Useful tools for video and audio editing

If you have your own YouTube channel or just make video or audio recordings using your mobile phone, it is good to know that there are editing tools that can help you remove undesired artifacts from recordings. For example, in an audio recording you’d probably want to remove or at least reduce a background noise. In a low resolution video you’d possibly want to have a better picture quality by making resolution higher if possible. Also, when you find a YouTube video that you think could have a better audio or video quality and this video has a Creative Commons Attribution license then you could download it, edit and upload again to YouTube. This post is exactly about such editing tools, or at least tools that I use myself and find very helpful. Most of them are free open-source tools except for video editing software.

Audio editing

Suppose, you have voice recordings that have a background noise. It would be nice to reduce it as much as possible without affecting the overall quality of the recording. There is a free tool that can do this and much more. It is called Audacity. Audacity is free and open-source professional grade digital audio editor and recording application software, available for Windows, macOS, Linux, and other Unix-like operating systems. I personally, use it to record myself playing drums. For this purpose I use two microphones and a two channel Behringer sound interface. After the recording was done I use Audacity to compress the recording and export it as mp3 file. But one of the features that is relevant to this post is the Noise Reduction functionality.

Real Life Example – Removing humming noise from Hamming’s lecture

For example, I used the Noise Reduction functionality in Audacity to remove background humming noise from the Dr. Richard Hamming’s 1990 lecture at NPS SGL. 

To do this I

Video editing – Super-resolution

Sometime videos can have a very low resolution, especially when they were recorded with old recording hardware, like old fashioned video cameras etc. But there is a solution to this problem which is called technically a super-resolution or upscaling. It allows to improve the resolution of the video by smoothing the pixels based on surrounding pixels. There are a number of implementations for an upscaling algorithms. Some of them like video2x upscaling software uses Deep Learning based upscaling implementation, for instance, NCNN implementation of waifu2x converter. Check out the GitHub repository of the video2x to learn how to use it.

Real Life Example – Upscaling Alexander Stepanov’s talk

For example, I used the video2x upscaling software based on Deep Learning model to upscale Alexander Stepanov: STL and Its Design Principles lecture from 320×200 to 640×400 resolution.

To do this I

  • Downloaded the original video (Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed)
  • Used Audacity to add right mono channel to the original audio track which had only left mono channel available.
  • Used video2x software ran on a PC with Nvidia GPU to upscale the video from 320×200 to 640×400 resolution. Which took about 14 hours to process on that PC)
  • Used Movavi Video Editor to combine fixed audio track with the upscaled video
  • Uploaded upscaled video to YouTube.

You can try to play with the waifu2x Deep Learning powered upscaling website by uploading low resolution images and seeing the result by yourself.

Video editing

There are a number of free video editing tools out there, but from what I’ve seen the most useful ones that provide you with all required editing functionality are paid. And there is no workaround it. So I found this relatively inexpensive Movavi Video Editor software that I bought and use for all my video editing. Since I use mostly basic video editing, this tool suits me good. But if you are looking for more advanced capabilities, than you should check other versions of Movavi products or a different editor altogether.

How to download YouTube video for editing

If the YoutTube video has a Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) license you can use the video and edit it. There are non criminal ways to download such videos from YouTube.

Reading hundreds of books makes you a different person

This post is a summary of the hard copies of the books I read and recommend to read if you have similar interest as I do.

Exceptionally good books about Apollo Lunar Program

  1. Flight – Chris Kraft
  2. Left Brains for the Right Stuff – Hugh Blair-Smith
  3. Sunburst and Luminary – Don Eylse
  4. Apollo 8 – Jeffery Kluger
  5. Apollo 13 – Jim Lovell and Jeffery Kluger
  6. and much more here

Exceptionally good books about Deep Space Exploration

  1. Interstellar Age – Jim Bell
  2. Chasing New Horizons – Alan Stern and David Grinspoon
  3. Mars Rover Curiosity – Rob Manning
  4. The Right Kind of Crazy – Adam Steltzner
  5. and much more here

Exceptionally good books about Aviation

  1. Skunk Works – Ben R. Rich
  2. Have Blue and the F-117: Evolution of the “Stealth Fighter” – Albertt C. Piccirillo and David C. Aronstein
  3. The Power To Fly – Brian H. Rowe
  4. Herman The German – Gerhard Neumann
  5. and much more here

  1. The beginning of Infinity – David Deutsch
  2. The Music of the Primes – Marcus du Sautoy
  3. Prime Obsession – John Derbyshire
  4. Unknown Quantity – John Derbyshire
  5. Infinite Powers – Steven Strogatz
  6. The Joy of x – Steven Strogatz
  7. and much here and here and here

Exceptionally good books about Neuroscience

  1. Mind and The Cosmic Order – Charles Pinter
  2. On Intelligence – Jeff Hawkins

The Book Struggle Within

This is a story of struggle, love and hate, but it’s not a movie. Instead, it’s a post about my love-hate relationship with digital versus print books. I think readers who like reading both print and e-books could understand what I am talking about. There is a constant tension, even a fight, between each book type and the pros and cons they have. I personally tend to read print books, though when it’s dark and there is no good lighting available there is nothing like reading an e-book.

Well, that’s the main point, these two kinds of books are not contradictory, but could be viewed as a complementary solutions. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages, but when combining advantages of both print and e-books we got the best out of all worlds.

Print books advantages as I see them

As biological agents living in a physical world we tend to like things that we can touch, hold and feel. So it’s not a big surprise that physical print books are so appealing to us. The book having a good and colorful cover draws attention and has a seductive forces to it. You can take it, flip through it quickly. Check whether are there any good diagrams, or pictures. Jump to the end of the book to check how it ends. In addition, the books have a smell to them and their weight provides a reassurance that knowledge could be a real force in the world.

  • I value the most the flipping part and fast navigation through the print books.

Well what are the disadvantages?

Print books, being physical objects take a lot of space, which could be an issue and storing them requires a book shelf or shelves. If you happen to travel or simply wants to take a few books with you to read on the go, then you’d better be in a good physical shape and have a big suitcase, which is kind of problematic to say the least (I mean the suitcase).

Also, print books are usually cost more then their digital counterparts, so buying them isn’t cheap. But both digital and print books could be rented or borrowed in the library making them less expensive as a product.

With a print book you need a good lighting, good weather conditions, preferably without pouring rain, when you outside, and a table with a chair. Non of this is required for digital books, for example, when reading on a mobile phone.

E-books advantages as I see them

E-books are cost effective, take almost no physical space, except for the container where they reside as bytes in memory. Nowadays, they can be read on a dedicated devices, computers, mobile phones. The e-books themselves could be stored locally or read in the cloud. There are a number of good mobile phone applications and dedicated websites that provide a reader with conveniences of reading, searching, translating and highlighting the content of the digital books. When the time comes to move around, you can carry almost unlimited number of e-books, limited by the memory space you have on you device (or a remote server). All in all, the e-books sound like a clear winner in the print versus digital books fight.

  • I value the most reading in the dark, searching and translating capabilities.

But…

E-books disadvantages

Though, e-books could be read in complete darkness, it points out that the device that they are stored in requires electricity, hence a battery that should be charged. When the battery is empty good bye. Nowadays, reading a digital book requires downloading it from a cloud storage locally, which means there is a need in an internet connection, which too could be interrupted. In addition, since digital books are presented in strictly two dimensional format it is impossible to flip through them like could be done with a print book, and jumping back and forth quickly is also hardly possible, if at all. But searching them for a particular word or phrase, or translating content is a charm in comparison to print counterparts (strictly speaking it’s an advantage, ops). In addition, when you try reading and working with the content from a number of books in parallel (which happens to me) all you need is a regular table. To achieve the same feat with an e-book you need a big size monitor, and I mean really big.

Conclusion

Unless there will be invented a hybrid of a print and e-book, that would require almost no electricity (or would have a long lasting battery) and could be flipped in 3D space (say like a hologram), we are destined to use both approaches depending on circumstances where the reading process should take place.

  • One side note I forgot to mention, we have physical books (scrolls) that survived for thousands of years, but our electronic devices that store e-books definitely would not.

Universal organizers

source: Freepik

In this post I want to briefly outline what the next posts will be about. As we know from our day to day life and also from psychology and neuroscience research that we are very good at classifying, organizing things around us, and we have a naturally inclination to do this, since this is how our brain works. Our brain tends to build a hierarchically organized picture of the world, organizing things into groups, sub-groups etc.

Why I mention all of this? Well, I also tend to organize things and the most I like to organize is data that I think could be of interest to me. I do it by using Google Chrome Bookmarks functionality where I have bookmarks folders stand for various categories and nested sub-folders as sub-categories etc. Surely, it is possible to do it in many different ways, for example using an old-fashioned way of card-index, or a more modern approach of using Excel spreadsheets, OneNote application or Google Sheets etc.

It turns out that well known and less known scientists, writers, artists did similar things to organize their own work and most of them, if not all of them, did this following similar kind of “algorithm”. They methodically organized, categorized things that mattered to what interested them the most. For example, the renowned science fiction write Jules Verne had an extensive and well organized card-index about different topics that allowed him to write his novels without him actually visiting places he wrote about. Another example was Wilson Bentley who meticulously photographed various kinds of snowflakes to be able to understand their formation. And there are ample other examples of this kind.

The main point is, that for us to be able to make sense of the surrounding world there is a need in systematical classification of various topics, objects, ideas for their later analysis and then synthesis of new insights. For how is it possible to understand anything that you’ve got when you do not know where to find it?

So, what I want to write in the next few posts in the blog is a well organized and categorized listing of the books I read end-to-end that could be potentially useful to other readers. I want to augment the listings of these books with short commentaries about an author or content of the book. That’s it.

The topics that I want to cover are aviation, space exploration (manned and unmanned), popular science (including math, physics, neuroscience), applied mathematics, creative thinking and TRIZ. Let’s take, for example, the category of aviation and its breakdown with regard to books.

  • Aviation
    • Civil Aviation
      • Biographies of plane engineers
        • 747 by Joe Sutter
      • Biographies of jet engine engineers
        • The Power to Fly: An Engineer’s Life by Brian H. Rowe
        • Herman the German: Just Lucky I Guess by Gerhard Neumann
    • Military Aviation
      • Jet Fighter Planes
        • Hornet: The inside Story of The F/A-18 by Orr Kelly
      • Biographies of military jet planes engineers
        • Kelly: More Than My Share of It All by Kelly Johnson
      • Low Observable Technology aka Stealth
      • Stealth Planes
        • SR-71
        • F-117
        • Tacit blue
        • B-2
        • F-22

Think twice before you post a link

Abstract

This post is about time. It states that time is a scarce and valuable resource we have, and to be able to accomplish any goals in life a person should consider carefully managing it.

Who is this post for?

The information in this post could be applicable to general public, but the more intended audience is people who already have a professional occupation, have family and kids, but still want to allocate some time to think about our place in universe, who we are, where we came from and where we are heading.

Definitions

Before proceeding any further that us define a terminology to be able to use it later.

A content producer is a person or an algorithm that produces useful or useless content on the Internet.

A goal is a thoroughly defined objective with a plan of how to achieve it.

A valuable time is a time that’s left at your own disposal, except for time spent on work, chores and time with friends and family.

An intellectual activity is an activity that is a goal oriented toward thinking about questions of who we are, where we came from and where we are heading etc. and is done during a valuable time.

A disciplined approach is an approach to intellectual activity where it is carried out in a focused and mindful manner.

How goals affect the value of time

To say whether time is valuable or scarce depends on an attitude of a person towards it, namely a person who has no goals in life may think about time as a thing that’s in abundance and doesn’t care how it’s used. On the other hand, a person with defined goals think of a valuable time as a precise resource that should be accounted and measured.

On the total time management side is an example of a Russian biologist Aleksandr Lubischev who accounted all his time, and not only a valuable time. This type of time management is at the very extreme and, apparently, isn’t suitable for most of the people who still want to have a time for the family and friends and other hobbies.

On the opposite side, is a complete carelessness about time and the best example of this behavior is an objectiveless browsing on various kinds of social media, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram etc. and watching of endless TV series on streaming platforms and YouTube. This type of “time management” is familiar to most of us and I am guilty of this too.

Some practical advice

Note

As I mentioned, this advice could be potentially helpful only to a person with goals, who wants to get most out of available valuable time by applying a disciplined approach toward intellectual activity.

Consider eliminating all social media producers that tend to take all you valuable time.
  • This type of time waste is not only distracting and disorganizing, but it also tends to create a kind of addiction to it that is harmful in its own way.
    • This can be done by completely deleting all non required accounts in social media
    • Or if you have to have them it is possible to unfollow everyone, except for a carefully considered number of contacts who are valuable and do not take your valuable time by sharing useless content.
Consider unsubscribing from all streaming content providers, like Netflix, Prime Video, Disney and YouTube etc.
  • In a similar way to social media, streaming content is addictive and could waste months if not years1 of your valuable time without you noticing this happening.
    • If you have to have watch something to relax, at least you can try watching things related to your favorable intellectual activity topics
Think twice before posting any content on social media platforms
  • Since, most of what other content producers post on social media is useless and waste your valuable time, do not post anything that could potentially waste time of other people, even if they don’t care, and do not value their own time.

To summarize

Time could be a valuable or not depending on what your attitude toward it is, and whether you have defined goals you want to achieve in life. Social media and streaming platforms are the main source of useless and distracting content producers. Be mindful when posting content on social media and think twice does it have any value or not.

Endnotes

  1. Let’s have a quick back of the envelop calculation of how much time could be wasted by a person who watches say, four 45 minutes episodes a day, of a 5 season series that has 20 episodes a season, and he watches 20 such series in his life time.

Then,

Twasted = (4 hours a day x 45 minutes x 20 episodes x 5 seasons x 20 series) / 60 minutes / 24 hours = 250 days which is more than 2/3 of a year spent on watching!

This calculation is a conservative one and the waste could be a year or even more.

Rendezvous with Rama… sorry ʻOumuamua interstellar object. Are We Alone?

It all started when I, as usual, was skimming through the Google digest on a mobile phone before I went to sleep. There was this article about Avi Loeb a theoretical physicist and Professor of Science at Harvard University who hypothesized that an interstellar object that zipped through the Solar System in December 2017 could have been an artifact or a spaceship from an alien civilization.

This is how I ended up reading unexpectedly Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth book written by Avi Loeb about possible origins of ʻOumuamua. The book itself is not that long and it has a mix of factual information about interstellar object ʻOumuamua and Avi’s thoughts on Scientific Method, philosophy and his childhood in Israel. The book felt too repetitive at times and could have been much shorter. It also could have had more than Drake equation. In a number of places it could have benefited from using math notations instead of describing numbers in words.

What I liked

Avi’s thoughts on science where he suggested that science should be preoccupied with practical theories that try to explain existing evidence sounds similar to the thoughts expressed in Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math book. But this view is not shared by David Deutsch which he expressed in The Beginning of Infinity book and with which I tend to agree more. David Deutsch supports

Karl Popper’s epistemology, especially its anti-inductivism and requiring a realist (non-instrumental) interpretation of scientific theories. (a quote from Wikipedia)

The hypothesis that ʻOumuamua could be an alien interstellar visitor, based on its anomalies is an interesting one. Since Avi was participating in the Breakthrough Starshot project, which proposed to use a solar sail to travel to nearest star, he suggested that ʻOumuamua could have been similar object. Then he described how an advanced civilization could surround a star, about to explode, with such solar sails that would be blasted away in all directions, serving as a probes, into space. The only issue with this approach is that somehow it assumes that an advanced civilization, that is capable of surrounding a star with millions of solar sails, would use such technology, can’t we assume that such a civilization could have discovered laws of physics that we cannot imagine yet and could use other means to traverse space.

An advanced ancient civilization here on Earth

There are ample evidence, here on Earth, that shows that in ancient Egypt, and in South America (namely Machu Picchu and other locations) we find hundreds of granite blocks that have marks of being cut by machining tools, like large diameter disk saws and wire saws, that required a power supply and an infrastructure similar to what we have in the factories that use CNC machines to produce granite blocks. The 7 great pyramids and Osirion in Egypt are the best examples of the machining tools applied to granite and limestone blocks.
More details can be found in a good documentary produced by the Laboratory of Alternative History (LAH)

The Film “Mysteries Of Ancient Egypt (2005)

The filmmakers decided not to rely on a particular theory, but on real facts, logic and common sense. This approach leads inexorably to the conclusion that in the land of Egypt for thousands of years before the first pharaohs a highly developed civilization existed that was superior in their knowledge and technology not only primitive society of the ancient Egyptians, but modern humanity.

Additionally, in Israel (Western Wall Tunnel) and in Lebanon (Temples of Baalbek) there are building blocks of some 100 tons that cannot be extracted and moved easily taking into consideration what we know about the level of human technology in ancient times.

Here on Earth and there in space

So not only we should start looking more carefully at what is in the space, we have the evidence of an advanced ancient civilization (interstellar or not) here on Earth.

Main points from Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

It could have been much shorter

Having finished, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise book by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool I want to provide my thoughts about it and summarize main points of the book.

Overall, I liked the book and found it very interesting if repetitive at times. The book can be distilled down to a couple of main points and, frankly speaking, it could have been presented as a short article with a number of pages. A large part of the book is dedicated to examples that Anders Ericsson drew from his or others’ research papers.

Main points

  • The brain is more flexible than it was previously thought, which means that even adults can acquire expertise in new fields.
  • Any regular person can potentially become and expert, conditioned on following advice below
  • The research into what makes people experts shows that the innate characteristics play almost no role in becoming an expert, except for sports where height and body size plays certain role.
  • People who become experts in the end, used to practice deliberately, having a clear plan consisting of clearly outlined goals, where each step is a little bit more challenging than a previous one, causing a person to get out of the comfort zone.
  • This deliberate practice when exercised develops “mental representations” in a person, helping him or her to see patterns in a field of that person’s expertise.

Let’s it. As I mentioned, most of the book is dedicated to providing supporting examples from research papers.

Well, don’t wait and deliberately practice to become one

It turns out, that becoming an expert could be achieved by anyone determined to deliberately practicing and willing to put thousands of hours of focused effort while constantly expanding one’s comfort zone.

Critical Thinking and Scientific Approach

Critical Thinking is more important than ever before

Due to the January 6th, 2021 events in the USA where the was an attempt to overthrow the democratic process I decided that there is an urgent need to take a hard stand and defend democratic values. To this end this blog from now on will be focused on promoting Critical and Skeptical Thinking and Scientific Approach for people to use in their lives. People who do not want to use Critical Thinking are easily manipulated and can be used by others to achieve their goals.

To start on the right foot I advise people who read this post to check The Deamon-Haunted World a book by Carl Sagan from 1995 about Critical Thinking and Scientific approach.

There are other books on Critical Thinking and Scientific Approach in general that I will recommend and start reviewing and discussing in future posts.

Remember

Equipped with critical thinking the probability of someone taking advantage of you by manipulating you becomes very low.

How To Do It is the best type of a blog post

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Connected world

In this post I want to thank all the people who took part in creating the Internet. And this is because thanks to the Internet I am where I am, doing the work I do and writing these words right now, which later will be read by people just like you thanks to the Internet.

What is nice about the Internet is that it allows you to make unexpected connections throughout the world with almost anyone you can imagine. You can meet your favorite sci-fi author, or maybe an inventor, the scientist you always admired or maybe reconnect with your friends and family. In addition, Internet allows you to find a job, apply for a job and do your work, surely, it depends on the type of the work, but it’s hard to imagine any type of work that doesn’t require some rudimentary access to the Internet.

How to do it yourself

This kind of long introduction brings me to the title of this post. In my opinion, the most useful, helpful and effective way of communicating on the Internet is by producing How To Do It, Fix It, Create It etc. posts. Think for example, about millions of video tutorials on YouTube, be it music, drawing, cooking, fixing machinery and what not. The same goes about written tutorials through out the web, that could potentially teach you almost everything about anything.

Personally, based on the statistics of the posts I wrote on this blog the most viewed ones were posts related to programming, Machine and Deep Learning. It’s not surprising I think, since these posts were about How To install such an such software library, such and such book on Machine Learning, such and such tutorials on how to get things done.

I remember back in Ukraine when I had no Internet we went to a number of libraries trying to win a crossword contest held by a local newspaper. It was kind of tedious process. Nowadays, it is possible to solve any crossword fast and easy using the Internet. 

Get to the bottom of it

The main point is that writing, filming or whatever simple and short How To tutorial may be beneficial in the long run to some person out-there, who’ll be very thankful to accomplish things that were not possible without you sharing your knowledge and experience. I myself used quite a few tutorials on the Internet that helped me fix my car, fix cell phones, tablets, computers. It helped me install or remove software, find very exciting things in life, find an interesting job and be in touch with incredible people coming from around the globe. So, when next time you postpone sharing things that can make life easier to somebody, think again and get to the bottom of it and create a nice tutorial explaining how to stop procrastinating and get going.

Important ingredients in How To Do posts

Judging by the posts I wrote, that resonated with readers I think what the How To Do post should contain is a number of ingredients.

  • First of all, the topic of the post should resonate with yourself and be interesting to you.
  • Second, you shouldn’t be an expert about the topic of the post, but you should be excited about it enough to be able to learn what it requires to explain it in simple terms and clear steps.
  • Third, if the posts can make even a single person more happier by fixing his or her situation, then it’s worth investing time and effort in preparing it in the first place.

So, if you want to share some piece of knowledge that can help others, do not hesitate and share it. In the end, it may even help you later, when you’ll forget how to do it.

Planning can change your life

Planning may be annoying, but it works

This post about the virtue of planning before taking any action or no action. 

Do you plan your actions beforehand? Do you have any goals in life? Do you have dreams that are still dreams? Then you are not alone. Do you know, that making a habit of planning your actions may drastically improve the chances of you achieving your goals, if you have ones, or helping you to come up with some in the first place.

Planning in the self help movement

There are plenty of books and courses on self-help that promote planning, and I have to say that this thing is actually, useful and helpful in the short and long runs. The planning exercise is quite simple. 

  1. Decide what you want to achieve in near term. Think of a dream you have for a long time or some goal that is somehow at the background currently.
  2. Write down these goals on a piece of paper or using other convenient means. While doing so state the goals to be achieved in the terms of answering  Who, What, Where, When and How  to be more precise, since it helps in visualizing a possible way of action. The goal should be framed in the present tense in a positive way.
  3. Think what you can action right away to start moving towards your goals.
  4. Each day review the list of the goals your composed and revise it if needed with new goals, new details.

Here comes an example

Say the goal is to proceed with acquiring working knowledge of applied mathematics. Then I write:

Goal: advancing in Applied Mathematics

  1. Starting today I work on the book Mathematical Modeling on evenings, at least for an hour-two, while solving as many tasks for each chapter as possible.
  2. When not working through that book,  I read the book on Applied Mathematics  and solve the tasks in it too.
  3. While being outside I carry at all times another popular book on mathematics for not to waste time.
  4. I aggregate and classify useful material on applied mathematics that I come across, for it to be easily retrieved when needed.

Planning in Software and QA Engineering

During my years at the college of engineering I had a short conversation with a PhD in Electronics Engineering who was a scientist and engineer. We talked about the differences of scientific and engineering approaches. Then he said that simply put scientist are interested in the edge cases where theory may not work and fail, while engineers are quite opposite and interested in things that work most of the time without failing. This crucial difference also applicable to the field of Software development and testing.

  • Software engineers being engineers are mostly concerned with the cases when software should work, while tending to put less emphasis on the edge cases or more precisely, boundary conditions and unexpected events.
  • Software testing engineers or tester on the other hand, are just like scientist more interested in checking unusual cases, when the software possibly could fail, break or behave unexpectedly.

How is that related to planning you may ask? Planning in software or hardware worlds allows you make less mistakes before actually carrying out the work. Thoroughly thinking about requirements with stakeholders, be it waterfall or scrum way of accomplishing projects, is invaluable instrument.

Just like in the example for achieving good understanding of  applied mathematics, planning in Software helps by framing the purpose of each functionality to be implemented in the form of Who, What, Where, When and How questions.

The solution is quite simple

  1. Decide what you want to achieve
  2. Clearly describe it on a piece of paper  with as much details as possible
  3. Each day review you goals and take action to move towards them
  4. Then you’ll surprise yourself