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The Family Archivist

While growing up, my dad was always the guy with the SLR or the Super-8 camera. Actually he still takes the most pictures at present.

As a result, we have volumes of photo albums, boxes of 35mm slides and a couple hours of grainy color film footage, luckily transferred to VHS back in the 80's before it disintegrated.

Around 1994 I took the opportunity to follow in Pop's footsteps, and start archiving every major and minor family event. When I met my wife a year later, I was pleased to learn that my future father-in-law had also developed a lifetime collection of media.


Starting around December 1994, I had a video camera in one hand, and a stills camera in the other. These days you can shoot both with one unit, such as a D90 or D5 Mark 2 (in my dreams) or more likely a digicam and a camcorder. Lately I have been choosing one or the other. For example, in 2005 when the Christmas Pudding nearly burned the house down from too much rum and a backdraft situation, I got that on DV tape. Then I shot stills in '06 and then HDV in '07, and back to stills in '08.

Most of what I remember is based upon my view through the viewfinder. This is my general appearance at a family gathering.

I have to say, the Sony Hi8 camera I bought in 1998 was extremely durable. Old faithful!

They don't make 'em like that anymore.


From 1994 to about 2001, the best way to distribute new pictures or video was via US Mail. Certainly Grandma didn't have access to e-mail until 2005, but given slow internet speeds in the late 20th century, prints and videotapes fit the bill.

Around 2002 I secretly borrowed Dad's 35mm slides and scanned about 50% of them and gave him 3 CD-ROM discs complete with HTML photo galleries for Father's Day. Secrecy is an important part of these projects.

From about 2004 to 2008 I was making DVD compilations of the classic family films and the new events. In 2005, in honor of Grandma and Grandpa's 60th Wedding Anniversary the tour de force of family DVDs was released, featuring the best productions and film clips going all the way back to about 1974.

Back in the day, people liked being on film. These days I get a lot of shots of people covering their faces.

Now, as time rolls on and inevitable milestones that we do not look forward to have transpired, we luckily have these memories for posterity. However one must keep track of everything, and let me tell you, stuff is everywhere.

I have had numerous home computers since 1994. I make sure to back up data before retiring a PC, however there are still multiple hard drives and stacks of CD and DVD discs, not to mention boxes of photos and Hi8 tapes.

Social Networking

The evolution of social networking for family members has gone from telephone to letter writing to e-mail to limited website linking to today's best-so-far solution, Facebook.

Telephone was of course limited to voice. It was great telling someone about a trip or event, but without visuals.

Back in the early 80's when long distance was still expensive, we had a system. One ring, call Franny. Two rings, call Rita. Three or more rings, ok to pickup - could be grandma. I think we invented Caller ID!

Then of course was the signaling system. Used after a long car ride, such as from Massachusetts back to Iowa. Hit 0 for operator, and place a collect call to Buster, the dog. When Grandma said Buster wasn't available (in reality, Buster had died years ago), we would say "Operator, just tell them to tell Buster that we arrived safely" knowing that Grandma could hear us say this. This was a way to avoid paying for a 1 minute phone call. Sorry Ma Bell - you've been punk'd.

Letter writing was never much of an enjoyable activity, aside from post-cards and the odd thank you note.

Jump ahead to e-mail. With 28.8k modems, sending more than one photo at a time was out of the question, and files had better of been under 100k. This continued until AOL started allowing multiple attachments. Then came broadband, around the same time as free web photo galleries. So photo sharing became easier. However this still involved multiple websites to juggle. Still not great or easy.

Finally social networking sites were invented. I admit I hesitated before accepting my Dad's friend invite. But now that I have, along with cousins and relatives who I have never even met, it's truly one big happy family. Now one can post a picture or video, and without any effort or stamps, everyone can see it, and if they desire, comment or pass it along to their own group of friends. Brilliant.

What I am getting at, is there is now - finally after all this time - an easy way to share your memories with a large disparate group of people.

Looking Ahead

So this week I started compiling my treasures, 1994-present, not only into a more organized offline fashion, but also bit by bit into my online family network. While it gives me joy to watch my Grandpa Morris talk about working in the shipyards during WWII or how he was arrested for selling hot dogs on Coney Island, it gives me even greater joy to share that video with my uncle, who had never seen video of his father, and with my mom, dad, brother any extended family. It's not that I did not have the ability or inclination to send my uncle a copy of this video in the past, it is just so easy now that we are all connected and communicating on a daily basis.

Last week I did a Skype video chat with my mom and dad in Florida. Now that is something all of my grandparents would have loved to see. But, you are thankful for the memories you have, knowing that you are always creating new memories for the future.

Thanks for reading. Now go get those shoeboxes from the attic and get scanning!

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 29, 2009 at 4:50:48 pm memories, photography

Project Management: Episode 3.75: Meeting your Deadline

Cue Dramatic Music

It is a dark time for the rebellion. Or so you think.

At first glance, a new project may seem daunting.

You get a call - the client likes your proposal. Let's do it.

Great, you say, glad to be working with you.

The client signs the SOW and you're off and running.

The what?

SOW = Statement of Work

Whether a one-page summary of the work to be done, roles and responsibilities, or a multi-page contract with some legal gobbledeegook if that is the format you or they are required to follow, you basically need to put in writing the expectations. But read the contract, especially if you didn't write it.

Your job as Project Manager, or PM, is to Manage Expectations.

Let the client know what they will see - before they see it.

When they give you feedback, positive, negative or a combination (constructive feedback) tell them what they will see next, when and and in what form. Manage their expectations.

Then, of course, you need to deliver on those expectations, or come close along with a list of why's and why not's.

Part of your SOW is what you will deliver, and approximately when you will deliver it.

Also specify, if relevant, what the client will deliver to you, in order for you to deliver what you said you would deliver. Or specify, whether by sequential dates, deliverables or more specific details if required, tasks that rely upon one person before another. These are called Dependent Tasks. I can't design the interface until Wedge gives me the logo and the corporate image guidelines. Then I need to design the interface, get it approved by the client, before Biggs can program the prototype.

Meanwhile, you need to perhaps manage assets coming in from the far reaches of the galaxy, whether by freighter (mail) or sub-space transmission (e-mail) or perhaps stored in the memory bank of your astro droid (FTP).

So you know what you have to do and approximately how you will do it. Time to gather the troops and put the plan into motion.

This briefing may be formal or informal, one-on-one or in the board room. Sometimes the board room is known as the bored room. In other words, keep meetings to a minimum and as brief as possible. Everyone is busy - hopefully busy doing the tasks in this or another project.

Speaking of which, when you setup your timeline, include some buffer, or wiggle room. If you know it will take roughly 80 hours to do the work, don't schedule this 80 hours into exactly 80 hours of available time. Build in some breathing room, say 90 or 100 hours. This lets you keep tabs on other projects and keep other clients as happy as this new client is going to be. Also this gives you that extra time at the end if you need it. And you could almost always use a few more hours. You're human after all.

As part of your SOW and before that, a kick-off meeting, you have also defined the end-date when the project is needed. This end date should take into account the end goal. The end goal is not the product - it is the purpose for the project. You know you can make a DVD. The client knows you can make a DVD. But WHY do they want this DVD? What's that, they want to give out the DVD at a board meeting at the end of the month? That would be good to know at the beginning of the month. Knowing pretty accurately how long you need to do each dependent task, you can back-time from the delivery date to know how all the efforts fit together, and the latest you can actually begin work.

So you have defined roles and responsibilities in your SOW, managed dependent tasks, kept track of content, followed the directions of communications and moved the project along. Now you are in the final stretch - the final deliverable.

You launch your ships for the final assault. You are in the lead fighter.

Check your cargo - 2 laser pointers and an LCD projector for the final run-through with the client. Some last minute changes are inevitable. This is not saying anything negative about your management skills or about the client. Sometimes it is not until someone sees a completed project, and they can compare the vision for the project with reality, that they realize some minor changes are needed. You make them and everyone is happy.

But if you recall the project briefing, Scope Creep was a danger on the board. This means the project scope has gotten beyond the initial understanding - it has crept outside the lines. Also, scope creep can be a real Creep. Maybe we should call it Scope Creep Squared.

Maybe not.

You sometimes don't know Scope Creep is coming until it arrives - it just jumps out of a worm hole without warning. You know it when you see it however. It could go a number of ways:

The client sees the prototype, and it is exactly what they asked for. But now that they see in reality what they thought they wanted, they realize it is not what they wanted. What they actually wanted they can now make out of what you have given them. No problem, right? Maybe.

Or you finish the project to the client's satisfaction, but oh wait, it would be even better if it had flashing yellow lights, a photo gallery and a new video. You can do those things, can't you? Yes, but that was not part of the SOW, remember?

How you deal with scope creep can vary, and may vary by project. Or you may have a policy. Try to communicate this policy with your client at the outset, to either avoid or better deal with Scope Creep when it happens. If it happens despite your best efforts, you may need to bring everyone back together and figure it out on a case by case basis. Whatever you do, don't just say "yes, we can do that" unless that is your policy. Don't pay lip service just to avoid the conversation. You could burn yourself. Deal with it.

All of your opponents to progress have been dealt with. The budget is tight, but you can make it. Stay on target. Almost there. A final design change at the last moment. It's unexpected but not too bad. You can deal with it. Have your droid lock down a stabilizer. You can hold on for just a few more seconds. There it is, the final target is in your sights. Just need to blast that last budget review and you're home free.

You got it. Well done. With a little help from your colleagues, you can put this project to bed. You rally the troops back to base and thanks everyone for a job well done. You really came together as a team.

Cue award ceremony fanfare.

Award ceremony? Really?

Sorry to disappoint. Your reward is knowing you did a good job. The client sends their thanks, but the best reward will be repeat business with this client. Your job as PM, after all, is to keep this client happy. Because the best kind of client, is a repeat client.

May the "Thanks for Reading" Be With you. (best I could come up with)

Check out this week's Creative COW Podcast featuring me talking about project management.

Thanks for listening.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 13, 2009 at 6:23:47 pm project, management

Cool Beans

I admit it. I spend a lot of time on the internet.
All day it is available, though we need our bandwidth at work for uploading stuff to our client server, but at home all bets are off.

So what do I do with all this free wifi? Do I read wikipedia on the porch, sipping a mojito with the sun on my face?

Hardly. I sit in my pleather desk chair staring at my 24" HD computer monitor. Nothing like a change of pace from the office!

(speaking of leather-like materials, when I first got out of college, I found a cool bachelor pad in Naugatuck, CT. Naugatuck was made famous as the home of United States Rubber, later known as Uniroyal. As you have probably guessed, everyone's favorite fashion accessory, Naugahyde, was created there. In fact my apartment was just off of Rubber Ave. Oddly, there were a number of adult bookstores also located on Rubber Ave. I'm sure this was just a coincidence!
Another interesting note about Naugatuck was the presence of the Peter Paul factory. Up until 2007, the official town slogan was "Some times you feel like a nut, 'mounds don't" I never liked that expression.)

Ok, back to our story.

So I sit, and I stare and my eyes go fuzzy. Occasionally I find the unexpected surprise.

For example, just tonight, while reading up on the next Space Shuttle flight I discovered:

You can see the International Space Station zip by at a gajillion miles per hour on a clear night. I dutifully went outside with my binoculars, let my eyes adjust, looked 13 degrees past North and lo and behold I saw a twinkling light moving West. Then I realized this was dust on my eyeglasses. I really need to clean those more often. Then, all of a sudden, moving faster than any airplane. In the binos it was a slightly larger twinkle of light, but I know it was the station given its high rate of speed and the multi-colored world flags flapping behind it.

Speaking of the Space Shuttle, when I was in 4th grade we took our first non-Disney trip to Florida. This was the early 80's so a Space Shuttle launch was still a pretty big deal. We went to the beach, moved closer to someone who had a radio (people used to bring boom boxes to the beach) and listened to the countdown. I should mention we were in Deerfield Beach, about 200 miles south of the Cape. People were pointing in every direction at all the wrong things, when suddenly we saw the faint streak of smoke as Columbia moved up and out over the Atlantic. I dutifully snapped a picture with my 110 instamatic camera. The negative for one picture is about the size of the fingernail on your ring finger, so when we picked up our prints from Fox Photo in the Valley West Mall, all you could see was blue sky and beach. Oh well, I remember being there anyway.)

Speaking of the Space Shuttle (again) - years later while visiting one of the Orlando area attractions, I saw the Columbia launch again - this time, I'm afraid, on its final journey. Luckily I had since upgraded my 110 Instamatic to digital.

Another fascinating web diversion is the various mapping services. Satellite maps and streetview is cool, especially for planning a driving expedition in a strange city (like Naugatuck). I have discussed this before in my travel related blogs.

Here's a little video I made when Streetview was first released:

Google Earth is even cooler. I like going to, say, Disney World, where there is a full 3D version of the theme parks actually created by Disney. You can't go on the rides, but there are enough home videos on the webs if you desire a trip through Mister Toad's Wild Ride. And you save yourself $150!

The Live Maps is pretty cool also. My favorite activity is checking out all the houses I have lived in. Apologies to the current residents.

My formative years in West Des Moines. Malls. Highways. TGI Fridays. Life was good. We had previously lived in a sleepy little town in Western Massachusetts which, at the time, had no highways, no mall and a once famous restaurant called the Busy Bee.

I won't bore you with all 7 of my boyhood homes. E-mail me if you must know them all.

Although here is everyone's favorite family home, the Brady Bunch house:

Who knew it was right on the LA River?

Ok, now for the backlot tour of Cine-Med, my employer.

Here is the facade of our home office, in a serene, park like setting:

The other side of the building looks out over a pond and adjacent garden center.

Our lobby displays some awards

And our original Arri 16mm camera.

Alas, I have never shot with this, but some classic films were captured in this format. Maybe you have seen some of these:

This 2nd film is by Dr Blalock. If surgeons are Hollywood directors, he was Cecil B DeMille. Check out the movie "Something the Lord Made" for more.

Lucky for me I get to work with modern day equivalents - the Scorsese, Spielberg, DePalma, Kubrick and Fincher of surgery.

Back to our tour:

Board Room

Snack and Coffee Station

Lunch Room

Production Dept

Home Base

So, this concludes our tour of my childhood homes, a historic glimpse at the rubber and almond candy industries and of course the medical education headquarters. Please visit the gift shop on your way out and come back and see us soon.

Oh, and I nearly forgot - thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 10, 2009 at 8:32:40 pm maps, memories, movies

Don't Forget to Hit SAVE A Lot

When a particular piece of software is acting up (ie, unstable, crashing a lot) a good rule of thumb is Save Often and Frequently.

However when things are running smoothly, which is most of the time, one must also remember to save one's work.

And I don't just mean hitting the save button. I am talking about archiving.

Here are some of the habits I am trying to get into the habit of making into habits.

(for the sake of argument this will concern Premiere)

1. Save your project frequently.

2. If you get an error message (ie, Premiere is running low on memory), save, exit and reboot.

3. If you get a program crash, pray.

3. (the real one) - You should have set your auto-save to a reasonable interval, so a crash should not bag you too much. Just open the last auto save. Remember the auto-save does not save the project file you are working on - it saves its own backup file in the auto save folder.

However these frequent saves only go so far. What if an asteroid hits your computer? Ok, technically it would be a meteorite, and a right tiny one with perfect angle of attack to take out your computer but not kill you.

In other words, backup.

4. At the end of the day, copy and paste your project file and anything new that would be difficult to re-create (artwork, one-of-a-kind compositions) to another drive or a usb thumb drive. I keep a folder on my desktop (system drive, separate from project drive) where I drag project files. Video, audio files (narration, music) and artwork created by another person are generally easy to recreate.

I am not working in the RAID world (not yet), in case you are wondering.

It is up to you how worried you want to be about separating the backup drive from the computer. I tend to eject the external drive from its bay when I shut off the computer, just in case of a lightning strike or previously mentioned meteorite. Not sure if a meteorite strike causes any electrical disturbances. Perhaps the static electricity from the displaced air, if there is not too much humidity, could have a capacitive effect. I'll ask Professor Hawking next time I see him.

5. Up until this point, a project is generally in progress. Again, whenever something is imported into a project that does not exist anywhere else, it is a good idea to make it exist somewhere else, even on another drive in the same system. What are the chances that all drives will die at the same time?

C3-PO: Approximately 325,000 to 1

Han Solo: Thanks Threepio. Chewie, take the professor and plug him into the hyperdrive.

Chewie: Grawrrl!

6. Once your project is finished, or anytime before that, make sure you have your project backed up in its entirety. It is, again, up to you if you archive the raw video, a project managed (trimmed) copy of the project, or just the non-video assets assuming you can confidently keep track of the tapes. If you are tapeless, make sure your original media (ie, Mp4/MOV/MPEG/MXF) files are doubly backed up.

Hard Drives = Cheap
Time = Not cheap

7. What about the potential to have the backup drive fail?

It could happen. Depending upon the project (one-off, never to be seen again vs. Your annual mortgage payment) you may want some additional redundancy. For example, I have a 1.5 terabyte drive with backups of really really important projects that are already backed up somewhere else. You never know.

8. Keep track of where everything is. Use Excel, Word, a TXT or HTM file, or go so far as to create a web-based mSQL file (aka, ask someone who knows how to do this do this for you), MS Access or an off the shelf asset management suite. At present, I am using Word. Sometime down the road we may go to a web-based database. Luckily, we have an in-house guy who knows how to create web-based things from scratch.

9. If it is every man for himself as far as backups go, share your list of file backup locations with your team, in case someone needs something of yours when you are not around, or you need something of someone else's. Murphy's Law states that things will go badly when it is least convenient, and that you will need a particular file when the guy who knows about it is on a plane to China.

10. Remind others you work with, such as folks who do not have mountains of data, to make periodic backups. 100 lost word docs could be just as bad for a book project as 1 lost Premiere project file is for a video project. There are open-source and paid backup software apps you can install on your network for this exact purpose. We use such a thing on our in-house servers for backing up in-house databases. I may investigate adding this to our overall network, for example to backup everyone's My Documents folder once a month. This would need to be done at the appropriate time of day so as to not bring the network to a standstill.

In summary, saving your work is important, but backing up your work, which is a form of saving, is vital. Granted, many projects are in fact one-off projects. But for the important and really really important stuff, it is in everyone's interest to back it up, and back that up. Automation can help, but determination to make a habit out of backing up in a timely organized manner is the first step.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Jul 8, 2009 at 9:57:30 pm project, backups, premiere, anxiety, astrophysics

I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!


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