The Domino Effect: Blender Revisited

A quick post today;  I was back to work for the first time in three glorious weeks, and I have to admit that it only took about two hours of the chaos inherent in office life to get me pining nostalgically for my morning cup of tea in the living room with the cat purring contentedly on the back of the chair behind me.  I will be calling it an early night tonight and trying not to get too exhausted in my first week back.

You may recall that some time back, I mentioned that I was fooling around with a package of 3d modelling software called Blender.   Part of my last vacation hurrah on Saturday and Sunday was to spend some quality time in front of the monitor fiddling about with this little package of digital wonders.  I was greatly assisted in getting back up to speed by a terrific series of tutorials posted on YouTube by super3boy.

The video below is a brief animation I rendered after completing super3boy’s 19th blender tutorial, on the subject of domino physics.   The animation shows a series of “dominoes” set up on a plane;  the first domino falls over and knocks over the next one in sequence, causing a tower of dominoes to crash to the ground.  It was remarkable how simple this was to create.  All it took was some very basic modelling – creating and scaling a mesh cube, really – then copying the “domino” several times and placing it on the plane.   Blender takes care of the rest;  the physics of the virtual world are already coded in the software and all the (ahem) visual artist need do is designate the appropriate objects as “actors” in the scene to be animated.  A brief key sequence starts the “game engine”, which is the piece of software that calculates the physical outcome of the scene you’ve created (in this case, tumbling dominoes) and – last but not least, a command to render the scene into the desired video format.   It took only about five to ten minutes of my interaction with the computer to do this;  the rest was taken care of by the software.  I am flabbergasted.  Blender is also capable of adding textures, lighting and shading effects to all of the objects (none of which are evident in the scene below, as I didn’t take the time to apply these effects), which is to say it’s capable of making the animation look a hell of a lot more realistic than the sequence below.   Right now, I’m just astounded by the ease with which this sequence was created.

I am looking very much forward to using Blender more extensively in some video projects I have germinating in the recesses of my mind.  I am especially anxious to explore the video compositing capabilities of the package, and to combine 3d effects created and rendered in Blender with actual video footage captured from live action cameras.

Sony DCR-HC26 Firewire Port Problem: An Update

Some time ago now, I wrote a post about some problems I was experiencing with the transfer of Mini-DV video from my Sony Handycam through a Firewire cable to my computer.

The offending device

I had no idea how common a problem this seems to be.  Since posting about my struggles with the camera, that post and posts about my adventures with a Craftsman Lawn Tractor seem to have generated an awful lot of traffic to the site.  My camera still isn’t working, but I now think I know why.  It occurred to me that an update might help someone else with similar technical problems teetering on the precipice of a murderous rage.

It would appear that the problem in my particular case is the Firewire (IEEE 1394) port on the side of the camera.  A close examination of the pins inside the port suggests that somehow one or more of the pins that are supposed to make contact with the IEEE 1394 cable have come off.  The port needs to be replaced.

Since the camera warranty is long expired, and I didn’t purchase the extended warranty offered by the retailer, I’m on my own.  When I spoke with folks at the Future Shop about getting repairs done, they suggested that it would make more sense to buy a new camera.  I’m not ready to go that route just yet, partly because this is already my second Mini-DV camera – the first was a JVC model (GL something or other, I think) that stopped functioning consistently just shortly before Spouse and I were married – it has developed the dreaded E04 Safeguard Mode error, which (according to teh Intarwebs) is a common and apparently lethal affliction for JVC camcorders.

The thing is I have a LOT of material on a number of Mini-DV tapes that I need to be able to access.

The immediate solution I’m going to attempt is to replace the port – or the circuit board on which it’s mounted – myself.  Madness, right?  Maybe.  Maybe not – I found the service manual for the camera at and – for a fee of about $15 – downloaded a copy.   Now I have a schematic of how the camera comes apart, and (more importantly) how it goes back together.  I plan to study it carefully before attempting the dissassembly. I also need to do a little research to find out how much the replacement part or parts will cost, but I don’t expect to be spending more than fifty or sixty bucks.

I will try to remember to post an update on what’s going on with the repair.

In the meantime, if you are experiencing the same sort of problem, my research on the Net suggests that you should:

  • test the Firewire cable by connecting another camcorder to it (borrow one from a friend if you have to)- if your operating system immediately detects a camcorder, the problem is with your camcorder, not the cable or computer;
  • only connect the camera to the computer when the AC power supply – not the battery – is powering the camcorder.  There is some evidence out the problem may occur more frequently when transferring when the camera is powered by battery alone;
  • make sure that the “USB streaming” option (in the camera menu) is turned OFF – if this setting is turned on, the camera will not send video through the Firewire port, even when a Firewire cable is attached.  Remember, the camera will transfere data either by USB or by Firewire, but not both.   I strongly recommend that you choose to use Firewire for all video transfer anyway because the USB transfer is lower resolution video;  it has fewer pixels and a lower frame rate, and looks kind of like a crappy webcam. Also, the audio transferred is mono instead of stereo;
  • be sure that your camera is set to the “playback”, rather than “camera” mode (though really, it should work in both configurations.  Mine used to work regardless of which mode the camera was in);
  • if none of the above suggestions fixes the problem, try experimenting with the order in which you are connecting the camera, firing up your software, etc.  Try commencing playback on the camera first, then connecting the Firewire cable, then starting your software, then beginning the video capture.  If that sequence doesn’t work, try connecting the cable first, then powering up the software and THEN commencing playback, etc.

One more thing – several of the various video forums I combed looking for solutions to the problem had threads in which people were complaining that their camera wasn’t functioning because it didn’t display a “DV Out” message when the Firewire cable was plugged in.   Be aware that the camera does NOT and shouldnot display this message.  If you’re waiting for those words to appear on your little LCD screen, you’ll be waiting a long time because they don’t appear when the camera is functioning properly.  The “DV In” message is simply meant to convey to the user that the camera is receiving DV-related information from the computer to which its attached;  all camcorders with Firewire ports are “DV Out” enabled – that’s what the port is for. Not all cameras, however, are designed to receive control signals from the computer (mostly tape transport instructions like fast forward, rewind etc.)   If you’re seeing the “DV In” message and your camcorder isn’t transferring video over the IEEE 1394 cable you’ve got connected to it, there is nothing wrong with the cable – the camera is receiving information from the computer.  My immediate suspicion is that you need to disable the USB streaming feature in order to START streaming via Firewire.

Wish me luck, I’ll keep y’all posted.