If She’s Pretty and Asian… She’s Probably a Computerized Virtual Composite

You can stare. But you can't touch.

NOTE: Made a video about this. Watch it!

So you’re trying to sell some candy in Japan (Glico’s Ice Nomi), and you sign  a pop band that appears to be an SNL parody of Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show (see “fun fact” at end).

Sales are up, but you decide you could sell another 30% of your little sweet and sour confections if only you had a hotter chick endorsing it. Sadly, you’ve picked the best available based humans on in-depth studies of the physical traits that arouse boys and girls… and a DNA composite will set you back two years.

So, duh, you manufacturer a virtual girl, compiled from a composite of the existing girls of the AKB48 band, and you call her it Aimi Eguchi. How much harder can that be than manufacturing virtual candy? Sure news will slip that she’s a fake (see how-to below), but most people won’t know or care. And perhaps weirder than the story itself is this quote from Channel News Asia:

Although Eguchi is not a real person, some observers say she possesses the purest essence of what an idol is – a completely artificial persona created by putting together the traits that fans love the most.

But is that true? I think not. To truly generate the “trait fans love most,” I would suggest turning this “make your own creepy avatar” feature into a “pick your favorite facial features” algorithm. Go ahead and make your own if you have patience for apparently hologram graphics, Japanese text, and music that makes my ears bleed.

Watch the video below at :50 to see how they composited this virtual star.

This girl is not real. I repeat. This girl is not real.

Fun Factoid: Kim Evey plays the host on Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show, is the producer of The Guild (Felicia Day), and is the virtual wife of Greg Benson (MediocreFilms). Here’s her debut, where Benson had his Hollywood friends create Evey v1.2 (at the time she was called XB09-23).

Turn Your HDTV Into a Computer: Online Video Without Restraints

(See 4/13 update below and learn the secret to connecting your Wireless keyboard to an Acer, which you won’t find after an hour on Windows help).

You loyal WVFF readers will know that I’ve been predicting the “killer web-to-television online video viewing” device for several years (here’s me wishing back in January 2007 and here’s my verbatim from 2010 predictions):

“I see a $199 device that allows us to access the Internet right from our televisions. It’s a small PC, a remote-controlled keyboard and mouse, and it plugs into any television via HDMI or even less progressive connections.”

We’re pretty dang close finally — here’s a device that would have eluded me due to minimal marketing. Thank goodness for Billy at Best Buy (his employer didn’t stock it, so I bought one at NewEgg.com). It’s an Acer AspireRevo AR3610-U9022 Desktop PC (Dark Blue), and here’s an Amazon affiliate link for it for $330 (I’ve yet to make a dime yet on the stupid affiliate program).

For about $300 you can watch Internet video on your high-definition television and control it with wireless keyboard

First the “reality check”: It’s not $199, but there is a cheaper version (called Revo) for that price. Note that the Revo is a bit dumbed down, lacks wireless remote and uses Windows XP. I chose the AspireRevo because it has a remote included, offers Windows 7, and has more horse power. You’ll also need an HDMI cable to connect it to your high-definition television, a TV with HDMI input, electricity, and (duh) a wireless router with high speed Internet. Essentially this is a decent computer without a monitor.

You can now enjoy online-video viewing (and other PC activities) right from your high-definition television. You heard me right. Your overpriced television is now a monitor, so you don’t have to chose between “lean forward” control or “lean back” comfort. “Oh, Kevin,” you say, “I’ve already been doing this for years with my PC.” Well shut up because you represent .005% of the population.

Yes, peeps… it’s convenient online-video viewing on YouTube and Hulu without the “walled garden” associated with most “convenience” devices like Roku, AppleTV, Netflix and Ethernet/wireless enabled BlueRay DVD players (yes I own those too, and they have some advantages like easy install, customized content, and easier navigation). But none of these allow Hulu (to my knowledge), or give you the full YouTube functionality. And some are slowwwww.

Here’s how you get this Revo thingy going (in case you’re even more techno-phobic than me):

  1. You plug in the device to a source of electricity. Don’t get shocked.
  2. You put said device next to your computer, and connect it to your TV with an HDMI cable (you can handle that, right?). The cable isn’t included. So if you don’t have one laying around, get a cheapo at BestBuy or online (or do better by by surfing CNet’s Cheapskate. Those cables can get wicked expensive, and I’m not convinced the primo ones are worth it.
  3. You find a wireless signal (you do have a router that has high-speed Internet, right?). Hey, swipe your neighbors unless you live near me.
  4. Now you sit your ass on your couch or bed and use the wireless keyboard and mouse to surf the web. Go full screen and suffer some commercials and you’re free at last. Free at last! You can enjoy Hulu like it’s television (albeit more grainy than you’d like, but free).

You can do basically the same thing with an old PC or laptop, but Billy tells me that video streams poorly on older processors. That explains why we haven’t seen my dream machine for $199 yet. But on the positive side, this puppy is more fueled than $350 Netbooks, and if you’re after web-video on the television it’s a better approach (some Netbooks have an HDMI output, but you’d need a long wire and I hate Netbook keyboards. Here are the specifications for this baby (note I haven’t test driven it yet):

  • 1.6GHz Intel Atom 330 Processor
  • 2GB DDR2 Memory
  • 160GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive; Multi-in-1 Digital Media Card Reader
  • Integrated NVIDIA ION Graphics; High-Definition Audio Support
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); Includes Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

This is more computer than I need, but a fast machine that runs Windows will come in handy since we’re all Mac, and the MacMini version of this would be twice as expensive (wireless keyboard sold separately, and Mac is cruel with accessory pricing… I just bought a damned backup power chord for my MacBook Pro for f’ing $80 from Billy).

*** Update 4/7: After hours of struggling with Windows 7 to connect the remote keyboard and mouse, I found the simple answer… by finding a brochure I missed in the packaging, seperate from the other materials. Seems there’s a dongle hiding in the mouse interiror that must be plugged into the Acer. Otherwise you’ll spend HOURS on Windows help and online, to no avail. All the other parts of the setup were less than 30 minutes, but finding the HDMI cable (hiding plugged into my television pretending to be connected to something) and the cursed wireless keyboard/remote HIDDEN DONGLE was very frustrating, however. I also would give Egghead a poor score on customer service. Ordered it for FedEx on Friday hoping for Saturday arrival, and paid $37 for that. Immediately after that, I read the fine print: several days to process. So “next day” doesn’t mean “next day,” and even worst the customer service rep (who took 10 minutes to acknowledge me and another 15 to reply) told me he’d try to cancel the FedEx charge… and he didn’t. No more Egghead purchases. Stick with Amazon.com.

That said, I’m blogging from the television set. You’d be surprised how well this keyboard is working even from 20 feet… but it’s hard to read this text, which from here is about equivalent to 4-point type). Off to try YouTube!

An Unviral “Viral Video” for a Cause

Thousands of apples roll out of an NYC subway car. Drives message home with authentic/amateur feel. Big stunt, simple concept. Visually unforgettable.

The only thing it ‘aint (as of this writing) is viral. Under 20K views. Posted in 2006 this would be at a million views by now. Show me someone who claims to understand what goes viral and I’ll show you a liar. I did try to send the folks some tips (click more if you want to read them).

Want to know the bad-ass part of this? You’re watching f’ing CGI. No kidding. This entire thing was simulated. I watched it 4 times and had absolutely no clue. I was SURE it was real. See the “making of.”

For what it’s worth, CityHarvest.org (CityHarvest YouTube channel) I totally dig it. Maybe next time see if a popular web star like Happyslip (a former New Yorker) will be in it… and post it on her channel. Then it would be at 2 million and counting by now.

P.S. Found this on Vidque.com, where I also found this unviral video “Facebook Status Update During Ceremony.” I like curators now. Even old musty ones.


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Converting and Uploading Those Old VHS Videos

I’ve got two or three plastic bins in my basement, packed with hundreds VHS tapes. Among a lot of junk (Simpsons episodes, SNL reruns) lies some of the first video shorts I’ve made… um… two decades ago. So I spent hours this morning researching ways to convert them, and it comes down to a few complex choices with big tradeoffs:

  1. Ship your tape to a service provider (I found AMB Media Services via a Google text ad). For the price of $5 to $9, you can transfer VHS, VHS-C, Mini-DV, or Hi-8/8mm tapes. If you only have a few tapes, and want a low-maintenance solution (because your VHS still blinks 12:00), this is your best option. But when you add the shipping (about $9), converting a few tapes will cost more than buying a device. Some pharmacy and photo shops offer this service, and maybe shipping is less expensive.
  2. Use a camcorder with an analog input. Then you can connect your ol’ VHS to your camcorder and record it digitally. Next, you simply convert your digital tape to your computer as you would any new footage. Unfortunately my high-end Canon HV20 doesn’t have analog in. But I used an earlier camcorder to convert and upload “Woodblock Doll,” “Mint and Treats,” and “Attack of the Killer Slinky.”
  3. Buy a “Black Box” Device. Pinnacle’s Dazzle was the first device I bought to convert my Mini-DVs to digital footage more than 8 years ago. I researched the space, and paid maybe $200 for the device and editing software. Now there’s an AV-to-digital converter that’s selling for less than $50. There are other “black box” solutions like the Canopus ADVC-1110, but it’s pricey at $200 plus. Here’s one of the highest-rated VHS/DVD devices on Amazon (the Sony VRDMC5 DVDirect DVD Recorder). This Sony device got a favorable review from PC Magazine as well as CrunchGear, but a few customers have complained about audio problems.
  4. DVD/VHS Combination Units. Wired’s “Gadget Review” compares a number of other solutions, that include simple consumer decks that have both DVD and VHS. Some of these allow you to dub a VHS to a DVD… but this appears oddly complicated.  Further, you’ll need software to “rip” that DVD signal to something you can edit, compress and upload. This ‘DVD/VHS combo option leaves you with a full DVD copy of your tape without all the editing and manual work.
  5. Additional Options and Sources. In researching this post, I did find a nice review of options by “AskBobFranklin.” And two reviews worth mentioning: Video converter software compared and Video editing software compared. I also like this post by SignVideo that describes the method and gives you tips on preserving the quality.

So what’s the bottom line? I’d go with a service (online or at a local store) if you just have a few tapes. But if you have six or more then it’s much more affordable to get a device. While writing this post, I bought the Pinnacle Dazzle DVD Recorder ($44 at Amazon.com). Then I realized that it had a few bad reviews on Amazon, and… oh… it’s not Mac compatible. D’oh. So now maybe I’ll spring for the Sony VRDMC5. Or maybe I’ll tell wifeofnalts it’s on my birthday-wish list. The black box is convenient but it’s another darned device that has limited functionality beyond this purpose.

Here’s my description of “the perfect device,” but I doubt it exists:

  1. It costs less than $200, and has a VHS deck and a DVD burner.
  2. The DVD is playable on a regular DVD player, but it also automatically chunks the video into segments that can be viewed via thumbnails. Or you can set it to chunk in 5/10-minute increments.
  3. You’d store the entire DVD as a safeguard against the deteriorating VHS tapes (although obviously burned DVD are far from permanent archives). Still, I suppose we’d actually watch our wedding tape more than once a decade if it was on DVD.
  4. But the DVD would also allow for easy exporting in the form of Quicktime, .mov or .mp4 files… so that you don’t need to use software to “rip” the entire DVD, convert, edit and upload. Too many steps!

Would appreciate any feedback if this device does exist. I’d love to dust off some of the videos in the basement, like these vintage Nalts clips (see “more” for details).

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