Thursday, May 28, 2009

51 Days of Uptime

This is totally geeky, but here's one reason I love my Mac: I routinely can go over a month between restarts. Okay, yes, I know there are some Linux nerds out there who can claim records of over a year, but still, my point: try doing anything comparable on Windows.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Class of 2009

Today was St Olaf’s Commencement for the Class of 2009. It’s been an entire year since I graduated college. Weird. It was great to see so many of my friends at one time, though. So proud. *Tear*.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Don't Panic

My friend Shawn posted this on his blog today, I think it's hilarious, and often quite applicable:

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t sweat the big stuff, either. Just go straight to the nervous breakdown.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Photoshopping Bloomington Campus

When we launched the new Minnehaha website a number of months back, we placed pictures on the home page from all three campuses. Behold below the power of Photoshop in first color correcting this photo of Bloomington campus, second removing the flag pole, and third adding in the sign that’s actually a few hundred feet away on the side of the street. I enjoy my job.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Live in Trust

Trusting God can be hard. It seems like it should be easy; I mean, really, if I’m going to trust anyone, God seems like a logical #1 choice.

And yet, in so many circumstances I find it difficult, if not impossible, to simply rest, be at peace, and trust. “God, don’t You know my plans? Can’t You see I’m supposed to...?”

A few months ago, after helping lead a youth group worship service in Northfield, I felt very discouraged. Musically it had been the best service we’d done all year, spiritually it felt like the kids just didn’t get into it at all, and essentially I felt like I’d failed. On my drive home, God challenged me, not with audible, booming thunder or anything, but it was definitely Him speaking: “Can you trust that I was at work, even though you didn’t see how?”

I didn’t have a good answer. Of course I had to assent, and not out of obligation or a feeling of “I’m-too-puny”, but because I knew He was right. I needed to trust God, not my own instincts and feelings. And I needed to believe that God is bigger than that singular event, that even if most of the kids didn’t take much away, maybe just one or two of them were touched, moved in a way more powerful than I can imagine. Maybe I just needed to trust that God can use even our selfish moments for His good, and make the best out of our messes.

It’s a struggle I still face today, but I’m learning to live at peace, and with trust.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Watch What You Say

Proof that what you say matters: during first semester this year, one of the seniors at Minnehaha interviewed me for her Advanced Composition class. Although I don’t specifically remember it, apparently I slipped in a comment to the effect of ‘most teachers are afraid of finding answers’. What I meant is that many teachers, at least in my experience, shy away from seeking answers to their technological issues on their own (say, by simply Googling), and instead decide a more prudent course of action is to seek out a “technology expert”.

At first glance, you may not see anything wrong with that, but a fair comparison comes from the classic, “give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime”.

The issue is that technology departments (everywhere, not only at Minnehaha) don’t have the human resources to offer one-on-one assistance for every single tiny issue that comes up, users need to take responsibility and try things on their own without hand-holding. Yes, of course there will be times when you need to call on the expert, obviously. But there are so many times when a simple Google search can solve the problem. This is how I fix almost everything on my own machine, and it escapes me why others don’t have that same mentality. It truly is an issue of mindset, not [perceived] capability.

I digress.

Each year the English classes at Minnehaha take over the library and, with real quills and ink, write some of their favorite quotes on parchment, er, paper, all of which are then hung in one of the classrooms. And so, amidst thought-provoking quotations from Emerson, Franklin, Twain, perhaps even Austin, my interviewer quilled my quote...

On the one hand, I was humbled for my name to appear in the same league as these literary powerhouses. On the other, it made me realize that I may need to watch what I say a little more carefully, or at least, be better prepared to explain myself. Don’t get me wrong, I stand by what I said, I think it’s true... but I say that with the caveat of my explication above.

Updated Political Compass

I took the Political Compass test again tonight, I've shifted a little more to the left over the last year and a half. The most recent results:

Economic Left/Right: -2.62
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: 0.10

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

One in a Million

Hannah Montana has a song called “One in a Million.” I was thinking about this the other day when I realized that being called ‘one in a million’ really isn’t that special, at least not statistically. If you’re one in a million in the United States, that means there are almost 300 people just like you. Worldwide you have almost 7000 twins. Shoot.

Now, granted, I can still see the appeal of being a limited edition, like the paintings hanging on my living room wall. But somehow that specialness diminished as soon as my brain took over.

The next time someone calls you “one in a million”, do yourself a favor and don’t analyze it.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

ffmpeg on OS X.5 Leopard

This is one of those geeky posts that I hope will benefit some random Googling soul when they stumble upon it in the future.

Quick backstory for context: we're getting ready to launch several "video tours" on Minnehaha's home page; to present these, I want to use the Shadowbox javascript library, and then also its preferred flash video player, JW FLV Mediaplayer. There is some limited documentation for both of these resources, though unfortunately not a copious amount.

I've spent a few days battling with Shadowbox and Media Player's configurations; in the end, my solution has been to hard code a flashVars value into the shadowbox.js file that points to a configuration file that Media Player will use. So, in shadowbox.js, near the top, in the list of option, I added


Because, as I found out, the lightcolor value doesn't seem to work if you put it in the config.xml file. That config file is just some XML that tells the flash player to load some plugins, which skin to use, and how one of the plugins should behave.

Eventually, I had a local copy of Media Player working, and I'd used QuickTime Pro to export FLVs of our videos (originally all HD QuickTime MOVs). Then I wanted to another one of the plugins from the Media Player site so that users could email a link to their friends from within the player itself. Well, the plugin I wanted didn't work with the version of the player I had - turns out there's a newer player (4.4) available, so I downloaded that. However, this caused a major issue: when I clicked on a video link, the player popped up and the audio played, but the video portion remained black. I found solace in discovering that many others were also experiencing this issue of audio but no video, but I was greatly disappointed that no one has yet come up with a definitive solution.

Obviously, I could have just reverted back to the old player and been done with it, but no, I decided to try to find a solution and make it work. Just 15 minutes, that's it...

5 hours later, I finally threw in the towel, put back the old player, ditched the plugin, and things work beautifully again. However, there was some value in that time spent, because in the process I ended up installing a free program called ffmpeg, and I will now be using it instead of QuickTime to convert all our videos to FLVs ("flash videos").

For anyone who might be trying to install ffmpeg on your Mac OS X.5 Leopard machine, the rest of this post is for you. It's not as easy, straightforward, or well-documented as it should be, but here's what ended up working for me. Please note, you need to use the command line for almost everything from here on out. If that freaks you out, well, you'll have to get over it, it's actually not that bad when you get into it.

Step 1: Download and install yasm:

Download the source tar file (currently version 0.8.0), uncompress it in Finder (by double clicking it), then open Terminal (in Applications > Utilities) and navigate your way to the folder (probably in your Downloads folder, in which case you would type cd ~/Downloads/yasm-0.8.0).

Type ./configure

Type make

Wait patiently.

Type sudo make install (you'll be prompted for your password at this point)

Step 2: Download and install Git:

Follow the same steps from above to change into the directory, configure, compile, and install.

Step 3: Download and install the FAAC encoder package:

Use this command to configure: ./configure --enable-shared

Make and install.

Step 4: Download and install the x264 encoder (this one requires yasm to compile properly)

In Terminal, type git clone git://

This will download it into your current working directory, after which you can cd into it
./configure --enable-shared
sudo make install

Step 5: Download LAME version 3.97 - the current version is 3.98, but it has issues with ffmpeg, at least on Leopard.

Lame source files:

Configure, make, install.

Step 6: Download ffmpeg:

This configure command worked for me, it may or may not work for you; if not, well, I'm sorry, you're on your own, I was lucky enough to get it working for me :) This site may or may not be of any additional help to you, otherwise, use Google. (NOTE: this command needs to be all on one line)

./configure --prefix=/usr/local/bin --enable-static --enable-shared --enable-gpl --enable-postproc --enable-pthreads --enable-libmp3lame --enable-libx264 --enable-libfaac --disable-ffserver --disable-ffplay --enable-nonfree

Make, install.

Step 7: Pour yourself a drink, you've earned it.

Step 8: Review the ffmpeg documentation. It looks nasty to start with, but it's actually not that bad. If you just take one flag at a time, it won't take more than about 15 minutes for you to figure out what's going on. If you just want to start converting movies right now, here's the command I've been using that seems to generate quality results with a decently small filesize:

ffmpeg -i /path/to/ -ar 44100 -r 30 -ab 128k -ac 1 -acodec libfaac -vcodec libx264 -b 400k -s 768x432 /path/to/DestinationMovie.flv

Whoa! That looks complicated! Let's step through it:

ffmpeg: the program, obviously
-i /path/to/ the input file (in my case, it's a QuickTime .mov, but it could be anything)
-ar 44100: audio sampling rate for the output file
-r 30: video frame rate for the output file
-ab 128k: audio bitrate
-ac 1: number of audio channels
-acodec libfaac: audio codec
-vcodec libx264: video codec
-b 400k: video bitrate (in bits/second)
-s 768x432: size / dimensions
/path/to/DestinationMovie.flv: the path for the output file (in my case, an .flv, but it could be anything)

The documentation on all these flags for ffmpeg is quite comprehensive and thorough, and Google also has a number of good resources.

Happy encoding!


After testing the FLV streaming from off-campus, I discovered the bitrate on my encoded videos was too high to stream smoothly. The videos worked beautifully on-campus, but watching from home was choppy.

With the help of Robert Swain's site and the ffmpeg documentation, I wrote a new command to encode FLVs in two passes. Surprisingly, though,the two-pass method didn't handle a shaky camera very well, so I had to try something else.

Here is the new command I'm using, which seems to generate files sufficiently small enough to stream smoothly through the Internet's tubes:

ffmpeg -i /path/to/ -ar 44100 -ab 128k -ac 1 -acodec libfaac -vcodec libx264 -s 768x432 -b 400k -bt 100k -vpre hq /path/to/DestinationMovie.flv