All the Delayed Gratification I Can Stand

I definitely got the "falling apart" thing right.

I definitely got the “falling apart” thing right.

I guess I really don’t need to rationalize why I nerd out so much about barbecue, but I do.  People are often surprised I’m not big into homebrewing given that Carla and I do Hoperatives. I have several answers that are all accurate but incomplete.  “There are lots of professionals who are willing to make it for me in exchange for small sums of money,” is what I usually say.  Sometimes I explain that I’ve tried it and liked it well enough, but just decided I didn’t want to make the investment in the gear I’d need in order to do it seriously. “Obsession” and “gear” go together in my world. In the end, though, I think smoking meat scratches the itch in me that homebrewing does for others.  While smoking and brewing take about the same amount of labor (brewing more, if anything), but the nice thing about smoking is that at the end of the day you have barbecue. With homebrew you have a couple of weeks to wait. If you build up enough inventory over time you can deal with that issue, but that gets back to the whole equipment/space/storage issue. I don’t do delayed gratification well. Barbecue works for me. And if I want to homebrew, I know lots of folks who’ll let me come over and use their gear (and who will protect me from doing something dumb that will ruin a batch).

Beats the hell out of me how gardeners manage that hobby. I respect it immensely. But it’s not for me.

So yesterday’s batch of pulled pork may be the best I’ve done so far. I wound up pulling it off the smoker at 185° internal and let it rest a half-hour or so (I expect I got a carryover to 190° or damned close).  You can see from the picture that it split as I was taking it off. I had to tug a little, but the bone came out clean.  Used a set of Bear Paws and the meat shredded in short order. The bark is flavorful, but not overpowering, so the rub was a real success. That last stall didn’t really make any difference in  the end.  I’d decided that 190° was my target temperature and was getting frustrated that it wasn’t getting there steadily. I was wondering if I’d wind up having to slice the meat rather than pull it. That wouldn’t have been a disaster. It just wasn’t the plan.

All that time I was in the second stall good things were happening, though. Collagen starts to melt and squeeze out water (that then boils away) around 160°.  I think I hit the first stall around 151° when we had a good breeze and circulation was pretty good inside the Egg. The humidity was high inside because of the water pan and I think the wind died and circulation became much, much weaker, setting up the conditions for a second stall at the higher temperature. Except it really wasn’t a “second” stall.  It was the same stall, just moved to a higher temperature.

So what does this do to my approach for next time? It turned out so well that I think I’ll continue to use the water pan and just tough out stalls when they happen. If I know going in that I’m on a schedule, I may do something along the lines of what’s discussed in this article about wrapping with foil  when the meat gets to 150° or so and the smoking is done. The article draws on the research of Dr. Greg Blonder that I cite whenever possible. It just seems kind of dumb to say “I used a water pan. I made the best batch I’ve made so far. So next time I don’t use a water pan.” But some days I may not have 12 hours. And there’s just enough futzing with dampers to keep me from trying an overnight.

The last loose end from this cook is the lump charcoal.  Most of what I put in yesterday burned.  There’s some left and I figure I have at least two long smokes left in the bag I bought. I expect less waste than what I get from your basic bag of Royal Oak or whatever.  It seemed to burn evenly and the ash is very, very fine indicating complete combustion. I still can’t decide if it’s worth the money, but I think it performed well. A Twitter friend clued me in to where I can find Humphrey up in Dayton. I want to try it.

I think I’m going to go enjoy the fruits of my labor yesterday.

Posted in Beer, Food, The Cult of the Big Green Egg

Stalling Just Delays the Inevitable Deliciousness, Mr. Bond.

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“Move, damn you.”

That’s what I’ve been saying to my thermometer for the last two hours. I’m not just in a stall. I’m in the dreaded second stall.

“The Stall” is something that happens when you’re cooking a large piece of meat at relatively low temps. I’ve talked about it before. This guy has the best explanation ever. I know what’s happening. I was even a little blasé at first when I hit my first stall around 156. It sat that way for quite a while. But then it came out of it and I was all “Cool! Dinner at a decent time!”

Then a while later I noticed I’d been sitting at 172 for a while. Then I dropped back a degree to 171 (grid temps at 240-250 the whole time). I knew it was trouble, then. The dreaded second stall. The one no one quite understands.

There are only a few things you can do in any stall. (1) Wait it out. (2) Wrap the meat in foil to block the airflow for evaporative cooling, or (3) raise the temp. Normally I’m in the ‘wait it out’ camp. Wrapping the meat in foil softens the bark and sets up something more akin to a braise. Nothing wrong with a braise, but that’s not what I’m doing. I’m looking for crusty bits.

This is a second stall, so I’ve opted for raising the temp (265-270 at the grid) figuring all the smoke that’s going to get into the meat has already done it. Once I got to 270 I got a two degree jump (174! w00t!) within a couple of minutes. I’m going to let the temp keep rising in the hopes of breaking the balance of circulation, evaporation and moisture that have combined to make the stall. I won’t let it get above 300. That’s an arbitrary number.

An observation: there was almost no wind this afternoon. When I first came out here on the patio (where I’ve been writing this on my phone, believe it or not) there wasn’t a leaf moving anywhere. There’s a bit of a breeze now. When the breeze dies I can imagine the convection inside the Egg not being as active.

I also wonder if the water pan has contributed to this. I may leave it out next time.

Short wrap up later.

Posted in The Cult of the Big Green Egg

The Greatest Day in Smoking Things on the Egg

"Sir, we're ready for you now."

“Sir, we’re ready for you now.”

If ever there was a year we needed nice weather for Memorial Day Weekend this was it. Winter sucked. We’ve had some cooler days this spring, but there have been some spectacular ones as well. And this weekend?  Just stunning.

Normally I’m a little grumpy when the cats get me up early on a weekend. Today it actually worked out pretty well. Porter and Dunkel tag teamed and had me out of bed by 6AM. Made up a big mug of coffee and came downstairs to get the Egg set up for the day. By 7:00am I had the fire lit off and by 8:00am  the butt was on the Egg. No drama getting the fire going.

Our local Ace Hardware has become a Big Green Egg dealer and they carry the BGE-branded lump charcoal. Holy crap is that stuff expensive.  Easily double what I pay for a bag of the GSF or Royal Oak I normally buy. The thing is, I’ve not been happy with the last two bags of those I used. Lots of ash. Weird temp spikes. Tons of small pieces. I knew I was going to pay a premium for the BGE stuff, but figured one time wouldn’t kill me.

I thought I made a mistake when I opened the bag. The lump sizes are are relatively uniform, but the size is smaller than I was expecting. As I added the fuel I worried about the smaller sized-pieces packing together and screwing up the airflow inside. Four-and-a-half hours into the smoke I’m not worried about that. The fire lit off great, and the smoke was clean from the start.  More remarkably, there was almost no visible smoke by the time I put the meat on and nearly none visible all day. If you aren’t into smoking that may sound like bad news, but it’s actually good news. That means the stuff that’s burning is combusting fully. Visible smoke is largely soot, and soot isn’t what you want. I’m feeling better about spending the money. If the ash production is low, that one bag could last me a while. It would make it a better value at that point. The jury is out. (I’d love to be able to try some Humphrey, but I don’t know where I can find it in Cincinnati.  Anyone know?)

The rub was on the meat for about 22 hours and the pan it rested in is now the water pan. I’m liking having that extra thermal body between the fire and the meat (besides the plate setter). My grid temps have been mostly hanging between 243 and 252 (with a high of 255 and low of 225).  The spices in the water aren’t going to really contribute much to flavor, but it sure makes the patio smell good.

More later.

Posted in The Cult of the Big Green Egg

Preparing for Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Tomorrow will begin with the F1 Race in Monaco, followed by the Indy 500. We’ve got MadTree Lift and Galaxy High on the kegerator.
And this guy is sulking in the fridge in a foil-covered foil pan waiting for his early morning date with The Egg.

It’s going to be a good day. For us anyway.

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And, aye, here’s the rub:

2 Cups Turbinado Sugar
1/4 Cup Paprika
1/4 Cup Chili Powder (I like Fiesta brand)
1 TBS Garlic Powder
2 TBS Fresh Ground Black Pepper
2 TBS Onion Powder
3 TBS Cumin
4 TBS Salt (kosher)
1/2 TSP cornstarch
1/2 TSP Tumeric

Used about half on the 8lb butt. The rest is in airtight containers.

Until tomorrow, then…

Posted in Food, The Cult of the Big Green Egg

Accidental Magic

Castle

So Carla and I are at Disney World this week.  If I was at all interested in being consistent in my worldview I should hate this place, but I don’t. We come down here all the time. We own Disney Vacation Club points at Animal Kingdom Lodge, for [insert deity here] sake. You can make impassioned arguments about the environment and the crass commercialism and whatever other sins you want to list and I’ll probably agree that those thing are terrible.

But I’ll come anyway.

I just like it here.

I hope they serve Mickey bars in hell if that’s where I’m going.

Three things have already happened that kind of sum up why:

  • We were originally going to spend the night in Valdosta, GA last night, but we were making great time and we would have gotten there between 2 &  3 in the afternoon. Nobody needs to spend that much time in Valdosta, so we said screw it and Carla called ahead and got a reservation at the All-Stars Sports for one night. It was just a few bucks more than we were going to spend anyway. We rolled in here a little after 6 and were in our room by 6:30. So we got to sleep in this morning before checking into Bay Lake Tower this morning instead of getting up godawful early. There were a million things that could have gone wrong, but they didn’t. Everybody did their job.
  • We were heading out to get some dinner last night and grabbed a beer over at the pool bar at All-Stars Sports before we took off. It was hot and the pool and pool area was packed.  Lots of cheerleader teams, lots of school groups, lots of people. As we’re walking out after finishing our beers, “Let It Go” from “Frozen” starts playing on the sound system. The entire pool area — easily more than a 100 people, probably more — break into full-voiced singing. Kids. Teens.  Everyone. It was hilarious. Wish I would have thought to shoot a little video, but I was laughing so hard and I don’t think the video would do it justice. I know it’s a completely different musical meme this summer, but it was the joy that the song “Happy” talks about that made it a moment I won’t forget. You had to be there. And I’m glad I was.
  • So we check into Bay Lake Tower (holy crap this place is amazing) and we’re heading down to the lobby to get some things straight on our Magic Band accounts (motto: “You’ll be amazed if you get them set up right the first time”). We stop a couple of floors down and this kid with a suitcase comes rushing on before realizing he wants to go up instead of down. His parents and a brother and sister are with him and they pull him off the elevator.  Mom’s apologizing and Dad — holding this big garbage bag — asks “Hey do you guys like beer?” (Oh please, do go on!) Turns off they got off one of the cruise ships yesterday and they had some beer left over,  They were heading back to New York and didn’t want to take it back. Very decent beer, too. So we’ve been in the building maybe 45 minutes and some random guy is handing us beer.

Stuff like this happens here.

And that’s why I come back.

Posted in Cult of the Mouse

Spring is Here and I Smoked Some Country Ribs

Country Ribs

On today’s menu…

I’m probably jinxing us to a massive freak April snowstorm, but I’m going to say Spring has finally arrived. Not that it’s all that spring-like out there at this moment. It’s 44℉ and I think it’s only supposed to hit 52℉ today. But the sun is out and the birds are singing and the grass is greening up. The Astros are 2-2 and took two out of three from the Yankees.  They got hammered last night 11-1 by the Angels, but it’s a long season and I feel OK thinking at this point that they won’t lose 1oo games this year.

So of course I’ve fired up The Egg.

Part of the motivation came from texting back and forth with my friend Nate last weekend when we were down in Evansville, IN visiting Carla’s nephew. Nate has writes a blog called Bread & Whiskey that documents his passion for cooking. Before I had the Egg I had an offset New Braunfels Black Diamond that my mom bought Carla and me for our wedding present. When I was turning 50 and decided to step up my game with respect to smoking, I knew I wanted the old smoker to go to a good home. It had always served me well. Long story short, I ran into Nate out at the 50 West Brewing Co. and we talked barbecue. It came up in passing that he was looking for an offset smoker to restore and modify and I told him he could have mine for the price of coming to get it. It was a win-win-win.  He got his smoker and I got it off my back patio and it went to a home where it would be treated with the love it deserves. I haven’t seen the smoker itself, but I’ve seen pictures of the restoration job he did.  It looks awesome. I’m so happy that it all worked out.

Smoker Underway

Aaaaaaand we’re underway

So anyway, Nate was getting a chance to cook on a Big Green Egg for the first time last weekend. He was over at some friends who bought their Egg the same place I bought mine (Wardway Fuels on the West Side. Cannot recommend them highly enough). He was excited, to say the least. He did things a little different than I’ve been doing. He ran his top vent open all the way and just used the bottom to regulate the temp. He was also using a water pan, which I hadn’t done up to this point. The pictures he sent looked great and I’m sure the meat was fantastic. But what it mostly did for me was get me in the mood. Then Tuesday was really nice and Carla and I were able to sit out on the back patio. Looking at the covered Egg I decided that I was going to cook something today.  And here we are.

Thursday I had my “Congratulations!  You’re 50! Let’s shove a camera up your ass!” colonoscopy. It went fine. No problems. Don’t have to worry about another for 10 years. Knowing it was coming, then the joy of the prep on Wednesday, made it a less than fun-filled week. Funny thing about the anesthesia:  I wasn’t knocked out all the way, but its effects really hung on.  I slept for much of the day Thursday and even last night I slept hard. How this all matters to what I’m cooking today is Carla rightly suggested I do something easy. I rushed the last cook. The country ribs were terrible (about half were pitched) and the sliced butt was uninspiring.  Edible. OK, even. But not all that great. I need to nail something to get the season off to a good start, and a good tray of country ribs are the way to go. They only take 4-5 hours and that let me sleep in and take it easy this morning.

Country ribs aren’t ribs, of course. They’re actually chops from the shoulder near the front end of the baby back ribs. I love the damned things. My usual pattern is to do a tray of country ribs in addition to something else — a pork butt or brisket, even — with the intent of eating on the ribs that day to scratch the itch of getting some barbecue and giving the larger hunk of meat the time it deserves. Since I just have a tray of ribs on now I decided to try a couple of things a little differently this time around.

I started the fire the same way I did last time, but it started much easier this time. I may have had too much small lump pieces the last time because I got to the nice blue smoke really fast this time. Last time I let the fire establish itself for 20 minutes with the lid up and the vents all the way open, then went another 20 minutes with the lid down but the vents wide open before the smoke cleaned up. This time?  Once I got the plate setter and the grids placed after the first 20 minutes the fire and the smoke were perfect. I’m thinking I had too many small pieces of lump in a single layer that choked the air flow. This time the lump was piled much looser and I think that’s the difference.

I’m using a water pan this time. That’s straight from Nate’s experience last week and I figured it was time to try it. So far so good.  If nothing else, having another thermal sink between the fire and the grid has kept the temps pretty well planted between 215 and 220. I’ve been writing this post for several hours now and — as I was expecting — using the water pan is inhibiting the formation of a good bark, but the color on the meat is beautiful and I’m really happy with the moisture level inside. I suspect I’ll be using a pan of water when I do my next large cut of meat. I started with just under a gallon of water in a 9 x 17 pan. Three hours about half the water was gone and I put the remainder water from the glass jug so the pan won’t go dry. What I may do when I do a large butt or brisket is just let the pan go dry so bark has a better chance of forming.

I thought about doing what Nate did and trying to control the temperature strictly with the bottom damper, but I wimped out. I did some reading on any number of the Big Green Egg forums and came to the conclusion I’d try it the other way around. So what I’ve done is tried to keep the bottom damper at a single position and tweak the top damper to adjust the temperature (open increases the temperature, while closing lowers it). Following what I was taught by Chef JJ the weekend I got the Egg, I’ve always moved the top and bottom dampers together under the assumption that the input and output should be equal. I don’t think you can ever go wrong doing it that way.

What I’ve seen today, though, is that you can seemingly affect the rate of airflow through the bottom simply by manipulating the top damper. Opening the top allows more air to vent which forces air to be drawn in faster through the bottom damper because the pressure has to remain equal inside and the bottom aperture size remains constant. The only way to account for the increased outflow due to a larger top opening is to draw more air faster through the same sized bottom opening. This sets up more rapid air circulation within the Egg, which encourages a bit hotter fire and the temperature rises. I’m probably screwing up the physics, but that’s what I think is happening. The key thing to remember is never let the top be open less than the bottom. The top isn’t tight enough to shut off all airflow, but you could easily starve the fire and create some nasty smoke.

I’m well over 1300 words and I apologize if at any point I’ve actually had anything useful to say. I don’t write regularly enough and spending the day tending the Egg gives me an excuse to write about something I actually care about. I start and stop as the day goes on and I do other things as needed. My practice up to this point has been to start a post and publish it before things are done, then add to it throughout the day.  Since I’m doing things differently today while cooking, why not blog it differently as well?

That said, this is how the meat pictured above looked 4.5 hours later when I was taking it off. You can assume they taste as good as they look.

Finished Country Ribs

I think these turned out pretty well.

Posted in Baseball, You Bet, Food, The Cult of the Big Green Egg

A Pause In the Winter of Our Discontent

Smoker topper

That there is what you call clean smoke.

There’s no nice way to say it. This winter has sucked. I mostly mean the weather, but there have been no shortage of things that have sucked. Tomorrow we’re supposed to get an ice and snow storm. I’m so ready for winter to be over it’s not even funny. If there’s a day where I don’t say “What fresh hell is this?” I consider myself lucky.

I’ve not used The Egg all winter. Part of the reason I got it was because its thermal properties are such that outside temperatures are basically irrelevant. I don’t mind cooking in cold — I don’t stay out there that long — but dealing with an eternal snow cover and the ice and the gunk that sort of coats everything just hasn’t been appealing. Early in the week it because pretty clear that today wasn’t going to be too bad weather-wise, so I decided to fire up The Egg.

The last thing I cooked was a brisket and it was OK. Nothing great, but still better than most we can get around here. I still have some work to do on that. I went ahead and got a better dual thermometer. This time it’s the classic Maverick ET-732. I’ve been using it for all of an hour, but I believe I already have some evidence that it’s a better unit than what I used before (also a Maverick, but a cheaper model). For one thing, both probes agreed with each other when I turned them on away from the smoker. That right there is an improvement over the old unit.

thermometer

This is how the smoking began.

Today I’m doing a pork butt that’s going to wind up being sliced and some country ribs.  I don’t plan to be as obsessive about documenting the details, but there are a few things I want to note mainly so I don’t forget them. I tried yet another way of starting the fire, and I think this is a keeper.  I stacked the lump and (oak) chunks around a central stick of fat wood.  I lit that off and let it go for about 20 minutes to get it nice and lit.  Then I put on the plate setter and grids and lowered the lid (lower vent wide open, top vent unit removed so it’s wide open) and let it go until the grid temp hit around 400.  The smoke was really dirty up until it got to around 350, and then it cleared out.  This probably didn’t take more than 10-15 minutes.  I put on the meat (dual grids: butt low, ribs high) and shut the dampers down to barely open.  The shot of the thermometer is where things settled. In the first hour there was a small fall off that I stopped at around 210 and I’ve got it pretty much dialed in a 235 now. It’s been going an hour and a half.  The ribs will come off for dinner.  The butt will take longer, but I got a late start today.

It’s nice to be doing this again.

UPDATE @ 4:30: I actually left the smoker unattended for a little more than two hours. That’s an all time first. Maybe it’s maturity setting in?

Nah.  It was brunch.

Carla and I met some friends for brunch, though it wound up just being lunch. Wunderbar, mmm. Just before we left the temp spiked to around 250 (+ or -) and … I did nothing.  I just left. Here’s my thinking: given constant ventilation, a temperature spike is most likely the result of new fuel lighting off. Rather than trying to chase the temps (which I’ve always done in the past, only to have to try to bring them back up), I just let it go. I figured it’d peak out somewhere and start dropping back toward the mean of 235 that this vent setting seems to be dialed in for holding. I don’t know that it happened, but I’ll pretend it did, When I got home the grid temp was 220.

The ribs were done. They’d been on for about 5 hours at that point and some of them were really shrunken.  While wrapping them up in foil I checked for toughness and none of them were rocks, so I didn’t let them go too long. Glad we didn’t hang around for another beer, though.  That would have been bad.  The butt is moving right along.  5.5. hours in and it’s at 156 internal. I’ve yet to hit the stall, so I’m figuring I won’t be taking this off the smoker until well after dark. I’m targeting 180 and I’ll probably just wrap it whole and worry about slicing it tomorrow. The big thing is that I want to get the smoker covered tonight before the crap starts moving in. I suspect the cover can take some heat, but I’m going to have to give it some time to cool off. Getting the butt off by 8 would be great.

And that’s a sentence that’s not acceptable in any other context.

Posted in The Cult of the Big Green Egg

Religion

Life.  The Universe.  Everything.

You’re welcome to believe what you want to believe. I believe what I believe. What I believe is none of your business, by the way. And what you believe is none of mine. Let’s keep it that way.

Religion is meant to define how we navigate through a world where, individually speaking, we’re not the point of the exercise. It’s meant to teach us how to treat others.

It doesn’t say a damned thing about how people are supposed to treat you.

Hell, if you wanted to sum up the teachings of most religious traditions, it comes down to “A lot of things that really suck are going to happen to you, but this is how you’re supposed to act anyway. Just because.”

I understand evangelism. If you believe your system of deciding how you treat other people is a really good one, it’s probably a bad idea to keep it to yourself. It might do someone some good. Feel free to mention it. Feel free to live it and show it to the world.

Just don’t expect everyone to thank you for it.

If you’re in it for the thanks, you’re doing it wrong anyway.

Treat others the way you’d want to be treated. And don’t freak out when people don’t treat you the way you want to be treated. That’s just how it works. If you can’t live in a world where people don’t do what you want, that’s not a religious issue. That’s a potty training issue.

Don’t confuse them.

Posted in The Ol' Curmudgeon, The Ol' Philosopher Tagged with:

There’s nothing wrong with vertical video. Nothing. N-o-t-h-i-n-g.

Hi. I’m Tom. I’ve been shooting video for more than 35 years. And I don’t have a problem with vertical video. In fact, I’m starting to have a problem with people who have problems with vertical video.

What am I talking about?  Here’s a video shot the “right” way:

Apparently this is virtuous video. Video that won’t curl your hair, lead to halitosis or Make America Lose the War™. (I think I owe George Carlin’s estate royalties for that line.)

This is vertical video:

Even Dunkel is bored with your aversion to vertical video. And yes, I snuck in a cat video.

I first learned this was a thing when I saw this video:

I’ll be the first to say that this is hilarious. It’s also about as intellectually rigorous as most of the arguments I’ve seen. I haven’t (and won’t) do an exhaustive analysis of those arguments, but there seem to be four of them:

  1. History:  Video has always had a horizontal orientation.
  2. Physiology: Our eyes are side-by-side and our perceptual range is roughly horizontally-oriented.
  3. Wasted space: A vertically-oriented video is often presented with black bars on the left and right when presented on a horizontally-oriented
  4. It looks funny: I think this is really just some fuzzy combination of the first three, but maybe not.

I’ll say right up front that the first three sound perfectly reasonable on their face. Each statement is actually true. Irrelevant, but true. Here’s why:

History

The ratio of a video’s width to height is referred to as its aspect ratio. Most of the time it’s expressed as a proportion:

Number Units Width : Number of Units Height

So a 4:3 aspect ratio would equally describe a screen 4-inches wide and 3-inches tall as well as one 40-inches wide and 30-inches tall. Don’t misunderstand: the units can be anything:  feet, millimeters, squares of chocolate, or the mark my forehead makes on the desk as I collapse from tedium. You’ll also see aspect ratios expressed as the quotient of width divided by height. Our screen with a 40-inch width and 30-inch height can also be said to have a 1.3333 aspect ratio.

I didn’t just pick that size out of the air as an example. You’ll learn, if you go to the Wikipedia article I just linked to, that this was film’s original aspect ratio. For reasons lost to the mists of time, Dickson and Edison (and likely more Dickson than Edison) decided the height of a frame would be four sprocket-holes and the width was based on what was left over on 35-mm film after you accounted for the space the sprockets took up.  So the Ür moving-image aspect ratio wasn’t sent down by the Almighty on stone tablets, it was tied to the physical characteristics of the first standardized film system.

So it’s true that video images have historically been horizontally-oriented. First it was a little wider than tall, now it can be a lot wider than tall. The thing is, it’s pretty tough to flip a movie projector or TV on its side. Still images never had that limitation. You’d never hear anyone being taken seriously if they tried to argue that landscape orientation is the only true photo orientation and portrait is the spawn of the devil. Digital video images are closer to still images than traditional analog moving images in that the display devices can be made to arbitrarily rotate the image so that up is always up and and down is always down.

So sure, we’ve always had horizontal video. We had to.  Now we don’t.

Physiology

Everyone’s a little different, but we have a little bit more range of vision side-to-side than up and down vision.  It isn’t in focus all the time and we actually pay attention to very little of what’s in front of us, but our visual fields of view tend to be horizontally-oriented. Not as horizontal as even old-school 4:3 video, but horizontal nonetheless. The argument against vertical video seems to be that moving images are somehow “wrong” if they aren’t mimicking the physiological characteristics of our eyes. That seems like a safe assumption on its face, but it falls apart pretty quickly.  Here’s a non-exhaustive list of things people accept in film and video all the time that the human eye isn’t capable of:

  1. Zooms
  2. Pans and tilts
  3. Fast-forward / Slow-motion
  4. Dissolves.  Heck, pretty much any transition except for (possibly) the cut.

Don’t start on me about pans and tilts. “What do you mean?” you say “I can certainly turn my head from side to side! I can look up and down!”  Yes you can. But what you don’t notice is that your eyes don’t stay fixed forward as your head moves. What basically happens is your eye tracks very quickly to where you’re looking and your neck catches up. You change your “shot” as fast as you possibly can and “edit out” the motion of your eye so you aren’t disoriented. Google “fixation” and “saccades” if you want to know more.

That’s why I’m willing to say the eye can sort of mimic a cut, but unless your name is Steve Austin and you’re the Six-Million-Dollar Man, your eye isn’t doing a zoom. So it’s kind of silly to insist on a horizontal orientation for video when we accept all kinds of things the eye can’t do.

At a deeper level, the whole language of the moving image is predicated on two things:  The interplay of light and shadow and the notion of directed attention. The camera’s gaze isn’t supposed to fall equally on all objects in the field of view. One of the hardest things to do is watch video shot by an unmoving camera. It’s like talking to someone who doesn’t blink. It takes a while, but after a couple of minutes your skin is crawling.

Is vertical video always the best choice to direct attention? Of course not.  Lawrence of Arabia would have been a silly movie shot vertically. What I find hilarious, though, is that the effectiveness of the Vertical Video Syndrome PSA up there really relies on the vertical video to create the negative space necessary for the joke to work. And speaking of negative space …

Wasted Space

This is the one I find the funniest: that somehow you’re not getting your money’s worth if every pixel of your display device isn’t taken up with video. It’s kind of like back in the days when TVs had a 4:3 aspect ratio and you’d hear screaming from people when they saw a letterboxed video. Or now when people are perfectly comfortable distorting the aspect ratio of a 4:3 source video to fill a 16:9 screen. Somehow people looking shorter and fatter (and circles appearing to be squashed ovals) is preferable to there being pixels on the screen that aren’t earning their keep by just showing black. To each their own, I guess. For the record, videos with distorted aspect ratios drive me nuts, but Carla can watch them without noticing. And I love her very much. I can accept mystery in my life.

For reasons no one will every really understand, YouTube doesn’t accommodate vertical video and to people who leave comments on YouTube (a scary, depressing group of people), that makes vertical video A Bad Thing.™   Here’s my video from above as it appears on YouTube.

Note how they blow up the still frame and then BAM! Black bars left and right. Other services allow vertical video. The fact that YouTube doesn’t isn’t a valid indictment. Sounds more like a lack of imagination on their part to me.

I really don’t know what to do with the wasted space argument. It’s a taste thing, I guess. But just because it bothers you doesn’t mean it bothers everyone.

And finally!

It Looks Funny

When I’m being charitable I say that this is probably a way for people to express their discomfort over some combination of the other objections. When I’m not being charitable I ask when in the course of human events we’ve ever seen things go wrong when humans immediately dislike something because it’s strange and unfamiliar. It usually works out pretty well, right?

Conclusion

This has been a long post.  I have a simple point. You may not like vertical video. That’s fine.  You don’t have to. No one’s making you. Just understand that it’s not the video that’s having the problem.

It’s you.

Don’t mistake the two.

 

Posted in Tech, The Ol' Curmudgeon, The Ol' Philosopher, Video

Be Kind. Always.

I’ve been seeing this quote — or some variation — floating around the Internet for the last few days. It’s probably because of everything that’s happened to Carla and me recently, but this has really resonated.
Be kind. Always.We’ve been the recipients of many kindnesses large and small through these many months.  A lot of times it’s what’s kept me going. It’s in my nature to see a glass half-filled with water and see only a roiling pit of despair and futility.

Hey, it’s a gift.

It’s a toxic way to think and it’s been mostly through things others have done for me — things large and small, things that are part of their jobs or done just because they wanted to — that I’m anywhere near functional. I will always be grateful.

Months ago Carla wrote a piece on the culture of snobbery that I think is the other side of the coin. She talked about beer and music as things people get all holier-than-thou about, but we all know it goes deeper than that.

How much pain does a person have to be in to want to deny others small things that bring them happiness?

There’s nothing I can say and nothing that I can do that won’t attract condemnation from someone. I’m a liberal who doesn’t think much of the Obama administration. The line of people who would be happy to spit on me is a very long one. Mucus-filled, but long.

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind. Always.”

That cuts both ways, doesn’t it? I may lash out at you about something because of something completely unrelated that’s bothering me. You may be lashing out at me because of something I don’t know about. I’ll feel bad later when I do it. I hope I apologize to you, but there’s a good chance I won’t. I don’t know about you.  You probably will, or would if you could. Or maybe you don’t even realize it happened?

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind. Always.”

But what is kind? I live just a few miles from the infamous Creation Museum. I’ve always called it the “Moron Museum” because, to me, that’s what’s really being displayed there. If the place has done no other good it has, at least, given the impetus for Charlie Pierce‘s book Idiot America.¹ In his formulation there are three premises that define life in this country:

  • Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
  • Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
  • Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.

I believe these to be true. I don’t believe that because it feels good for them to be true or that it confirms some dark suspicion I have about people. It doesn’t feel that good and I kind of wish there wasn’t so much evidence to support them. The book itself is nothing more than extended set of examples of the three premises in action.

So how am I to be kind when faced with something like the Creation Museum? Or being very liberal in an area that prides itself in opposing liberalism? (They call themselves ‘conservative’, but I can’t see what they stand for other than really, really hating people like me.) How am I to be kind? Because I think I really need to be. I like it when people are kind to me and I think I don’t really know what’s going on inside people. I don’t know what their battles are.

I think it comes down to dignity. It comes down to recognizing that other people have dignity simply by existing. Not by their actions. Not by their beliefs. Not by their color or gender or sexual preference or how they burp. And not by what I think about how they treat others. None of those things should influence how I treat others. Recognizing that others have dignity no matter what and acting accordingly is, I’m thinking at this point, the path to being kind.

I think the first thing I need to do is quit calling the Creation Museum the Moron Museum. I’ll call it the Idiocy Museum instead. It is idiocy. It’s disingenuous, willfully ignorant and claiming truth simply because they can get people to walk through the doors. Calling it the Moron Museum attacks the dignity of those who hold beliefs I think are wrong. I think those beliefs are quite definitely and demonstrably wrong, but calling the people who hold those beliefs morons denies their dignity. How can I object to attacks on my dignity if I’m willing to attack the dignity of others? People have dignity.  Ideas don’t. I don’t have to be kind to all ideas, but I think I do have to be kind to all people.

Can you separate the people from the ideas? Read this again and again:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Be Kind. Always.”

I think the struggle of being kind is understanding that people get to where they are by ways you can’t imagine. You have two choices at that point:  decide you can read minds and (what are the chances?!) conclude that you’re a better person than the other and look at them as less than human.  Or, you can take the leap and deal with them the way you’d want to be dealt with regardless of how that works out for anyone in the long run.

I can wish for kindness from others.  I can point out how they are being unkind. But nothing someone else does removes my obligation to be kind to them. If I can help them fight their battle, great. Often I cannot. I can still be kind, though.

Always.


¹ Based on an earlier Esquire article that can be found here.

Posted in The Ol' Philosopher

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