Video capture tech has come a long way.

Back when Courtney graduated high school in 2008, I wanted to put together a DVD of home movies of her to play on a loop during her open house. Naturally, this required buying a video capture card so I could get the footage into my PC and then burn them out to a DVD.

KWORLD DVD MAKER PCI
Click to embiggen.

I ended up buying a KWORLD DVD MAKER PCI card. You put it into an open PCI slot in your computer and it had a single S-Video connector for the input. Plug your VCR into that, load up the capture software, press record in the software and play on the VHS and, in the amount of time it takes to play back the video tape, you had a video file on your machine. I don’t remember how much it cost at the time, but it probably wasn’t more than $80 to $100 and it worked reasonably well for what I wanted it for. I still have the card around here someplace, but I’ve not had a motherboard with PCI slots on it in ages.

I thought about it recently when I stumbled across the manual while digging through my boxes of computer stuff looking for something entirely unrelated. I realized that we have a number of home videos locked onto VHS that are going to end up deteriorating at some point so I should probably think about making digital copies. Mostly videos of Christmas gatherings, but also some parades mom marched in as a clown and I think a birthday or two. When my mother moved in, she brought a working VHS/DVD combo player with her so I had half of what I needed to make this a project.

So, today I went onto Amazon and started looking at video capture options and there is no shortage of products to choose from. With the rise of YouTube and gamers wanting to share videos of gameplay, there are a ton of them that don’t even need a computer to work. You just hook it up to whatever you want to capture from and pass the signal through to a display and it’ll capture the video to a microSD card in the device itself. There’s several that are full-on PCIe cards meant for industrial usage that have multiple inputs. Then there’s an absolute shit ton of USB based products.

The last option is the one I decided to go with, purchasing a “REDGO Video Audio VHS VCR USB Video Capture Card to DVD Converter Capture Card Adapter” as it’s labeled on Amazon. It should be arriving sometime tomorrow and the difference in size between the KWORLD PCI card and the REDGO USB stick is impressive.

Even more impressive? It costs $9.99. Now that could be because it does a crappy job and, admittedly, it is not the highest rated of the USB based capture cards out there. That said, it shows up on a lot of recommended lists as a second or third option behind the best.

The best one being from Elgato, maker of many of the stand-alone game capture devices as well as PCI cards. Their Elgato Video Capture will set you back $88, which was a bit more than I wanted to spend. I can justify tossing $10 and some change (after tax) at the REDGO option and if it turns out to be shitty, well, I’m only out $10 if Amazon won’t accept a return. Which they almost certainly would.

Elgato’s much more expensive, but arguably better, option.

Now I’m all set to digitize all the old home movies to my PC. With the 4TB mechanical HD I have as a data/backup drive, I should have more than enough room to save the files and then load them up in DaVinci Resolve for a try at editing them a bit.

Given that it’s been 13 years since I bought the last capture card, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised at how the tech has advanced. Still, when I see the image of the naked board in the USB device compared to the PCI card of the old one, it still impresses me. I’ll let you guys know how good of a job it does. I’m not expecting miracles as we are talking digitizing Standard Definition VHS tapes and then playing them back on high resolution flat panels, but it’s better than losing the videos altogether.

Christmas shopping back in the day.

While perusing Facebook this morning I came across this Frazz comic strip shared by the Decrepit Old Fool himself. Here’s a quick description in case you don’t want to click on the link. In the past I would’ve included the comic with a link back, but the site specifically mentions a license for blog posts and it’s $35.

Two kids are talking about Christmas shopping in the past. The girls says that her Dad said it used to be all traffic jams by the mall while her grandpa said it was traffic jams by the downtown department store. While they, the kids, would be the ones to grow up to not be able to get out of their own driveways (due to all the delivery trucks). It really is better to go see it for yourself.

This, of course, started me reminiscing about Christmas shopping back in the day. I can vividly remember going to The Pontiac Mall and trying to remember what my parents and siblings had said they wanted and often failing. The crush of the crowd was both frustrating and amazing. It was one of the few times of the year that you really got a sense of just how many people lived in your area.

The Pontiac Mall in its early years before I shopped there.
An example cover.

Of course, we did have mail order back then, but it was mostly limited to a few catalogs that took aim squarely at the Old White People demographic (e.g., Harriet Carter) or foodies (Swiss Colony). Both of those are still around and on the Internet these days, which is a helluva testament to their knowing their target markets.

Though no one I knew did the majority of their Christmas shopping through them. I certainly didn’t, but I did look forward to the arrival of the catalogs as one sign of the start of the holiday season. Also. I did drool over more than a few items in the Swiss Colony catalog. I’m a sucker for cheese and sausage gift packs.

I get excited just remembering browsing through the toys in this venerable book.

We didn’t have an Amazon Wish List. Back then it was the Sears Wish Book. Going through the toy section, circling desired items with different colored pens, discovering the women’s underwear section as I hit puberty, such wonderful memories. Sears is still hanging on by a thread, but back in the day they were one of the big department stores along with Hudson’s which has since gone extinct.

A lot of my clothing growing up came from Sears as did the very first video game console I had: The Sears Video Arcade! Which was just a rebranded Atari 2600. This gives you an idea of the kind of clout that Sears had back then. Atari wasn’t a household name yet, but Sears was. So, Atari agreed to let Sears slap their own name on it because Atari knew Sears was highly trusted brand and it would get their consoles into homes.

When I was growing up The Pontiac Mall had a Hudson’s and a Montgomery Ward as anchor stores. They built a Sears at the north end of the mall in 1973, but it wasn’t attached to the rest of the mall which was annoying during the winter. It was eventually connected during the huge expansion in 1988 that nearly doubled the size of the mall and added stores like J.C. Penny’s and led to changing the name to “Summit Place” which I hated and refused to use. Hell, for most of my childhood I was ignorant of the fact that “malls” were common so it was always just “The Mall” to me growing up. Things have changed a lot since those days. “Summit Place” closed its doors for good in 2009 with only J.C. Penney and Macy’s remaining until early 2010. Sears held out until 2014. It was finally demolished last year. Driving past it during demolition and seeing it reduced to rubble was more emotional for me than I expected.

MY CHILDHOOD, RUINED! Source: Jonathan Hair on YouTube

Not that I’m complaining about things now. The vast majority of my gift giving over the past decade plus has been done online. Yes, I’m Amazon’s bitch. I can’t begin to imagine doing it the old way in the middle of a pandemic. Those crowds would’ve been an unparalleled super spreader event.

I keep my Amazon Wish List updated throughout the year and yet I’m amazed at how many folks still ask me what I want. Here’s a complete list with things both cheap and expensive as fuck. Pick something. I guarantee you ANYTHING on that list will make me happy. That’s why it’s there. For that matter, I’m amazed at how many people don’t have an Amazon Wish List or don’t bother to keep it up to date. It’s one of the things I love about living in the future.

Anyway, I’ve not posted anything since Thanksgiving and I wanted to get something up and the Frazz comic kicked off a wave of nostalgia. I was originally just going to reshare the comic on Facebook as George did, but when I got up to two paragraphs of writing about it I figured it should be a blog post instead. Now I’ve spent the better part of an hour and a half working on this instead of the 2 minutes resharing would’ve taken. That’s OK because I am on vacation and can’t go anywhere thanks to the COVIDs.

What about you guys? Got any memories of Christmas shopping before the age of the Internet and the rise of Amazon? Do you still go to your local mall? Here in Westland where I live now, we still have a local mall — The Westland Shopping Center — that I have been to in the past, but haven’t been in the three years since I officially moved here. I keep meaning to go because I’ve not wasted an afternoon walking around a mall aimlessly in many years, but haven’t yet and probably won’t until this pandemic is under better control. DAMN YOU COVID-19!

Then and now. Me at the end of the decade.

So I saw something making the rounds on Twitter the other day where in honor of making it through yet another decade of life, folks are asking others to share pics of themselves from the start of this decade and now. I thought to myself, “Self, this would make an excellent blog post. We should do this.” And so that is what I am doing now.

Then, in my usual tendency to overthink things like this, I wondered if I should try to find more than two pics (the original meme only stipulated two) and if I should try to get them from around the same time of year or throughout the year or whatever. I’ve decided to go with the tried and true method of just winging it.

So, in the spirit of the original thingy, here’s two pics of me. One from July 2010 and one from November 12th. I went with July because I don’t have a lot of good pics of me from 2010.

Clearly the two biggest changes are the amount of grey in my beard and the number of wrinkles on my face. I was fat back then and I’m still fat now. One other big change is the first pic was taken in our townhouse apartment in Ann Arbor where we were living at the time and the other in the basement of my home in Westland. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever manage to purchase a house, but was finally able to stumble my way through the process just before I hit 50.

We lost Melvin in September 2012 and Cuddles graduated to Official SEB Cat with Jasper as the Emergency Backup Cat in the event that Cuddles was unable to fulfill the duties of the position. Today, at 9 and 8 years old, they are quite regal in stature and are doing well.

I don’t know that I’m any wiser than I was 10 years ago, but I’m definitely older and it shows. You can definitely tell that camera technology, particularly in cell phones, has increased significantly in the past decade. The portrait mode effect alone is an impressive development.

Not really sure how to wrap this up. I don’t have any great insights to offer other than “Hey, I’m still on the right side of the grass.” So I’ll wrap up with one last selfie that I took just this morning because I thought the early morning light in the car looked pretty nifty.

Ruminations on old photographs and Halloween.

When my mother moved in with my sister one of the things she gave me was a big blue plastic container full of photos. I was digging through it to see if I could find any Halloween related pictures from when I was a kid. As I searched in vain for anything that might be interesting, two things occurred to me.
 
The first was that we live in an amazing time where practically everyone has a device in their pocket capable of taking not only crystal clear photos of whatever happens to be catching their eye, but crystal clear video too. Most of the photos I found of me as a kid are badly faded despite having been kept in boxes for most of their existence. In fact, the further back the photos went — quite a few of them are actually my grandparent’s albums full of people I haven’t a clue as to who they were — the worse that problem becomes. The lack of resolution becomes apparent too. The ones that survived the best, oddly enough, are the Polaroids that developed instantly, but they’re surprisingly dark compared to the faded traditional shots on film. 
 
The second was I can now see why none of my relatives became professional photographers. (My niece being excluded as she’s an excellent photographer, but has had the benefit of growing up just as digital cameras became ubiquitous.) I have a shitload of photos of random things where it’s not clear just what it was the photographer was trying to capture. A not particularly impressive hill with trees on it here. A random trailer someone in the family most have owned there. Lots and lots of pictures of people — some I barely recognize, some that may as well be extras in a movie — many of which only manage to capture half a head and an elbow that might not belong to the head in question. To be fair, alcohol has never been a stranger to my family tree and it’s entirely possible whoever was taking the pics at the time was more than three sheets to the wind. 
Alas, I didn’t find any adorably cute pics of me in grade school wearing that terrible store bought Spiderman costume with the plastic mask that had edges sharp enough to cut steel. So I’ll have to reuse something I know I’ve posted in the past.

Here’s me as a senior in highschool going as… fuck if I know what it was supposed to be. You can’t see it in the photo, but I had spread liquid latex all over my face while squinching it up and then blow drying it so it had this weird pattern to it. Then I put on silver facepaint, a robe with a hood, and my walking stick I picked up at a Renaissance Festival and that was it. Tah-dah!

Worst. Halloween. Costume. Ever.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Today’s Now I Feel Old Moment: Kids React to an Old Camera.

It’s easy sometimes to forget that I’m nearly 50. That there are children alive today who have never known the trials and tribulations involved in taking candid photos of your birthday or vacation that I had to endure in my youth. Things like having to buy a camera and then having to buy film and buying flashcubes and then not being able to see how the pictures turned out until after having paid to have them developed. Kids like these kids:

My first camera that I actually owned myself was a Kodak Pocket Instamatic 10 first introduced in 1972. I doubt I got one that year as I was 5 years old, but I somehow ended up with one eventually. Not sure if it was new or a hand-me-down from a relative, but it was my first introduction to taking pictures. Back in 1972 it was “less than $28”, which works out to about $160 today. It was a pretty easy camera to use in part because there wasn’t a lot of options to fiddle with. The biggest choice was whether or not to use a flashbulb and the second biggest was whether or not to use the flashbulb extender thingy to avoid giving your subjects red eye.

Things like loading the film was ridiculously easy as you can see here:

Bonus points for the commercial featuring Dick Van Dyke.

I think the most amazing thing about the 110 format is that the film stock is still being produced and some companies are still making cameras that use it. Apparently the flaws of the format that were an annoyance back in the day are now sought out by artists looking to add character to their photographs.

Anyway, watching the kids trying to use an older 35mm camera had me feeling old and crotchety so I thought I’d share the pain.