What I Did In 2008

Blue toque/beanie, 'web standards' day at work

I swear I've been busy, not hiding or something! (Blue toque day @work.)

Though I only posted a single entry to the front page of schillmania.com in 2008, I was busy working on other technical, music and photography projects, professional work with Flickr/Yahoo! and other fun distractions. No, really!

Specifically, SoundManager 2 and Snowstorm updates, time-lapse photography and video, binaural audio recordings and DJ gigs + recording mixes all served as technical/creative outlets over the last year.

Javascript Sound API updates: Flash 9, H.264 video, documentation redesign and more

During the last year, SoundManager 2 has grown significantly; its user base has increased, bugs have been fixed, and new features have been added since the original 1.0 version back in 2003. The latest version includes MPEG4/H.264 video support, completely-redesigned UI and documentation, and fresh demos. (SoundManager 2 is a Javascript-based API for audio and video. Its intent is to simplify the embedding, play and control of media on the web. It is BSD-licensed.)

SoundManager 2 Home: UI ScreenshotSoundManager 2: Improved project page UI, shiny demos including MPEG-4 video (H.264/FLV, etc.)

In early 2008 the mix-tape sharing site Muxtape appeared out of nowhere, rose to popularity and fell under legal pressure from the RIAA. (At time of writing, it is being repurposed as a service for bands.) Its popularity was at least in part due to its simple UI, which inspired a SoundManager 2 "page as playlist" demo that incorporates a similar feel; the focus is on a web page of music, rather than the UI around it. I expanded on this idea by making a page solely of playable links, adding progress bars, timing information, and optionally, waveform and EQ display.

SoundManager 2: Muxtape 'Page As Playlist' ScreenshotSoundManager 2 demo: Muxtape-style UI, "page as a playlist"

The project documentation desperately needed a re-thinking, as the old implementation was a single monolithic page of object descriptions, events, methods and properties all jumbled together. Its single convenience was perhaps that CTRL-F could help find what you were looking for, but otherwise it was about 30 pages too long.

The redesign included a facelift of the documentation, splitting the content up into logical sections with a top-level nav for the main sections, and a side-level "content filter" nav for the core API docs, which would show only relevant information - the most crucial technical stuff for people diving in and wanting to quickly learning now soundManager.play() works, for example.

SoundManager 2: Documentation ScreenshotSoundManager 2: Redesigned documentation, finally!

Snowstorm: After five years, an update

Snowstorm, a drop-in Javascript snow effect, was written in 2003 and had not been updated since. Thankfully, it was written as a self-contained instance which would play nice with others' code, and has continued to work nicely alongside modern Javascript libraries. Given browsers have changed since then (though we're still stuck with IE 6), it was time for a few updates and removal of legacy compatibility code this last holiday season.

A few minor bugs were fixed, and options such as directional wind (based on mouse position) and fixed-positioning for the snow "sticking" to the bottom of the window were added (again, with the notable exception of IE 6, and IE 7 when rendering documents in compatibility/"quirks" mode.)

Some smashable christmas lights (a seasonal schillmania.com-related theme, if you will) were thrown in as a bonus for those wishing for a little holiday entertainment. The SoundManager 2 project also includes a full-page christmas lights demo, which can prove to be similarly entertaining.

Snowstorm javascript snow effect: ScreenshotSnowstorm version 1.3 (Dec.2008)

Time-lapse plant photography/video experiments

I have always been interested in photography, macro shots and time-lapse images - so when I got some plants for the garden this year, it seemed appropriate to try a few photography experiments. Plants are generally boring in "real time", but in the world of time lapse they are quite fascinating.

My first experiment involved modifying a Pentax OptioS to take an external power supply, and remote shutter trigger via computer-controlled relay. I used it to photograph cilantro and basil outside my window, in the garden. This worked to a point until my neighbour eventually watered the plants, and with it this "expendable" piece of equipment I had sacrificed for the purpose. I didn't mind the loss of a prototype, as I had bigger schemes in mind.

Encouraged by the Pentax results, I was interested in finding a camera which would support remote control over USB, or some other built-in automated "intervalometer" method of taking an image at a fixed interval. I ended up getting a Canon PowerShot SX100IS which allowed USB control and also supported CHDK, "Canon Hack Development Kit" - a wonderful firmware add-on that can be put on a memory card made "bootable" which the camera will recognize and load at start-up, giving you a new UI and tons of options. This software cam add RAW modes and other features to cameras that don't support them via the stock firmware, in addition to having its own BASIC interpreter (user scripts!) which allows things like the intervalometer - "Every [n], take a photo and go to 10". Simply awesome stuff.

Binaural audio recordings

Using a Sony MZH-100 Minidisc recorder (lightweight + portable, high S/N ratio) and in-ear microphones, you can get some pretty impressive recordings of live environments. When listening to binaural recordings with headphones, the effect can be very convincing as you are hearing sounds reproduced from nearly the same location which they were captured from - ie., your ears (or as in the case of the recordist's, my ears.) When being played back in the same location as the recording, it is disturbingly convincing as you will want to turn to listen or speak to something you "heard" in the same room. (I have done this with co-workers, the effect is quite entertaining.)

Got headphones on? Here, have a haircut:

For more audio adventures, listen to binaural sounds over at Freshly Ground.

Binaural audio recordings on Freshly Ground: ScreenshotBinaural audio playback using SoundManager 2

DJ Gigs + Mixes

Thanks to living in San Francisco, working at Yahoo! and friends in the area, I've had fun doing the DJ thing at events for several internet companies in the last year or two.

DJing with Jazzsnob at Grant and Green. Photo by Lilszeto.

DJing at Grant and Green (SF) with Jazzsnob. Photo by Lilszeto on Flickr.

What's Next

Schillmania.com is nearly nine years old. The following is perhaps a new year's resolution item, we'll see if I can stick to it: Stay fresh, keep the mind active, continue doing creative and technical things, and sharing them with the internets.

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