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Feb. 19, 2020, 6 a.m.
How Alex Lindsay Uses OmniGraffle in His Business

Alex Lindsay’s company Pixel Corps does livestreaming for companies, organizations, and governments — and they use OmniGraffle to design and document their (necessarily) complex setups and to communicate with clients. Alex tells us how.

Show Notes:

If you listen to podcasts, you probably know Alex Lindsay from MacBreak Weekly. You may not have known that Alex worked for Industrial Light and Magic back in the day — and, yes, he worked on a Star Wars movie. :)

This episode is kind of a party. Brent is joined by two co-hosts: Ken Case, CEO of the Omni Group, and Mark Boszko, the intrepid producer of this very podcast.

You can find Alex on Twitter @alexlindsay.

Some other people, places, and things mentioned:

Transcript:

Brent Simmons: You're listening to The Omni Show. Get to know the people and stories behind The Omni Group's award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS. Music.

SFX: [MUSIC PLAYS]

Brent Simmons: I'm your host, Brent Simmons. On the line with me today is Alex Lindsay, who you probably know from Pixel Corps and the MacBreak Weekly podcast. Say, "Hello, Alex."

Alex Lindsay: Hello Alex.

Brent Simmons: Also with us today, are two co-hosts, we have Ken Case, CEO of the Omni Group, and Mark Boszko, our intrepid producer. Say, "Hello, Ken."

Ken Case: Hello Ken.

Brent Simmons: Say, "Hello, Mark."

Mark Boszko: Hello Mark.

Brent Simmons: All right. Well, let's get on with this. So Alex, we're here to talk with you about OmniGraffle and we have a couple of listener questions we'll start right off with. Eric Bowers asks, "What's your most recent use case for OmniGraffle?" In other words, what's the most recent thing you've done?

Alex Lindsay: I can't actually talk about the most recent one, but I can say what it was. I mean, so what I do a lot of in OmniGraffle are wiring diagrams. So usually what happens is, what we have to connect— And I posted one of those on Twitter, a very simple one of my home office, that's just me fiddling about. But anytime we build anything, it starts with a discussion, this is what we have to do and this is what it's going to have to look like, and we talk through the equipment that needs to be made. Then usually almost immediately we start throwing objects into OmniGraffle. We know we need a router, I know I need a video switcher, I need this many Teranexes, I need these cameras. And we just started throwing those in. And a lot of those are all prebuilt for us with the connections and everything else built into them.

Alex Lindsay: And then we just start thinking through it. And really it is a thought process, as much as anything else. You have the components there and then you just start connecting them. And what it really lets you do is think about how you're putting those together, and really come through, mindfully build your kit. I think we started — before we had OmniGraffle, before we were using it in this way — you'd start putting the kit together immediately and start wiring it up and testing it, and then you'd realize about halfway through that, "I really wish I had paired these cables together or done something else." Or you'd look at it and go, "This has become a real mess, and I have no idea what's going on here." Usually we kind of think it out, put it together in OmniGraffle and then OmniGraffle stays open while we're building our kits.

Alex Lindsay: So while we build the kit, it stays open, because what happens is is the map is never the territory. And so while we're changing things, we change it in OmniGraffle. So when we're done building our kit, the OmniGraffle drawing is an as-built project. So it really represents what's there, which is super important when you come back to it two years later.

Brent Simmons: So it starts off as the plan and ends up as the documentation.

Alex Lindsay: Exactly. Exactly.

Brent Simmons: That's cool.

Alex Lindsay: We're constantly moving things around. And then as we start to go through it, we start coloring, like whatever color connectors we're using for the cables or whatever color cable we use. We start coloring everything in, so that you can literally look at a green rear twist and go, "What is that?" And you look over in OmniGraffle and you can see what that's connected to.

Brent Simmons: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So to provide some context for our listeners, the kind of kits you doing, what you're actually making is, this is part of your business, Pixel Corps, where you're setting up a live streaming and…

Alex Lindsay: Yeah, we do a little bit of everything, but most of it's live streaming. And these kits can be as small as a kit that you could literally check into a plane, although we check a lot of things onto planes, so that's not a good example. I think our record is something over 40 cases…

Mark Boszko: Wow.

Alex Lindsay: …going to Tokyo. But a smaller kit, what we call fly kits, are these usually sectioned groups of kits. And they can be as few as 6U, so that might be a little switcher and a router and a couple little effects boxes, but it can be also the scale up to control rooms that might have 200 or 300U of ... And a U is a, if you ever see a rack-mounted computer, a U is one division of that.

Brent Simmons: Okay.

Alex Lindsay: So, we think of things in U's. So it's like if you see big racked computers, you'll see all these machines in their different thicknesses. And so one might be a 3U, one might be a 1U and we think in U's, because that's what we have to store. So two or 300U is a pretty big system for me. It's not the biggest system that we work on, but it's the biggest ones we usually design ourselves and the smallest one is are about six. And so as we started to put these together, this is how we run our shows. So all the video that you see on the screen in the room, video that goes to the web, videos back to our monitors so that we can see what's going on and actually control it. So all of those things are things that we have to figure out where all the inputs and outputs are going to go to make that work. And so it's not complicated, but it's a lot of little details.

Brent Simmons: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark Boszko: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brent Simmons: Like many things.

Alex Lindsay: Yeah. Exactly.

Brent Simmons: I've always been more of a words guy than a videos guy. So I haven't been paying attention. Now suddenly it appears like this is a giant thing. People all over the world are live streaming stuff all the time and need these kinds of setups.

Alex Lindsay: Yeah. And people start usually pretty small. We did. We started with a laptop and a couple of converters that went to the laptop and each job requires something new and you buy a couple new things or you rent a couple new things. And before you know it, you've got a warehouse full of hardware. But it definitely starts smaller. But it is a big deal. Live streaming is something that I think we're just in the brink of. Right now we're kind of in that, the way I think of it is, a hundred years ago when we started making film. People started just putting cameras up and pointing them at a stage and shooting it. Like it was a play that they put onto film and then they put it out. And then after a while people said, "We don't have to shoot this in order." And, "We don't have to just do it all on a stage, we could go outside." And there's a whole bunch of people started making decisions about that. And next thing you knew we had The Matrix, right? Which is completely a disconnection, or Avengers. And so right now we're in that ... We're just going to shoot events the way we know them to be.

Alex Lindsay: So we see a lot of live streams where people are reproducing a classroom or they're reproducing a conference and it's very basic. But this is just the beginning, and we're starting to see gamers and other folks start to break away from that look and feel and create something new. And so I think that we're going to see a lot of evolution in this area over the next a couple decades

Mark Boszko: That's interesting. I've seen a lot of like individual gamers doing their own live streaming. Is that something now that they're hiring out for or you're designing systems for them or…

Alex Lindsay: A lot of the gamers are doing it themselves. When it becomes a bigger event where usually a brand is involved is usually where we get brought in. So most of my work in the past 10 years has been mostly fortune five and governments. And so usually it's a big project that needs to be done to make that work. The gamers have lots of smaller tools that are lot less expensive and easier to use than what we use for larger events. And those have become amazing. What a gamer can do today, compared to only two or three years ago, it's stunning. The controllers, there's these dedicated controllers that are built for them, and they tie in to all this code, and they can integrate it with their game, and integrate it with responding to people that are chatting.

Alex Lindsay: So they are really on the bleeding edge of live streaming, experimenting with new ways to communicate with their audience. Experimenting with how they're going to, show you what they're working on. It's a little rough around the edges at times, but it's really where the next steps are going to come from.

Ken Case: Did you start out knowing this is something you wanted to get into or did you just kind of fall into it as you started?

Alex Lindsay: Totally fell into it! I come out of ... I was always interested in video, right? I started writing, actually writing programs and when I was 10 and most of it was around ... Well first, the initial stuff was Dungeons and Dragons. So I didn't like to roll dice for non-player characters.

Mark Boszko: Yay!

Alex Lindsay: And so I wrote a program that made the non-player characters for me because I was going through them so quickly. But very quickly I moved to graphics because I like to draw dungeons. That was actually the reason that I was doing it. And so, programmatically drawing dungeons or characters and so on and so forth. And so, I got into graphics pretty early on, and then kind of moved to first radio. I got into radio for a little while and then into TV and then film. And I worked at Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic on a space movie. So, and—

Brent Simmons: Was that a great experience? I bet a lot of our listeners would have loved to have done that.

Alex Lindsay: It was an amazing experience. I worked 1996 to 1999, so 1996 through 1998, I worked at Lucasfilm, at Skywalker Ranch. And at that point I was part of the Star Wars art department. And so I did animatics. These are 3D visualizations of different action scenes. So my job mostly wrapped around the pod race, space battle, end battle. And so we would take the storyboards that were produced by the art department and then we would create kind of a Saturday morning cartoon version of them. And then we would deliver those to the editor, Ben Burtt in this case. And then he would look at them and ask for a couple of changes. And then about once a week we'd meet with the director and he would look at them and go ... Once they came off the storyboard, our job was to kind of keep on evolving them so that when they went down to ILM and when they were actually shot, it was really well thought out.

Alex Lindsay: So, George would look at it and be like, "Maybe if it went more like this." So we'd fix that and we would do another version. We might do 10 or 15 versions of the shot, but really fast and furious. Everything had to go out. We were producing maybe 25 shots a week. Where once I got to ILM or I joined what was called the Rebel Mac Unit. And so the Rebel Mac Unit or Rebel Unit, was a small group of folks that was kind of halfway between what was called digital matte, which they're doing matte paintings on a Mac. And then CG, which was the big iron, you know the SGIs. And so our job was defined to do cheaper, faster shots. And so most of it was hard surface. So vehicles, some city shots, a lot of spaceships. And so most of my time at ILM was just working on the queen ship. So I mostly just did shiny ships in space.

Brent Simmons: Which sounds like a dream job, I'm sure to a lot of our listeners.

Alex Lindsay: Working at both Lucasfilm, I mean, I didn't go to school for film, so it was really my degree, was working on these films. And so I didn't know any of the basics of even filmmaking. I did an animatic in the first week, and David Dozoretz, who I was working with, looked at it and said, "I've got to explain what line of direction means," which is, he's like, "You have to understand what that is before you do any more animatics." So I was that green and I was working there, and I was sure that they were going to fire me every week. So I hid the fact that I was working like 90 hours a week because I was just trying to keep up, and didn't want to get fired cause it was an amazing job.

Alex Lindsay: And then when I got down to ILM, the most amazing thing about ILM is that every person down there ... You grow up… If you get to ILM, you grow up and most of us we're the kid at school that was a little hyperactive, most of us, got really good, you know, generally pretty good grades, or did crazy things. And we were kind of one of the stronger kids in class, in the room, most of the time. And you get to ILM and really quickly, you are not that.

Alex Lindsay: You are maybe, if you're lucky, you're in the middle. And so it's just, some of the most brilliant people I'd ever worked with. And so you would learn so much every day from, my supervisor, the supervisor for the sequences that I was working on was John Knoll, and he wrote, with his brother, wrote Photoshop. And having John look at your stuff every day was… Listen, like, if you had questions, like one time I think we got in discussion about how a Gaussian blur was calculated, and John showed us. Because he wrote it. It was a great experience. It was definitely my master's and PhD in making images.

Mark Boszko: Nice. Maybe I'm skipping ahead there a little bit, but you said you were programmatically making Dungeons, pretty neat. Do you now also kind of use automation in building out your diagrams in OmniGraffle in a similar way?

Alex Lindsay: You know, I don't, and I should. Because it's such, for me, a creative process. I don't do a lot of programmatic stuff. I do want to get into ... I think the big thing that I haven't, that I feel like I need to sit down and figure out, is controlling I/O's or managing the I/O's so that ... Right now you can connect any of our devices. I can connect any output to any input. And what I kind of want to be able to do is get to a point where I can only connect the video out to the video ins. And when I connect all the power, eventually what we want to do is try to put more information into the objects so that when I plug them all in and it tells me what is my power draw, which becomes an obsession of ours.

Alex Lindsay: So, if I drop six items into something, I want to eventually be able to know what that power draw is going to be and whether I'm going to snap circuits, or how much UPS backup I need and those types of things. We haven't gone that far yet. And it's just been a matter of time to sit down and figure it out.

Brent Simmons: Yeah, that sounds like a perfect case for automation though. I assume all those numbers are known, so you just need calculations. Yeah.

Alex Lindsay: It's just putting them in. Yeah. That's been an area we haven't dived into yet. There's programs on the PC that are just built for doing this kind of thing. That's why we think about it is because they control all of those things for you. And you actually download the object from the ... It's like the Blackmagic object or the Grass Valley object from their database and it has all the information in it and then you can interconnect those. The problem with them is they're very geeky.

Brent Simmons: Mmm, yeah.

Alex Lindsay: And the thing that I love about OmniGraffle is that I can, not only can I use it and do very detailed and very good looking diagrams, cause a lot ... Some of the stuff is ... The raw diagrams for what we do are internal to us. In fact, we don't show them very often to anybody. But at the same time, there's a lot of diagrams that we do that explain to the client or to partners or to other vendors what we're doing. So for instance, there might be a complex satellite backhaul that we have to figure out. A backhaul is ... I have a video in one part of the world and I have to bring it to another part of the world before I encode it for streaming.

Alex Lindsay: I need to move it from let's say India back to Washington DC which is a very common backhaul for us. And so to do that, you're not just putting up a satellite and sending it to DC, or you're not just streaming it to DC, because the Indian infrastructure sometimes is not something we necessarily trust by itself. So for instance, in India we might have two satellite trucks because just in case one goes down. And I mean these are big events. These aren't like a virtual classroom. This is like a head of state or a CEO of a company or whatever. And so we need to absolutely be able to guarantee it. So for instance we'll have two trucks that will uplink to two different satellites, and then one satellite might come down in Sydney and the other one might come down in Singapore. And then we route those back, over typically fiber, back to DC.

Alex Lindsay: They may have a stop in LA before they get to DC. And we want to illustrate for all of our partners, this is how all this is happening. These are the signals that are coming back. And if there's a return signal, sometimes we'll take the signal in DC, we'll add some stuff to it and send it back to India and put it up on AsiaSat 5 to be there for all of India. So they can use it for TV or whatever. But we have to convert it because we're shooting the whole thing in, let's say, 60 frames a second or 30 frames a second. But we have to return it in 25 or 50. And so it might be taking it from one type of video like progressive and giving it back to them interlaced.

Alex Lindsay: And, so these are all the things that we have to do and we have to draw these very complex graphs, so that everyone understands what we're doing, and they can look at it and go, "Well what about this?" And you send things to people in paragraphs and it won't ... They will not see the problem. You send a picture of it, "Now this is what it's going to do." And they can very quickly look at it and go, "Oh, that's not going to work," or "We forgot this." And, so the pictures become very, very important to what we do.

Brent Simmons: So making those pictures look good at the same time is helpful too, because…

Alex Lindsay: The issue is that every time you touch a client, it's part of the sales process. So we didn't have any sales people. We don't do that. So there's no sales people. It's just do the job really well. And then you'll get more work. But part of it is that, one of the things that I've talked to people that I work with a lot, is that every time we touch the client, that's our sales. Right? So then how we interact with them over email, on the phone, when we're there, how we're dressed, when we show up or whether we're early or on time. Every piece of data that we hand them is a representation of what we are doing and the company.

Alex Lindsay: And so we pay attention to little details and making things look nice and when they come back, and probably more than we should at times, just a little bit of extra work. But it really makes a difference in how people feel, and the level that, of a lot of the work that I've done over the last 10 years. It's just important and it helps you stand out because a lot of people aren't doing that. And you're seeing, a lot of times, engineering documents are not something you'd want to show to a client. And, so we try to make them look nice so that when someone sees them, it's one of those things that… Another thing that happens, we're working in live events where things go wrong.

Alex Lindsay: Like I said, it's not if they're going to go wrong, they're going to go wrong. It's happening live. You can't… you know, you have a start time and generally there's no way to change that start time. So you're backing into that system. And one of the things that happens is something that doesn't go right. And once that happens, there's like four or five or six teams that are all working on this project. And everyone's trying to figure out who's going to go under the bus. Like somebody ... There's like a little ... Everyone's running around and one person's going to end up under the bus for that. And so another thing we always talk to our team about is staying away from the front of the bus.

Alex Lindsay: So when you're buttoned up, if your equipment's well organized and your drawings are well organized and you show up on time and you communicate well, and you tell people where there are danger points that you can't manage, or other things like that. You're constantly stepping away from the bus. And you'll know when you're in front of the bus because you'll feel the tire marks. So when something goes wrong and ... When everything works, it doesn't matter, we're all happy and we're having a good time, but you're always trying to prepare yourself for when things aren't working. And unfortunately, it's kind of part of corporate production. That there's a lot of CYA.

Brent Simmons: To express more positively, the fact that you make your documents not only correct, but look good too. That extra effort not only makes a difference to your business, makes a difference to the success of each project, but it also seems to me that's such a Mac community thing.

Alex Lindsay: It is, it is.

Brent Simmons: We're kind of in this community because we're all like that. We're all like, "Yeah, we love that."

Alex Lindsay: It is, it is. Yeah, yeah. I definitely think you can almost always separate people who are Mac people and PC people in production because they, just by the documents you get, and how they look. And there's definitely an expectation of symmetry, and cleanness, and a thought about fonts and a….

Brent Simmons: Kerning.

Alex Lindsay: Yeah, kerning, oh man… and whether you're using Comic Sans or Papyrus, and those types of things. So there's definitely a lot of those discussions that we think of probably a little bit more than others. And I don't mean to put down PCs, but it's mostly that on a Mac side there's definitely ... It's so part of everything you see everywhere that it just stands out when you don't have it. And on the PC side it just doesn't stand out as much.

Mark Boszko: Yeah. That was definitely something I noticed when we'd ... I used to do work for Nat Geo a lot and it was mostly Macs in house. But when we would have a big live show, we might have some external producers with a, have a truck come in and all that. And they would all be PC users and you'd definitely see the difference in like kind of the attention to detail between the groups.

Alex Lindsay: Yeah. Because you don't see it. I mean you just end up using ... There are definitely new tools that have gotten much better that are coming out, but for a long time you just never saw well designed documents on a PC. They just didn't look that way, because nothing looked that way on that side. Because, the interface didn't look that way and I think that Microsoft's actually made some pretty big gains in that area, but I still think that there's, on the Mac side, there's much more of a culture of how you use white space and how you lay things out. I think Apple's done a really good job in kind of guiding developers, which then of course guides all of us as we use our iPhones. We're subconsciously picking up on all of those things.

Brent Simmons: I heard a recent-ish discussion with you on MacBreak Weekly about using OmniGraffle on an iPad. Sounds like that's something you're doing more and more these days.

Alex Lindsay: I'm doing some of it. So I have it on my iPad and I lay out simpler things on it. I think for the wiring diagrams, I think it's just kind of the approach of what you need to do, as far as clicking lots of things and doing the wiring diagrams that I haven't been super successful at. For laying out some basic stuff and showing people things on some of the more general diagrams, I definitely use it on the iPad, because I really like my iPad. I don't like taking—

Brent Simmons: Yeah, sure.

Alex Lindsay: I mean, I don't like taking my laptop anywhere if I don't have to. And more and more I find that when I go out, I just take the iPad and when I come home, if I'm doing something heavier, then I'm using my iMac. I use my laptop here and there, when I have to, but it's not something I do as often as I used to.

Alex Lindsay: Again, the challenge that I've had is, it's not so much a function of the app on the iPad, but just the way that you have to touch the screen. And there's oftentimes multiple things you're trying to do when you're connecting lots of things that are really close together. And I think that that separation of having the mouse control and a slightly more accurate connection has been something that I, for wiring diagrams at least, I still need to use the computer, the Mac for . But for general diagrams I have been using it on the iPad, which I like.

Ken Case: Do you use the Pencil very much?

Alex Lindsay: I use the Pencil all the time. Like if I'm touching something, I'm using the Pencil. I use my hand to touch things, like to play games or to hit things. But as soon as I'm doing anything that requires any kind of precision, I'm using the Pencil.

Ken Case: That makes sense.

Mark Boszko: There was an update to the routing of lines recently. Is that something that you noticed, Alex?

Alex Lindsay: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the routing of the lines is getting better, each time. And so when I started doing wiring diagrams .... So I've been doing wiring diagrams now on OmniGraffle for probably seven or eight years. And so when I started, it was really me forcing everybody to use OmniGraffle because that's what I use. And they weren't super happy about it because they were using AutoCAD for everything. And it had Ortho and you just kind of boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. But I just was like, I wouldn't look at it. If I couldn't use it in OmniGraffle, I didn't want to look at it. And so, that became the pressure to move that direction. We've been a pretty big Mac house, I mean, that's what I use. So anyway, it's gotten much better. I feel like almost every update we're seeing better tools as far as getting those connections to work more and more seamlessly. Because a lot of times when you're doing these wire diagrams, there's hundreds of connections and so it does make a big difference when that routing is a little bit more fluid.

Ken Case: What stencils do you tend to use? Are they all in-house things or…?

Alex Lindsay: All in-house. And I've thought about publishing them, at some point, but I haven't done that yet. We build them all because no one else, I don't .... We definitely go up and look for stencils, because I don't want to make them, but… And some of them are graphic, so the ones that are client facing, I might have a lot of graphics or I might have things that look like the object. And then for our internal stuff, there's just a lot of boxes with I/O, we know what that looks like. We just need to talk about the input and output. And we're more thinking about how easy it is to work. And it is a lot of setup. So we do like to have stencils laid out. And again, some of them are kind of overheads that have people and cameras and stages and pieces. And so we're kind of throwing those in quickly. And a lot of times those evolve. I mean even though we have a stencil, I think that the only thing that I like about not using stencils all the time, is that it evolves our look. So if you look at our objects over the last five years, they look much different. But it's not like they looked significantly different. But, I don't like the thickness of that black line anymore.

Alex Lindsay: I was into thick for a while, or rounded corners, and now we're not into that anymore. And so yes, our stencils kind of evolve with that look and feel. I do love the process of stencils and we definitely grabbed stencils for other things to lay things out, a lot. It's great to be able to just drag stuff in and make it work.

Ken Case: Are they all vector based, or do you sometimes just grab an image off the web or something and throw it on there?

Alex Lindsay: If we're doing representations of objects, like if we're taking, here's a Blackmagic switcher, we might grab that front face and we'll throw it in there. Some of our markups ... So if I'm marking up how to use, let's say a Blackmagic switcher. Blackmagic has straight ahead diagrams on the back. We actually have some versions of those where I had somebody actually convert those to OmniGraffle, so that you could connect to the actual connectors.

Mark Boszko: Oh nice.

Alex Lindsay: But in general, if we're trying to explain like, "Hey, you got to plug something into here and here and here and here." We just grab that image, pop it in, and then we add a bunch of lines to it with little arrows, and this is the kind of explaining something or diagramming out the way something might look. And so, we use images for there ... I try to keep it as much as I can to as many vectors as I can just because it lowers the document weight.

Ken Case: Right. A lot of magnets?

Alex Lindsay: A lot of magnets. In fact there's lots of discussions about how many magnets and where. Do we need that many? So we add, definitely add a fair number of magnets to things, and then the other thing that I do is that you'll see like a router has ... A lot of the routers that we use are 40×40, 40 in and 40 out. And so that's just a rectangle down the side. And then I just put literally little boxes all the way down on either side that each have one magnet per edge. And then make that a group and then I can sit there and it just gives me a nice I/O and I can name them and all the fun stuff there. So yeah. We definitely make use of lots of magnets. It's definitely the way to go. In fact, there's a lot of ... People get a lot of feedback if they don't use the magnets.

Alex Lindsay: If it's going to, like they're all going to the center of the box, they're going to whatever. I'm like, "What are you doing?" And so, but at this point people get, have gotten pretty fast.

Brent Simmons: That's cool. How big is Pixel Corps?

Alex Lindsay: Well, we're kind of in a transition right now, so we're pretty small. I may think at our height we were about 30, 35, but we're changing structure right now, so we're kind of moving around.

Brent Simmons: Did you found it after Lucasfilm? Soon after, or…?

Alex Lindsay: Yeah, the big thing with the Rebel Mac Unit was that we were all using off the shelf hardware, which was very unusual… and software. So, most of Industrial Light & Magic was using SGIs and these really expensive software, like the modeling software that I used when I was doing some stuff within CG, was like $60,000 for the software. And so — Alias Studio — and so it was very expensive. We were using Macs, little Macs. I mean they're the biggest Macs that were there at the time, but they're very underpowered compared to what we were, everything else in the building. But we were doing lots of great shots, but we really learned that, hey, we can do actual film shots that are being done for a big movie on these little computers.

Alex Lindsay: And so when Star Wars ended, a bunch of guys moved on to create a visual effects film called 'The Orphanage.' And I was like, "I'm going to teach everybody how to do this." So, I'd rather do that. I'd rather teach people how to do this than to try to compete with them. Because the future is going to be everybody doing this. So I started with a handful of people and the Pixel Corps really was very organic. You could just kind of come in. I didn't really know how I was going to make money with it yet. And people could come into the office every Monday. There was this graphics night and five people would show up and I'd say, "Okay, we're going to take over the world." And they go, "Okay, that's great." And, so maybe five more people every time. Before we knew it, we had like 200 people. And I was like, "I gotta charge people for this because I need more space." And so we started charging them 50 bucks a month and they all paid it. And before we knew what we were now, now we had space and we could do things, and then we were like, "I wonder if this will work online?"

Alex Lindsay: And so we put it online and jumped to 2000 members pretty quickly. So we had members all up in 40 countries learning visual effects. And we were teaching HDR in 2002, 2003. And some of the folks in Pixel Corps were not necessarily professionals. I mean there are like house moms in Iowa and they were learning how to shoot HDRs. Because they were interested in it and they were passionate about it.

Brent Simmons: I think Mark was ... You were one of those—

Mark Boszko: I was one of those students, yep.

Alex Lindsay: It was a really fun time. Hopefully it was a fun time. It was a fun time for me. I hope it was a fun time for you.

Mark Boszko: Oh, totally. Yeah. I was really glad to learn Shake and then very disappointed when it died, but…

Alex Lindsay: Well, it was one of those things that we built it up and we were trying to figure out how do we teach. We kept on growing and then we were trying to figure out how do we teach everybody. So we started trying to run classes online and it was all through a forum, and we were putting out videos, we started doing some live streaming to figure that out. And we were in this kind of weird inbetween where we weren't making enough money to get bigger, but it wasn't quite working where we were. And then suddenly, as we started doing the live streaming, all of these corporate clients were like, "Hey this looks way better than what we're paying for and we're paying a lot of money to get this done. Can you do that?" So we thought we could do both of them at the same time, but we couldn't.

Alex Lindsay: And so we ended up doing the live streaming and we started doing a lot of stuff for Salesforce and we were doing a bunch of post production work for Adobe and so that was a bunch of stuff that we were kind of putting together. A lot of training videos for Adobe. And then for Salesforce we were doing training videos and then we started moving to live streaming. And then in about 2011, Google had this thing called Hangouts they were launching and they had a lot of trouble finding a team that could actually make it work. And they had a lot of failures with external teams. Their internal team could do it, but the external team couldn't. And so we didn't screw up the first one. And then I lost like three years of my life. I don't even know what ... I'd wake up, I wouldn't know what continent I was on. Basically we became this, the high profile team for Google.

Alex Lindsay: And then we moved to doing a lot of work with Facebook, doing their Facebook Live launches and 360 launches. And then a lot of other companies that we just did their events. That's where we organically, we were just trying to figure this out. Now, I'm actually trying to return more towards doing, still doing some production, but really getting back to my more education roots, where I don't know if we'll reproduce the Pixel Corps, but we're definitely going to ... I'm going to be doing a lot more training. I always wanted to do more general media, but the expectation when I left ILM was that I was gonna teach everybody visual effects. And so every time I started moving away from visual effects and more towards just media, the Pixel Corps, we'd lose members. So we go, okay, well that doesn't work. And so we keep on, we were held there for a while. Now we're kind of coming back and the reality is I know way more about live production than I ever knew about visual effects, after 2000 events. And so, I'm hoping to rekindle that over the next couple months and into the next few years. It's what I'd really love to do, is teach people how to communicate with all these cool tools.

Mark Boszko: Nice.

Brent Simmons: It sounds very cool, what you've got coming up.

Alex Lindsay: Yeah, it's been ... Yeah, it's a whole another story. It's been interesting. There's a lot of lessons in getting over your skis. You grow a little too fast and you think that nothing can go wrong and then it does. So anyway, but I'm much more excited about the future than I have been for a while.

Brent Simmons: I prefer it to the alternate problem of never even getting the skis on in the first place.

Alex Lindsay: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Or constantly on the wrong slope or bunny slope or whatever, like not being able to get a pass. So, no, it's good. It's good.

Brent Simmons: Yeah. So tell me about MacBreak. I mean, I've been listening for quite a long time, but I don't think I was maybe there from the very beginning. So I don't know how that came together, what role you played?

Alex Lindsay: I can't remember exactly when MacBreak became a conversation, but we were doing our own little videos and stuff for the web. And I started doing web videos in 2000. We were doing flash animations that we would put up because we didn't have enough money for the bandwidth for the actual videos, pre-YouTube and pre ... When everything's expensive. So we've been doing this for a long time and we had helped some companies actually launch their ... Online video seemed to be the next big thing. And then this, when people started doing series, they started calling them podcasts and there was kind of this thing like, "oh okay, we'll start calling 'em pod— the thing we're doing, we're going to call them podcasts." I was on air, I had been on air from 2002 on with Leo, Leo Laporte.

Brent Simmons: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alex Lindsay: I was brought in on TechTV when they were doing Screen Savers. And one of the Pixel Corps members worked in the team, worked at TechTV, and said, "Hey, they're always looking for guests, would you like to be a guest?" And I was like, "Sure." So next thing I know I'm on there showing Photoshop and visual effects tricks. Then I moved to Call for Help and then when G4 bought TechTV, then I followed Leo to Canada. So I was on there and was on with Leo and Amber MacArthur. I was on there for many, many seasons and Leo was playing with this podcasting thing, doing TWiT. It was Leo's little hobby when it started.

Brent Simmons: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alex Lindsay: And people were donating some money and he was doing it, but his real income was his shows, the shows that he did in Canada and his weekend show, his radio show. So Leo was playing with it, and I was sometimes on it, a lot of times around it. And I kept on telling Leo — I don't think Leo's ever forgiven me that I was like, "We should do video! We should do video," because now he's got this video thing. It was a lot simpler when it was just audio.

Alex Lindsay: So we started recording some of them. Because we were doing other productions, we had a bunch of cameras. And so the very first TWiT I think was this weird collection of cameras that were not all the same and we were doing the best we could. And I'd, of course, told Leo that I could do a multi-cam edit really fast, overnight, and I couldn't, I'd never done it before. I pulled an all nighter figuring it out and got it out, but it was kinda hacking through it. All of that stuff started to come together and I really was interested in doing a Mac based show. So we started thinking through it, and a friend of mine, Peter Orphanos in New York, we were talking to him and we were coming up with names and we came up with MacBreak. And there was a MacBreak Daily for a while, that we tried. There was like little one minute tips on how to use your Mac.

Brent Simmons: Oh I forgot about that. Yeah.

Alex Lindsay: So we did that for a little while, but then I decided we should do a weekly show. I really had thought about doing it as a video show, which is really where MacBreak… The first MacBreak, I believe was 2006, it might've been 2005. I cannot remember, I have to go back. It's either 2005 or 2006, was the first one. And it was with Emery Wells who was the founder of frame.io, Amber MacArthur, Leo, and myself running around with a camera. Anyway, we did one show, but then we went and did it in front of a green screen, we did another 25 shows. But we did them all, and I had just bought these cameras, the largest purchase at the time that I'd ever made. I bought two of the Star Wars cameras because I had found out from friends that they were selling off the digital cameras.

Brent Simmons: Very cool.

Alex Lindsay: Yeah. Well, in 2000… again, I think it's 2005, 1080p uncompressed was a lot of data.

Brent Simmons: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Alex Lindsay: Like it was 230 MB a second, which is nothing today, but it was a lot back then. I had to build servers and then we bought two Xserves just to get the data live off the cameras. Because we couldn't afford a tape deck. The cameras didn't have a tape deck. It just literally just was the raw video coming out of it. So anyway, we had this whole system and so we recorded them all, but we didn't know how to ... I actually hadn't figured the whole pipeline out, it took me like a month to figure out how to actually get that much data comped, remove all the green screen and put everything in and cut back and forth, and there was a lot of problems with it. A lot of problems with the data.

Alex Lindsay: In fact, I think the second ... The first MacBreak was all shot handheld, second one was called The Road to 1080p because it was like how we're getting there and how we're doing it and why it's big and why it's better. And the reason I did that video was because I couldn't get the actual episodes out. And so there was like … Leo was mad because there was a long time between this, and he was like, "This doesn't look good for me to do one and then don't have another one." I was like, "Oh, I'll get it done. I'll get it done." So I put up this Road to 1080p and then I finally got one out. And then once we got it going, it was nothing. Like once we got a pattern going, it was fine.

Alex Lindsay: And so that was MacBreak video and we did a lot of those episodes, but we did want to have just an audio podcast as well that was a little lighter. And so we started that. I started it actually, and we did a bunch of episodes that were just purely audio, round tables, and Leo was sometimes in it and sometimes not in it. And then, I don't remember exactly when, but somewhere in the first six months or a year, Leo was really interested in having it as part of what he was doing. And so it was literally, I just handed it off to him. I just said, "Here," I know it will be more successful with Leo than it will be with me doing it. Because I'm always busy doing six things at one time and it was going to get a lot better attention from Leo, and it was just going to do better.

Brent Simmons: Sure.

Alex Lindsay: So Leo took it over. I think the very first episodes that you see on TWiT were actually the first ones that TWiT and Leo really took over.

Brent Simmons: Okay.

Alex Lindsay: And there was kind of a pre-TWiT, that I think those ones just disappeared into the ether. But we were doing a lot of podcasts back then, MacBreak was just one of them. There was This Week in Media, there was Inside the Black Box, there was Gear Media Tech, there was a whole bunch of other… we were doing a bunch of podcasts all at the same time with a little, some teams that were putting those together.

Alex Lindsay: At the time it was just the one, but fortunately I did hand it off to Leo. Because the other ones, they weren't making any money. They were just us figuring it out. They did lead to a lot of work. That's what led to a lot of our productions with Adobe, with On Networks, which became uStudio, with Revision3. So a lot of the production work that we ended up doing for them, and even the stuff we did for Salesforce was really driven from experimenting and figuring out how to do all these episodes and how to make them all work. So they were very valuable in that sense. But then over time as we got busier with work that was paying, it was hard to keep on doing work that wasn't paying in the same pipeline.

Brent Simmons: Yeah, that makes sense.

Alex Lindsay: Yeah.

Brent Simmons: Well, that's how to be a pioneer.

Alex Lindsay: Yes.

Brent Simmons: Go out there and do stuff and learn.

Alex Lindsay: Exactly.

Brent Simmons: Yeah.

Alex Lindsay: Try not to get too many arrows.

Brent Simmons: Yeah. Well, I'm still a devoted listener…

Alex Lindsay: Thank you.

Brent Simmons: …of MacBreak Weekly. I love it. It's a great show.

Alex Lindsay: We have a lot of fun. I just think it's such a great mix of people. I think each one of us represents a different segment of the Mac user base.

Mark Boszko: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alex Lindsay: Yeah. And so I think that that's part of what makes it work is that we all really respect each other and all truly like each other. And at the same time we don't all see it the same way.

Brent Simmons: Right.

Alex Lindsay: So there's that kind of camaraderie, but also friction that is just the right mix, a lot of times, to just really create a show that I think is really enjoyable to be on. I'm glad that you find it enjoyable to listen to.

Brent Simmons: Yeah, I totally do. Yeah. Well, it's like a song can't be good unless there's like a little tension in there.

Alex Lindsay: Exactly.

Brent Simmons: It's the same with anything else. Yeah.

Alex Lindsay: Yeah.

Brent Simmons: Yeah. Frankly, it's just one of my favorite listens and has been for quite some time now. Yeah.

Alex Lindsay: Yeah. It's a really fun show to be on.

Brent Simmons: Well, on that note, I think I want to say thank you, Alex.

Alex Lindsay: Thank you.

Brent Simmons: Thank you so much for coming on.

Alex Lindsay: My pleasure.

Brent Simmons: How can people find you on the web? Well, MacBreak Weekly, obviously.

Alex Lindsay: MacBreak Weekly and generally the easiest way to find me is on Twitter. I probably spend most of my time projecting outward over Twitter, just @alexlindsay on Twitter. And usually it's useful information, not always.

Brent Simmons: Yeah, that's Twitter for you.

Alex Lindsay: Yup. Exactly.

Brent Simmons: All right. I want to thank you, Ken, for joining us for this episode. Thanks so much.

Ken Case: Certainly.

Brent Simmons: And Mark for being another co-host on this episode.

Mark Boszko: Oh, yeah. Thank you.

Brent Simmons: And especially, I want to thank you, the listeners, for listening. Thank you. Music.

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