So Much Stuff Out There

It’s been a while since we’ve done a grab bag, so let’s grab that bag and see what’s inside.

Today in Tedium: Every few months, I like taking a step back from the weekly grind of building out long Tedium pieces and doing something of a “grab bag” style of post, where there isn’t really a broad theme, but sort of talks about a lot of things. These often come at pivotal times, when something big is happening in the world. And yes, big stuff is happening—months after the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, Derek Chauvin, the former police officer that killed him, was found guilty of the crime, caught on camera, a small step forward towards systemic change. On a more personal note, I get my second vaccine shot today, and when stuff like that happens, it puts me in something of a more random mood. And in that spirit, here is a bunch of random stuff without much of a theme to hold it together. In today’s Tedium, embrace the randomness. — Ernie @ Tedium

Today’s Tedium features a second newsletter inside of the primary newsletter, sponsored by The Funnies. Check it out.

$4,000

The amount that a Toronto Public Library patron would have been charged had the copy of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls had been charged the standard 35-cents-a-day late fee for the book, which they anonymously returned last week despite the book being due in January of 1987. Fortunately for the person who never returned it, the library service caps their charges at $14.

Why I find 4K upscaled music videos so fascinating right now

Rick Astley, for no other reason beyond the fact that he’s alive and he made a popular song more than 30 years ago, has proven a significant, lasting part of internet culture, a trendsetter with few equals in the digital era.

And much like most of his other trends, his latest success story didn’t even involve him doing anything new. A few months back, a user uploaded an artificial intelligence-enhanced version of “Never Gonna Give You Up,” the RickRolling hit that cemented Astley’s reputation, that somehow manages to look interesting in 4K at 60 frames per second.

It’s not perfect: Some scenes appearing as clear as day, and some other scenes appearing, well, janky. But the added FPS for some reason did a trick to my brain and I found myself appreciating the details in a way I had not in the hundreds of times I had seen the music video previously.

And recently, that led me to see if any other music videos were out there that benefited from this trick. And to my surprise, there were many—representing a cottage interest on YouTube, although the quality greatly varies.

That’s down to the source material, largely—a lot of music videos uploaded to YouTube tended to appear in fairly low-res, arguably garbage quality, on the video service. But given the right source for remaster, the end result can look quite good.

To give you an idea, here’s Michael Jackson’s “Bad” in its original full-length version:

Perfectly fine, but it looks like it’s from 1987, possibly transferred directly from videotape. However, a few months ago, a user named RΔҒΔΣL decided to do a 4K restoration of the video (a version that includes some of the acting, but not the full 18-minute clip). The upscale the uploader used relied on a DVD rip, which means the video quality is a lot stronger than the original YouTube upload:

And then after that, a user named Smooth60 took RΔҒΔΣL’s video and increased the frame rate from 24 frames per second to 60 frames per second, giving it an added degree of realism that might have otherwise been lost:

And because people are so big on Michael Jackson, they were willing to do this without being asked.

Not every music video translates well to this format. Men at Work’s “Down Under,” for example, was sourced up from a far lower quality source material and as a result the AI effects look far more obvious. And Michael Jackson’s earlier video, “Beat It,” featured more obvious atmospherics, and as a result, those didn’t hold up so well to the scrutiny of 4K.

Of the examples I’ve seen, the one I was probably most impressed by was the Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll be There,” which seems to benefit from slightly newer technology to actually look really impressive for an upscale.

Because I find stuff like this super-interesting, I tried playing around with a little upscaling myself to get a feel for the process, and honestly, it didn’t necessarily work out exactly the way I was hoping. I messed with the Flock of Seagulls video for “I Ran (So Far Away),” a video with famously complex imagery for its time due to its use of mirrors and reflections that ensured you’d see the actual camera that filmed the video.

Screen Shot 2021 04 21 at 4 53 42 AM

I can’t show you the final result because YouTube is famously tough on copyright and wouldn’t let me upload even a sample of it, but let’s just say that it looked really rough, as shown by the screenshot above. Instead, I’ll show you a public domain video I found in which I used the same effect:

While not quite as fun as Rick Astley, this 15-second clip uses the same techniques that were used to create that video—an upscaling through the paid tool Topaz Video Enhance AI, as well as frame-doubling that uses a command-line AI technique, called RIFE (Real-Time Intermediate Flow Estimation), to boost the count from 24fps to 48fps. One challenge I had is that the frame-doubling tools were largely developed for Nvidia chips, one of which I do not have. My way of working around this was to upload the clip to GPU Land, a cloud service that focuses on selling cheap access to AI and machine learning horsepower. It managed to cut through long videos in just a few minutes as a result.

By using an old video rather than something new, I unwittingly stepped into a big debate on colorization and updating things into the modern day. Some historians think it’s dangerous.

And in many ways, I get it. Just because it feels real, like it happened last week or last month thanks to the additional AI tricks, doesn’t mean it actually did. It’s really much more of fun parlor trick. But it’s nonetheless one that makes me think differently about the source material. I notice backgrounds more vividly; actors stand out more. And I think that it helps to make old stories feel more approachable.

But I have to remind myself, whether it’s a music video or a piece of history, that the AI only makes it seem more realistic. In reality, it’s arguably more fake.

A Newsletter in a Newsletter: Check Out The Funnies

Miss getting the comics page in dead-tree form? Have we got the newsletter for you. Today’s Tedium is sponsored by The Funnies, a newsletter that brings you five curated comics per day, each in a super-readable format that’s just perfect for your inbox and your phone. It’ll cost you just $2 a month—and your payment helps to support the comic artists who created gems such as these:

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Writing

(Dan Counsell/Unsplash)

Five things I’ve written about in my other newsletter, MidRange

I haven’t highlighted it heavily here, but I’ve been working on a secondary project with a goal of teaching myself new things about writing.

You might be thinking, but you already write so much! But the thing is, Tedium is written around a specific structure and length and it can be hard sometimes to break out of that approach. And that’s part of the reason why I’ve been spending a couple of hours each week working on MidRange, a newsletter experiment of mine over the past few months in which I’ve written about whatever’s on my mind in timed 30-minute intervals, partly as a challenge to myself to write more efficiently and partly in an effort to gain a better understanding of other newsletter models.

It’s a way to be more timely and learn some new tricks along the way. It even had a post go viral last week, just like I often see with Tedium pieces.

Since I started the newsletter three months ago, I’ve written 36 issues, each less than 600 words. A few highlights from that project thus far:

  1. A whole week focused on COVID closures. Last week, I wrote stories about three different types of chains that close their doors during the pandemic—die-hard video rental chains, all-you-can-eat buffets, and standard retailers with weak models.
  2. A piece highlighting the good work of Cameron Kaiser, the developer of TenFourFox, a web browser intended for PowerPC-era Macs that he recently retired.
  3. A bunch of writing on the creative process, including talk about career evolution and even creative experiments, like a short essay on why I cleaned my keyboard.
  4. Some stuff about technology and pop culture, as well as where the two intersect—a topic of my most recent MidRange issue, on a movie that featured Ubuntu.
  5. And a piece written by Jay Hoffmann, editor of The History of the Web, as a guest post. His topic? An early librarian who tapped the web’s potential.

If you find any of this approach at all interesting, I’d be happy to have you as a subscriber there, too. Click here to sign up.

I haven’t had a spot to put this in the past month, but I really wanted to give a shout out to Raven Simone, who goes by Bobdunga on YouTube, for her amazing work putting together a feature-length documentary on her research into finding details about two unreleased Nintendo DS games—Mean Girls and Clueless. The work she put in and the process are the very types of things that people researching stuff on the internet should be doing, and it’s super-impressive stuff.

Recently, something that I’ve found myself doing as a way to give myself a bit of a mental break is by diving deep into random technology projects, not necessarily because I think it’s going to lead anywhere special, but because the journey sometimes will be just the thing I need to clear my head and find a mental-health balance.

For example, I’ve been turning my old daily driver laptop from seven or eight years ago into a project machine, in which I use it to try new things I want to mess with—such as Hello, the recent distribution of FreeBSD that looks a lot like early Mac OS X, but aims to take some of its great philosophical features of early Apple operating systems into account when building it out. I haven’t gotten it working so far, but one thing I did do along the way is get a new screen for the device, so that when I do figure it out, it will look pristine.

That screen was sent along by John Bumstead, a recycler and reseller whose RDKL Inc. I highlighted last fall in a piece about old iBooks.

I’ve opened up plenty of computers in the past, but to get the new screen working, I had to dissect the logic board and put it into an entirely new system—a new process for me that required removing dozens of screws and handling lots of delicate ribbon cables. It was nerve-wracking, and it took me a while, but I pulled it off. A little tired and bleary-eyed by the end, sure, but the road to getting there was fascinating.

In a few weeks, I might just be able to go to a coffee shop again. Yay me, right? But as this whole mess has continued on for literally more than a year, I’ve learned to value these small moments of solitude in important ways, as ways to destress from an admittedly unusual time.

Sure it’d be nice if I could use the tools I might have used as someone who straddles the line between introvert and extrovert, but given the alternative, I’ll lean hard on the introvert stuff and see where it gets me.

Hopefully a deeper plane of understanding—with a nicer screen for viewing said deeper plane.

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Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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