to good old sRGB. So don't mess with monitor gamma.
But the regular gamma, the one next to the brightness and contrast controls, will become your friend for life. Trust me.
In fact, you can apply the same lesson to the other gobbledegook you see on the menus of these video programs -- play with stuff. You don't need to know a pedestal from an aspect ratio. All you need to know is, if I do this, it does that. And if some of the wonderful articles on vcdhelp.com explain why it does that, it's just gravy.
Happy movie making! Have a safe and happy week and we'll talk again soon. :)