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High Definition Medical Video

No clever title this time. As we have been editing HD projects over the past year we have been collecting sample clips showing surgical and non-surgical training footage. This is just a sample.

The Sony HVR-V1U has proven to be a great camera for use in the sensitive operating room environment. It is lightweight enough to hang over an open incision, the battery life is long and the images are astounding. Given the potential negatives of HDV, we have found it to be a robust format with good color reproduction and ease of editing using Premiere. It is a processor hog and Premiere seems to want to re-index HDV on a regular basis, but the end result is what matters.

As we investigate tapeless ways to capture video including interfacing with new HD medical systems, we are developing some nice material.

But technology aside, as elucidated in this article:

getting great images is as much about knowing what you are looking at as it is knowing how to control your equipment.

For now, enjoy the show. Viewer discretion is advised.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 27, 2009 at 7:56:39 pm high definition, hdv, surgery, hd

The Great Outdoors

I know, not as clever as some of my headlines. Today was a day to unwind, and take advantage of perhaps the last perfect Fall day of the season. Mid-60's, sunny, leaves at peak color.

Woke up to a typical Sunday. Hearty Breakfast. No shaving on the weekend, thank you.

Meet the Press makes breakfast a bit less appetizing.

Leaves are changing...and falling.

It's a beautiful day. Don't let it get away.
Thanks for the advice Mr Hewson.

Destination: Meriden, CT - just a few miles away. Hubbard Park, designed by none other than Frederick Law Olmstead, has miles of trails, part of the extensive Metacomet Trail over some beautiful terrain.

As with most of my outings, I set off intending to relax, explore, get some much needed exercise and perhaps get some memorable images, both in my mind's eye and in my trusty camera.

From the top you can see the Long Island Sound to the South and Mt. Tom in Massachusetts to the North.

On all accounts, mission accomplished. If you're ever in central CT check out our miles of trails, greenways and parks.

Before I sink my life savings into a Canon 5D Mark II, I thought I'd do a dry run on the cheap. Still a nice memory of a nice day out.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Fresh air is a beautiful thing. I'm gonna sleep like a baby...

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 25, 2009 at 8:56:40 pm hiking, exercise, nature, relaxation


We creative types work hard. We should play hard, but sometimes that takes a back seat. This past Summer, a great way to unwind from 8 hours in the office chair would have been to hop on the mountain bike and ride. Maybe it was the humidity or the seemingly constant rain we had here in New England, but this year my couch potato genes took over. Actually that would be "chair potato" because most of my downtime was spent in front of my home computer, either watching Hulu, or working on my own pet projects. And no, emptying Rusty's litter box is not a pet project.

So what are my pet projects? Funny you should ask.

1. Editing silly videos.
Aside from the lifetime project of organizing and editing family videos, home movies and the like, the occasional idea springs to mind, usually right around bedtime. By the time the videos are uploaded I sometimes realize that the moment of inspiration has passed. But alas, it is fun, passes the time, and keeps my television in the off position.

Who is my audience? Family and friends on Facebook and probably the same bored guy many times on YouTube. Wanna join him? Here you go:

This is my fave YouTube creation. And the most hits.

This next one I actually shot with a proper video camera, not my usual stills camera that now documents our vacations. There are actually about 2 more hours of raw footage covering the whole outer Cape. Maybe one day I'll do more.

Back in '08 after watching one of the debates I thought maybe we should be looking at the candidates from a more comedic point of view, since whoever wins we will be making fun of them for four years.

I think Obama was the natural choice, if only because of the Abe Lincoln connection. Sorry about the music.

Other times, inspiration happens by accident. I am always snapping photos and video clips when on vacation. Many of them never see the light of day. Here are a few that did, in various forms:

Cape Cod

Vegas - aside from NAB, the Bellagio fountains were one of the only interesting things about this crazy town.

Finally there are the family videos - the most interesting of all. No need to be clever or funny, the memories speak for themselves.

I'm the cute one in the overalls:

As for upcoming pet projects for the coming cold season...I need to finally re-edit my wedding from the raw footage. I recently got around to the first edit of the honeymoon. I also have two half-finished screenplays. They may stay that way. Late night inspiration does not work for that project.

Thanks for watching.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 23, 2009 at 4:08:28 pm balance, hobbies

Back in the Saddle

After a week of travel, which was more like 3 weeks due to the preparation and focus on nothing but the end goal, it is like returning from a long journey. Amazingly, the voicemail was empty and there were no packages piled on my chair. Why? Because nearly everyone I work with on a regular basis was in the same place as I was, many of them at the same hotel. So it was like I was at a high school reunion, assuming that I was part of a class that took 20 years to graduate.

So here I am back in the saddle (squeaky office chair) with a full plate of communication tasks, aka, new business development.

1. Followup with people I saw last week. Last week, for those keeping score at home, was a medical convention. There are occasional threads in the business and marketing forum about the benefit of attending trade shows.

It depends upon the trade and the show.

2. Followup with people I did not see, but hoped to.

This is an important part of acquiring new business. That is, developing relationships with people, even and especially those people with whom you have not yet done business. Remind people you are there, out here in the ether. When they need you they'll remember you if you remember yourself to them periodically.

3. Contact people I neither saw nor planned to see but with whom I'd like to meet at some future date.

4. Followup on outstanding proposals.

Writing clear proposals, SOW's or contracts is a vital part of work for hire. If you are a vendor, get good at describing what you do, what you charge, and what they get for what you charge for what you do.

5. Send out new proposals.

See above.

6. Chat with co-workers about ongoing projects, shoots that happened while I was away and future projects and goals.

MBWA - Managing by walking around.

6a. Followup regarding ongoing milestone chasing (another future blog post right there).

7. Create some plans for new products, the ideas for which we gathered from customer requests during our big event. Free market research is a beautiful thing. Well maybe not free, given travel and exhibit costs, but gravy over an already generous helping of mashed potatoes.

Always be thinking of the next sliced loaf of bread.

8. Organize notes - that is - post-its and scrap paper - in a book labeled, cleverly, "The Book." More on this in a future post on getting shtuff done.

So while I say back in the saddle" one should always be IN the saddle, riding on the range, tending the flock helping other ranchers get their cattle to market. Rather than a six-shooter on my belt, a blackberry will have to do.

Giddy-up partner.

Thanks for riding.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 19, 2009 at 6:00:18 pm business, sales


It has been previously established that I travel a good deal for work. I find myself in some exotic location like Cleveland, but almost always after dark is the first free time I have. It breaks my heart to see folks taking flash pictures at night of beautiful architecture or scenery, knowing that they will get home and just have pictures of nothing, or blown out faces surrounded by shadow. In the case of architecture, you get highlights and uneven contrast.

However, sometimes without a flash and without support, or even with intentional movement, you can get a truly incredible result. This shot has not been altered aside from the image size (click images for a larger view):

This is why I have gotten into the practice of taking night shots with a tripod, no flash and a timer. But since I don't carry a tripod everywhere I go and quite honestly, I wouldn't do that, you need to find a tripod, or camera support, wherever you can. A flower pot, table, railing, pylon, traffic sign or even the side of a building can not only be the first step towards a decent night shot, but lend some interesting angles that you might not otherwise consider.

Once you have found a way to lock down your camera, and sometimes you need to hold it at a slight upward angle, just using the stability of the surface, you have to set your auto timer. You see, the very act of pressing the shutter button especially on a small point and shoot camera, is enough to cause a slight movement in the camera and thus a blurry shot. If you set the timer, you just hold your breath and hold the camera in position and let the timer run out, and take the shot with the least movement possible considering that you are a human being and your body has a slight movement to it.

And of course with a digital camera, you can immediately know if the shot is good. Sometimes the focus is not perfect, but certainly better than the alternative. And sometimes, when I see a young couple posing in front of a beautiful scene, and they take a cruddy flash picture, I offer to take another shot. Actually I demand it and tell them to trust me, I'm a professional. Since all digital cameras work the same way, I turn off the flash, set the timer, find a free traffic cone or planter and have at it. They are usually impressed and thankful. I'm not looking for thanks, just doing my job making the world a beautiful place.

A long exposure can make night into day - I think black and white with a contrast tweak makes this shot work even better:

And here are a few from our trip to Miami Beach:

With a flash, this shot of the Fontainebleau lobby would have lost all its allure:

Same goes for dark restaurants. If you like devil eyes and white skin, use a flash. The macro mode created an interesting effect, enhancing my wife's allure ;)

I thought this bench outside an old photo shop in Delray Beach, FL looked especially lonely, yearning for the days when we took pictures on film and didn't need technology to take pictures.

Thanks for viewing. Now go outside and get shooting.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 14, 2009 at 5:02:42 pm digital, photography

Do What you Do Best

In other words, don't try to be something you're not.

We all want to grow, and we creative professionals should always be learning new things: skills and practices. It is the practices that I will focus on in this entry.

First skills. There is an abundance on the web and in the real world of opportunities to get new skills. Training classes for Final Cut, graphic design, using the RED camera or whatever. I get the Maine Workshops catalog every year listing everything from an intro to lighting week course to a 6 month live in sabbatical where you write produce and shoot a film for the low low price of $35,000. At the local or internet level there are hundreds of tutorials, DVD products and books. Pick your software and get moving.

In other words, there is no shortage of ways to learn new skills. And we should all be honing one skill or another at a given time.

Now, practices.

Practices can mean different things depending upon your point of view. If you are a motion graphic artist, your practice is how you interact with a client to see their vision and turn out a great end product. If you are a DP, your practice is how you approach a scene, your preferences for lighting and how you achieve the desired look. Sounds like a skill, but a practice is a personal methodology for taking the skills you have perfected and doing great things with them.

For example, a resume may be packed with software titles and equipment, but the important question to ask is not "can you make a 3D animation with XYZ software," rather it is "what can you do for me?"

In business, your practice is how you meet and interact with potential customers. Your spiel.
You need to talk to potential customers in a way that makes them want to work with you. Don't immediately get in someone's face about all the wonderful things you can do for them. Learn about their business, even if you think you already know, you may be surprised. And when you do get the opportunity to bid or make a proposal, do what you do best. Don't try to be all things to all people just because you're afraid you might lose out on a bigger contract. Focus on what you know how to do.

If you are learning how to do new things, these new skills don't become part of your practice until you know how to do them. So your practice should expand over time, but focus on what you know until what you don't know becomes what you DO know!

This week I talked with several vendors of HD surgical cameras. I was interested in how they are recording HD in the OR. Up until about a year ago, you needed an XDCAM deck to record the SDI signal out of the camera control unit. But now manufacturers have realized that's not gonna happen in most places. So did Sony and Olympus come up with their own digital recording systems? Nope. At least two competing manufacturers have teamed up with the same 3rd party outfit to use the same h.264 recording. This may sound like it diminishes market advantage, but actually it levels the playing field. Since Olympus is not a software company with no expertise in digital video recording, they focused on what they know - imaging - and let someone else do the recording. Sony knows digital recording, but not necessarily proprietary software. So in reality, the two similar recording systems cancel each other out, and the consumer can focus on comparing the image quality among brands - and when you are trying to tell the difference between the cystic duct and the common bile duct, two structures the size of your fingernail on your little finger, image quality is king, recording is a bonus feature.

Focus on what you know, and your business will grow.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 13, 2009 at 5:19:27 amComments (1) business

Ready for Takeoff

The past 7 days have been spent preparing for a big convention that we participate in every year. our responsibilities include processing roughly 150 videos, mostly produced by outside entities (doctors) and about a dozen from our shop. We decided this year to finally do away with DVCAM tape and do all of the projection in about 15 half-day sessions via MPG2 files on hard drives. We created a simple html launcher and carefully organized the files by session.

The next step was to review the MPG2 files to ensure that they are appropriately representing the original quality. The original formats range from video DVD to DIVX, h.264, WMV and MPEG-1, with a handful of DV tapes, AVI or DV files. The lowest common denominator of MPEG-2 can be a good or a bad thing, depending upon the relative quality of the original. Thus, about 50% of videos did not re-compress adequately, so we decided to show the originals. Other MPEG-2 files looked ok, but needed audio or color correction, or correction of other assorted problems. The end result of this review process was a color coded excel file listing things to fix, things to know and things that are out of our control.

here's the detail:

In any project, organization is the key.

Our job is to help doctors look the best they can look before an audience of their peers. Thus the extra time spent, while invisible to the audience, makes a difference, however subtle.

With that task done, we sent a new hard drive to the venue, for cloning to about 15 computers throughout the vast convention center.

By the time Friday arrived, despite the mental exhaustion and repeated viewings of such classics as "Single Incision Colon Surgery" and "Abdominoplasty" the final step was to get the house ready for my week long absence. This is primarily cleaning the kitchen, doing some laundry, filling the litter boxes and replenishing the fridge. I despise doing the dishes, but, it can be fun if you make it into a fun activity.

While the cleaning was going on, I was rendering the final edit of the last video for one of the sessions. I had to visit the office to get some raw footage and transfer it all to my laptop (a 160 gig laptop drive holds a lot, but gets incredibly full. I had to delete my WMV of Empire Strikes Back made from the original letterbox pre-special edition VHS tape to make room - now that's self-sacrifice).

Editing in the office on a Saturday is not so bad - it was mostly rendering, which gave me time to tally up the most visited places for my job. Here are the winners by number of visits:

New York: 33
Chicago: 18
Boston: 15
Florida: 14
LA: 6
Dallas: 5
San Fran: 4

Final step of the night is to pack my bags. The rolling garment bag saves my back - usually. On this occasion I have my laptop in a backback, along with 3 terabytes of video files, drive bay, power supplies, cables, a small library book (Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - probably won't have time to read it) and numerous DVD-R burns of various projects and demo's.

Once in bed, it seemed to be mere minutes until the pesky alarm sounded, and off I went.
While checking in for my flight, the pesky Blackberry tells me that while the video from last night is great, can I please update some other slides. Sure, no problem, I'll just do it on the plane. But first I have to work on an article for an upcoming issue of the COW Magazine. With most of that written, I opened Premiere, made the edits and set to rendering again.

Editing on a plane is not great unless you are a t-rex with tiny arms. I look for an aisle seat with a skinny person or child in the middle, giving me those few extra centimeters of elbow room.

Only problem is the flight to Chicago is relatively short, so I had to shut down while the tractor beam pulled us into docking bay 1138.

Upon arrival in Chicago Sunday AM, we headed to the convention center to setup our display. A medical convention is like NAB for doctors. The technical exhibits display the latest medical devices and in our case, our collection of surgical DVD's and medical text books. This year our booth resembles a mini Borders book and DVD store, complete with credit card reader and video kiosk. Sorry, no latte bar.

Once the shipping vendor located our crates, we setup the video racks, back-drop and book displays. I split my time between the booth and the video review stations, updating video files with last minute changes, including the previously described last minute edit once rendered.

By this time it is 5pm, and I have yet to find 5 minutes to eat anything. A non-quick taxi ride to the Hyatt (not the Riot House, but I have stayed there), hit the business center for $21 worth of copies (18 pieces of paper - I need to open a business center!), finally check into the room, drop the bags, splash water in my face (missed the $21 worth of papers with the splash of water - whew) and back downstairs to join my colleague for a kickoff meeting with some docs for a new endeavour. The kickoff meeting is an essential step in the process of any project. Check out my appearance in the Creative COW Podcast for more on this.

Finally it is 7pm and food might be in the near future. Luckily there was some Halloween candy in the biz center. For only $5 I enjoyed a roll of Smarties! Manna!

Once we got to the restaurant, the bar provided my first sustenance - beer - better than nothing but not good on an empty stomach. Finally we are seated and hot bread, stuffed mushrooms, calimari - life was going to be ok. The chianti helped my stiff neck and is sure to help me sleep off a busy day that would make Richard Scarry cringe.

Thanks for traveling with me.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 11, 2009 at 10:13:39 pm conventions, video, organization

Magical Mystery Tour

Today I spent about 8 hours reviewing videos for an upcoming event. I had previously viewed all of the videos off a hard drive to be used for projection, and made a list of originals to check. If the original looks better than the MPEG2, then I copy the original to my hard drive for future re-compression. In many cases, the original is in fact MPEG2, and with adding logos and trimming heads and tails, a recompression pass is sometimes a bad thing - especially if the original was not up to MPEG-2 quality to begin with.

Thus, during the 30 or so blocks of 5-7 minutes spent copying video from DVD to hard drive, I browsed the COW. I mean, what else could I possibly do in such short chunks of time?

But I receive updates from the Business and Marketing Forum and the Film History and Appreciation Forum on my Blackberry, so I am all caught up in those forums. Thus, I took a tour of the forums that I visit less frequently or not at all.

We use exclusively Premiere, so I never really visit the FCP forum, or forums for FCP related kit such as AJA. However whether I use the gear or not, it can be educational. For example, a newer forum is for Core Melt plugins. I have never heard of this software, so I thought I'd check it out. Turns out, this is a pretty cool suite of transitions. It's like Magic Bullet for transitions. And it is CS4 compatible, so it just goes to show that you can't judge a forum by its title. Check out these demo videos:

I then browsed the Audio Professionals forum, the Lighting forum and discovered a Motion Graphics forum that I did not even know about.

So you see, even someone who spends much of their free time on this website can learn new things and discover new places to go.

I also make a habit of reading new blog posts as they appear on the COW. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that fellow blogger Ken Harper in fact worked at Cine-Med years before I did.

And did you know that Creative COW now has free video hosting, and some really entertaining reels, demo videos and trailers. It's great to see not only seasoned pros but also folks just getting into the business posting their work for all to see.

Well, looks like that strange HD file (1844x1073) has finished copying - now to figure out what to do with it.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen

Posted by: Mike Cohen on Oct 4, 2009 at 3:19:24 pm creative, cow

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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