: Mike Cohen's Blog
Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to the American College of Surgeons meeting, this year in Chicago. 4 days of promoting our products and services to surgeons from around the world - lots of talking, walking, and checking out some of the latest medical technology.
Cine-Med's usual duties include supporting the video program, which plays nearly 250 surgical videos over 4 days. My role was quality control - checking each video file before the meeting, and flagging any files which need attention (mostly pixel aspect ratio corrections, some low or hot audio levels and some unusual formats).
The goal is to make everything an MPEG2 file at 720x480.
What!? 720x480? What is this the 90's??
Well, given the limitations of networks used to transfer video files around the massive McCormick Place convention center, the playback computers themselves, and the sub-HD resolution projectors and stock motherboard GPU's, non-HD video remains the lowest common denominator for this particular meeting.
That being said, we received a couple of dozen HD videos, and we'll maintain the original resolution in the online video library that we maintain.
Walking around the show floor I stopped by a booth displaying a new 4K monitor. Not that there are any medical video devices capable of generating a 4k video image, but cool to see anyway.
Upon closer inspection and getting a look inside the display, it turns out they shot the sample video on an F65 and played it back via a video deck I had never seen up close, the Sony SRR1000
The last day of the meeting was the 3D video session, featuring 3 10-minute 3D videos - a Pancreaticoduodenectomy, a Colon Resection, and a Gastric Bypass. I'll spare you the images, but take my word for it, the colon resection was the best. As in feature films, you want to use 3D where it is appropriate. A lot of surgery happens in one plane, so the only sense of depth comes from objects in the foreground such as instruments and sutures - kind of neat. But as you know, when doing a laparoscopic sigmoid colon resection you are working deep down in the pelvis, and in that case the sense of depth is profound and really useful for working around nerves and blood vessels. (you mean you didn't know that?)
As for the rest of the time, we setup a booth displaying our book and video products as well as promotional material for upcoming events that we manage. It is cool talking to people from places as diverse as Australia, Japan, China, Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica, Belgium, Russia, Kuwait, Israel, Qatar, Dubai, Canada and even the 50 states of the US.
In the downtime we usually try to find good places for meals. On this trip we had Vietnamese, Italian, American and a fair share of ready-made sandwiches and pastries during the meeting itself. One of our co-workers took us to the Green Mill, a historic Prohibition Era lounge, to see a jazz quartet play. Although I had never heard of her, Patricia Barber is supposed to be well known and she does not perform very often in the US, so it was a treat. I will say her drummer and guitar player were awesome.
Finally the trip home in the rain got me back home at about 1:30am.
As with most of my travel, I try to find at least an hour to do something related to the city. In Chicago it is photography of the amazing architecture.
Until the next journey, thanks for reading.
PS - In case you are wondering, our new kitten Alfie no longer resembles a kitten. He's over 6 pounds and he is even learning to drive.
LA, Denver and in a little bit Chicago. Some of my fave cities. I even had a shoot in Connecticut which is rare!
Project management, producing, story boarding, shot lists, media backup on set and in hotels.
And lots of hours traveling 500+ knots at 35,000 feet. Sometimes I can get some work done, sometimes not.
XDCAM, P2, 7d, even some HDV here and there. Surgery, training videos and lots of talking heads.
Yep, it's been busy. I try to see something cool in every city, whether it is a sunset over the Rockies, a Frank Lloyd Wright house or simple the city skyline.
This weekend we shot two educational videos for operating room nurses. EX3 and Ex1, some 7d stills and video for run and gun shots. Oh, and fake blood and vomit - life is good!
Last week after shoot well outside of LA, before a red-eye home, I visited the Hollyhock House, a Frank Lloyd Wright design right in the middle of Hollywood. It was closed for renovations but cool to see from the outside, and with sweeping views:
It's 11pm and I have to be up in a few hours for the flight home. More later.
For now, thanks for reading.
As mentioned in my previous post, we adopted a new kitten from a local shelter.
Feeling they need all the help they can get to support, rehabilitate and find homes for stray and sometimes abused animals, I volunteered to help them out with some video work.
Here's the first one.
It is a rewarding activity for some of my free time.
Travel, intensive pre- and post-production and even a vacation have made Summer 2012 memorable.
Here are some photo highlights.
The Summer began with the sad departure of my beloved Tabby Tigger. He was 16 and had a great life with us.
After a few weeks we found a new little bundle of joy.
July 4th - we discovered the fun of legal multi-packs of fireworks. With garden hose standing by we celebrated America's 236th birthday. The Bicentennial seems like yesterday.
A few back to back trips to Washington DC afforded some nice photo ops.
While a recent trip to Colorado presented some visual as well as technical opportunities.
A little bit of fun (it's fake blood I swear):
While in Denver I visited the makeshift memorial to the Aurora theater victims. It made the tragedy seem much more meaningful, as opposed to Anderson Cooper's ramblings. Sad indeed.
This past weekend I celebrated my 15th anniversary wth a fancy fondue dinner:
And as if that wasn't enough fun, the next day I was treated to a surprise birthday party for my entry into middle age:
We are now busy preparing two new web-based educational services, our entry into the multi-touch iBook format and our annual support of a surgical video program consisting of nearly 200 videos over 4 days.
Later in the year we will present close to 30 live surgery cases from all over the world at a one-day meeting. Should be exciting.
So, busy times past, present and future.
Thanks, as always, for reading
PS - Since you are sure to ask, here are some more pictures of our kitten.
Adorable, isn't he!
Ok, so your client wants you to shoot some interviews and b-roll at their factory in another part of the country. In my case it is likely a medical procedure, but not always. It doesn't matter - getting there and back is the fun part.
This is of course not always possible due to last minute confirmations of participants. But let's say you have 2 weeks or 1 week at a minimum to plan. This is really only an issue as far as booking flights. If possible, book a refundable ticket, meaning you can get your money back or at least a credit with no service charge if plans change. Southwest and Jetblue tickets are almost always refundable, though neither of those airlines flies everywhere in the US. I'm focusing on US travel because that is what I do - feel free to chime in with international travel tips.
I usually use Yahoo Travel to search for flights, because I have always used it and I can actually remember my password! But a handy app is Kayak, in which you enter your destination and you can filter pretty dynamically to find the right combination of times, costs and stops.
For Southwest or Jetblue use their own websites.
For hotels, I have started using Hotels.com, as they have a pretty user friendly interface and some good deals. When booking hotels beware the pre-paid rate. Often the rate is $20+ cheaper than the rack rate, but you pay in advance and the cancellation penalty is the full price of the room, and in some cases more than one night's rate. If your plans have the possibility of changing at the last minute, it is best to pay a bit more for a rate you can cancel.
If traveling with a lot of gear, and the hotel has ground level rooms, see if you can get one. Maneuvering a hand truck on and off hotel sized elevators is one more thing to deal with.
Transportation on the Ground
I usually rent a car or mini-van depending upon the amount of gear and the number of people. However in places like Chicago, DC and Dallas where there is mega traffic, a taxi fits the bill. You may be tempted to say that multiple taxi rides are more expensive than a car rental, but it depends. And convenience can weigh in either direction.
Know your local airports. When I fly out of Hartford, although it is a smallish air[port about the size of Raleigh Durham or San Diego, the security line is super slow. So I plan to get to the airport well in advance of my departure time. Bigger airport, though they have more people and flights also have more efficient security lines.
When you check-in for your flight you'll have to pay for your extra bags. An average trip for me has 3-4 pieces of checked luggage (hand truck, light kit, monitor case, tripod tube) but sometimes more if it is a multiple camera shoot. Southwest gives you 2 free bags. Most other airlines give you 1 or zero free bags. (Delta charged me nearly $800 each way for 5 pieces of luggage last year. On another trip I upgraded to first class for less than the price of the baggage fees, and got my extra bags included in the price. This option was offered by the Delta agent, but these nice people are usually kept away from the public). The check-in clerks always seem to change the tone of their voices when they ask for this kind of money, thinking you are going to flip out. I just say "Ok, no problem" and hand over the card for payment. Back in the pre-2001 days you could convince them to give you a media discount, and the old mainframe computers had a series of keystrokes to get those lower rates. But nowadays you pay or you drive.
Going Through Security
(no pictures here)
Always carry your camera on the plane, whether it is a full size, camcorder, DSLR or all of these. A soft sided camera bag, or a generic roll-aboard that does not look like a camera bag are both good choices. If using a traditional roll-aboard, put some padding inside and this helps you look like a regular business traveler, and it saves your shoulder. Now when you have a couple of carry on pieces (camera bag, laptop bag or backpack) you need 2-4 of those slimy plastic bins.
Before I get in line, I place my wallet, phone and other contents of pockets into my backpack. About 2 people before you get to the bins, take off your shoes and belt. The belt, liquids in a zip lock if you have not checked this, and shoes into a bin. Laptop in its own bin. Suit jacket, turned inside out, in a bin (or sweatshirt, hoodie, jacket or whatever). Cameras in a bin. Some airports want you to put your shoes on the belt and they'll get snooty about it. Look for signs to that effect.
Other side of the scanner I expect a pat down, since cargo pants and travel shirts have extra zippers. I actually had a TSA guy tell me to wear different clothes when I travel. As if. Then repack bags, check for laptop, wallet, license, keys, cameras, phone. It is amazing how many announcements I hear that go "will the traveler leaving a 17" Mac Book Pro and a titanium Rolex watch at security please return to claim your items." Not good.
Airport food is traditionally the worst food money can buy. This is changing but slowly. Unless you have a 1 hour wait for a flight, the sit down restaurants are a bad idea. More on these later. For most flights less than 2 hours I'll pack some energy bars and maybe get a coffee and a muffin at the airport. In smaller airports beware of limited food options and long lines. You can buy a 1L bottle of water for roughly $14.95 at the news stand. For long haul flights hydration is vital.
For a cross country flight I know that I am going to be starving somewhere over the Rockies and the salted free snacks just make you thirsty. I'll get a bottle of water, a baked good, and either a prepared salad or sandwich. In any case be prepared to pay through the nose for all of this stuff.
If you have a layover or simply a longish wait for a flight, you can try a sit down restaurant, but be warned, they can be slowish and not very goodish. Recently at ORD I tried the Wolfgang Puck's. I assume they guy licenses his name because the food was just awful and the service worse. Granted the pay is probably pretty bad.
One diamond in the rough is at Midway in Chicago. In the passage between the newer and older terminals is a walk-up diner counter.
At Manny's, you can get meatloaf and mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy and other traditional diner dishes. The food is hot, tastes like your grandma made it and you won't be hungry for a while. Add a cream soda and life is good. You will almost forget you are in an airport.
Hanging out in Airports
If you have eaten your requisite meal but you still have some time before your flight (ie a red-eye or just a late night connection) you can take a walking tour of the airport. Depending upon the age of the facility you can find some historical points of interest or simply some artistic discoveries.
Midway has a nice historical display about the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier in WWII, including a vintage fighter plane hanging from the ceiling.
If you walk over to the old American Terminal, you will feel like you have gone back in time to the late 1970's.
In O'Hare, the airport is massive. Walk over to the original sections and there are some 1960's architectural elements that you just have to experience for yourself. Same goes for LAX and the old Pan Am terminal now used by Jet Blue at JFK.
Another unique place is the Marine Air Terminal at Laguardia. Originally built in the 1930's as the Pan Am Clipper terminal,
complete with WPA-like murals in the art deco styled terminal,
you feel like you have stepped through time (if you go in the old entrance that is)
this building is now home to the Delta Shuttle, with hourly flights to Boston and Washington. Again, you have to experience it for yourself. The great part is it is separate from the rest of the airport. They have one security line that is never more than 4 people deep. The waiting area for flights has lots of soft leather chairs, power points for devices and a pretty hopping bar and cafe.
Other unique spots include one of the last remaining observation decks at Cleveland airport, an elevated seating area/observation deck at BWI,
and at Denver's massive terminal there is an upper seating area that is devoid of people and seemingly devoid of purpose, and is a nice place to chill out if you have a long wait.
The Flight Itself
When booking I try to choose the type of airplane and the seat location. If possible I go with a 737-800 or an Airbus 320. I like the aisle seat on the right side about 3 rows back from the exit row. But that's just me. Another reason to know your aircraft is because of carry on limitations. The smaller 50 passenger mini jets sometimes will not accommodate full sized roller bags and you may be asked to check these at the jetway. If using a roller bag as a camera bag, be prepared to quickly extract your camera at the last moment and place it under your seat.
Some airlines like to announce that the flight is completely full and you will have to check your bag, but then you get on the plane and there is plenty of space. Not sure what this is about.
If flying in and out of LGA, I will try to get a left side window for the return flight so I can get a good look at the Manhattan skyline on the final approach.
Once airborne, your work is done and you leave it to the professionals to get you to your destination.
Working on a plane depends upon the type of work you want to do, the size of your laptop, battery power, size of your neighbor and your ability to concentrate when dehydrated, tired, unable to move your legs and up since 5am.
Once on the ground, your job is the same as it is at home base. you go to the location, get your shots or make your meeting, then reverse the process and get back home.
Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel. But getting to the actual airplane can be a challenge unless you plan ahead.
Good luck in your own travels.
Thanks for reading.
Getting to the West Coast often includes a stop in O'Hare - this tunnel is a favorite stopping point - I always look for something calm in the middle of the hustle.
San Diego for a convention...
When the exhibits ended a 5 minute walk to the hotel, change into walking shoes, and explore the city and nearby Coronado Island...
Home a few days later...
next stop - Grand Rapids...
This is why they call them Rapids!
They have a pristine Frank Lloyd Wright House in Grand Rapids:
Like Chicago, Detroit has a cool underground tunnel - this one is like a Disney attraction
Onto a plane heading home - for a few days at least...
A few days later off to Chicago for the day
Back home within 18 hours makes for a long day...
...home for 24 hours then back to the airport and off to LA...
One cool aspect of producing is the liberation of flying without camera gear, hiring local crews and getting to see the latest tools in action. Here in Tinseltown we used a new Canon EOS C300 full frame 35mm HD camera.
After the shoot, with no flights home before the next morning, I took a drive up to Burbank to visit ProMax, then worked my way back to Santa Monica for the night, hitting Mulholland Drive for some scenery...
I'm getting more familiar with the manual functions on the Canon 7d - long exposures, bracketing and RAW.
I also like taking behind the scenes pictures of different setups. Another benefit of hiring local folks is getting different nuances of doing the same setup. Where one guy uses a Kino Flo, another uses a Rifa Light or Chimera. One man's Arri 150 fresnel is another's Dedo Light.
I also have a running list of some gear to pick up when possible or necessary. I happened upon this place in Burbank and had a quick look inside. We don't have corner stores in Connecticut that sell 50 colors of gaffer tape and C-Stands!
And the adventure continues...
See you on the next installment...
Ok, when I'm wearing a winter hat and scarf I do sort of resemble Waldo - you should have seen me in 8th grade!
Since the new year I have been criss-crossing the US in a variety of roles - shooter, producer, audiovisual support and sales. Each stop along the way I try to find something unique to either take photos of, or an activity that makes the most of the hours spent in the air to get from here to there and back.
Actually, these trips are a great time to write these blogs, so stay tuned for some more in depth looks at some of the activities.
The most recent trip (actually there has been a shoot or trip per week so it gets a bit mixed up) was to San Diego for the annual Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons meeting. It's like NAB for video-assisted surgery. So there are displays for video gear used by surgeons, 3D, HD, Sony, Olympus - ok it is basically NAB without those cool dioramas for testing cameras, and no models.
We had our usual 20 foot booth to display our books, DVDs and medical education services. We get to interact with old friends, new customers and chat with folks from around the world. Amazingly everyone speaks English pretty well.
At this show the exhibits got out at 3:30pm, so we had a few hours to explore San Diego.
The Gas Lamp district is cool, just don't walk too far north. Our hotel had a roof deck with some great day and night views of the city.
The former World's Fair site now called Balboa Park has some great architecture and museums.
There was also a cool event on board the Midway WWII era carrier.
On the last day after we packed up the booth we took a water taxi over to Coronado Island and saw some nice scenery and did a LOT of walking.
I'm been experimenting with HDR photography - takes some practice - and a tripod which I don't generally carry around. In this case I had a video shoot one of the days so I did hit the roof deck one morning around sunrise with a tripod and take some bracketed shots with the 7d - have not processed these yet.
I got home from this trip on a Sunday and two days later was back on a plane to Grand Rapids, Michigan. After seeing the Grand River that runs through town, and the brave fishermen in the water, I know where they got the name from.
Interesting city with the added bonus of a nicely preserved Frank Lloyd Wright house just outside the downtown area. I have an amateur interest in architecture and specifically the Prairie Style and Art Moderne periods, so any chance to see a specimen is worth the effort. Still waiting for a reason to visit Racine, WI.
Getting ready for a marathon trip out to LA - more on that later.
For now, thanks for your interest.
|Posted by: Mike Cohen on Mar 21, 2012 at 8:25:01 pm|
Weeks are for work. Weekends are for personal enrichment. Maybe that enrichment is biking, skiing, cooking, cleaning (really?!), hiking, reading, going to the movies or theater, or whatever floats your boat. For me, it is keeping a collection of inspiring activities at the ready so when the moment strikes, I have no shortage of ways to stimulate my mind.
This particular weekend is supposed to be icy cold - nothing out of the ordinary in New England, but with a lot of travel coming up I think I'll lay low, watch some inspiring media and exercise the parts of my brain that are dormant during the conference calls, spreadsheets and HR tasks during the week (more on all of these important subjects in another entry!).
Here's a still life of my options - in high school art class we would have had to paint this, but that's because we didn't have digital cameras in 1988!:
I won't go through every item, as some of these books I have not read yet. Over the past year as I spent countless hours waiting for connections at such hubs of international travel as Charlotte, Nashville, Midway and Denver airports, I found myself in one bookstore after another. They all have displays of self-help and business books. I have gotten into the habit of snapping a picture with my phone of any book I'd like to read, then looking online for a better price. Airports are about the most expensive place to buy anything. Well looking at reviews often convinces me that what is on display isn't always worth the paper it is printed on, but through blogs and podcasts I discover other resources.
One interesting choice is "642 Things to Draw." This book simply has blank pages with descriptions of pictures I can draw. Sure I could have a sketchbook but it is sometimes ok to have a little nudge to move the brain where it might not normally go. And no cheating - if you don't know what an antelope or a violin looks like you have to guess. You should see the chainsaw I drew!
Clay Shirky's book has gotten a lot of press and one I am looking forward to. Not shown is "The Accidental Creative" which I have read a few times and passed along to another person in need of some work/life balance.
"The Writer's Journey. was recommended by a screenplay seminar instructor I met here in CT, and is a good review of the hero's journey as used by countless writers of both books and movies. Once you read it you say to yourself, "aha, George Lucas thinks he's clever doesn't he!" But in reality, as I formulate stories for half-written screenplays it is a handy reference.
In the lower right, speaking of King George, is "Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution." This is one of my all time favorite reads.
The book starts with a concise but useful story of Lucas, Copolla and the breakout from Hollywood of these two filmmakers, the creation of ILM, eventually of Pixar and early digital animation, nonlinear editing up to more recent advances in CGI, and how Lucas was driving a lot of the innovation. Yeah we all know this right? But this book is full of anecdotes and a look back at how some of our favorite films were made. On my recent trip to San Francisco I went looking for the warehouse that housed the original American Zoetrope studios, only to find a high-rise condominium tower. So much for historical preservation!
Here are a couple snapshots of the interior:
That's Ben Burtt doing sound effects editing on Star Wars in the basement of George Lucas' original home studio.
And here are some pioneers of the first CG animation:
And speaking of our favorite directors, while I don't subscribe, this anniversary edition of DGA quarterly has some great brief interviews with a host of directors:
Since Spielberg doesn't do DVD commentaries, this visual description of the Private Ryan opening sequence is a fascinating read:
The movies shown are three of my favorites for their technical mastery as well as their longevity. Each from a different era in filmmaking, each was innovative and a challenge to the filmmakers. How fitting that the current issue of Creative COW has Douglas Trumbull on the cover - a living legend of filmmaking innovation. http://newsletters.creativecow.net/newsletters/2011/11-29/index.html
So why the food products? Digestive biscuits, tomato bisque and porridge are three comfort foods perfect for a cold wintry weekend spent feeding my mind - might as well feed my stomach too!
Well, thanks for reading...I've got some reading of my own to do!
PS - at least one other member of my household is interested in my copy of Creative COW magazine - get your own!
Today I took a site visit to the tv studio where we will be shooting a series of web-delivered shows this year. Sadly there was nothing in my home state of Connecticut available and NYC-based studios are simply too costly. So along comes the PBS station in upstate NY - a beautiful new HD studio and the price is right!
There is not a lot of discussion on the COW about live studio production, unless I missed it. Activities like this take me back to my college days doing live tv news. While our shows will be live to disk and not live to air one still needs to be organized and ready to go. This place records the ISO and program signals to AJA kiPro units as ProRes 422. Although we edit in CS5.5 in Windows, the files should import and edit without incident. I took a few sample files just to make sure. One should always avoid finding themselves with a terabyte of files that do not import!!
From our offices up to Albany is about a 2.2 hour drive. On a crisp sunny January day it was a pleasant ride past cow pastures, babbling brooks, lakes, ponds, New England villages and toll booths...lots of toll booths on the final stretch. The toll at one of them was nothing, but you still have to collect a ticket!
Driving along CT and MA Rt. 8 always makes me nostalgic for the Summers spent in the Berkshires with my beloved grandparents and extended family in Pittsfield, MA.
Here are a few highlights of the mostly driving filled day.
Leaving Woodbury along Rt. 6.
You know you are in New England when you see a covered bridge, this one over the Colebrook River. I actually had never noticed this despite many drives along this route!
Fake HDR - take two layers, adjust each for contrast and then combine with a layer mask, flatten and further adjust.
Yeah, I'm cool!
Setup for Meet the Press style discussion.
The primary setup.
This is where they fire the Death Star's main gun.
Heading home - think I stop for a caramel soy macchiato (I will not sleep for 3 days but at least I'll get home in one piece).
Passing through the region of my ancestry.
Yep, getting sleepy. If I turn off the heat the cold should keep me awake. Oh wait, I just consumed high octane java.
Ok, this point and shoot camera is showing its limitations.
Well, that's it. Tomorrow back in the office for a variety of production management activities including some scripting for the upcoming studio shoots. The visit gave me a host of creative ideas which I was able to discuss with the crew and the talent.
Thanks for reading.