How Novel Coronavirus Affected Our Manufacturing

First, the FI-16 circuit boards’ bases were manufactured in – you guessed it! – Wuhan China, the region where the novel virus originated. The circuit board bases made it as far as an airport cargo shelf in Hong Kong, where they sat for a couple more weeks waiting for a flight to USA because they were non-essential and non-medical. Essential medical supplies had first priority for aircraft cargo space at the time.

The board bases finally reached the factory in California where the chips get added on, and then they get installed inside the Scouts for final assembly and quality control. Around that time, the factory was also dealing with safety protocols for their staff working from home, disinfection protocols, social distancing, masks and all the rest. I wanted to go to the factory to be hands-on, but domestic USA flights were restricted to essential travelers.

Eventually I got to go to the factory and put hands on. The factory gave me a huge table to myself so I could spread out our circuit drawings and our parts and check everything for labeling, part numbers, wire harness lengths, connectors, etc. Some parts are custom machined in the factory so I needed to see and touch them all.

Ansync is a wonderful factory, very smart people work there, and it’s well-equipped with sophisticated computer-aided machines and diagnostic tools. But we are not the only company having their devices manufactured in that factory, and so their other customers, just like us, decided to have the factory make any components that might have been made in China faster. So the factory got slammed with additional work orders, and all their projects got bigger and needed more people on them.

Everything seems to take longer in a pandemic crisis. USA also had some social unrest (Black lives matter!), and FedEx trucks were delayed on some of their routes, affecting our shipments of parts from our lab inventory in Baton Rouge to California.

Stay safe, and talk to your loved ones whenever you can 📞.

To AMIA and Beyond

Maybe you heard about our new film inspection tools at AMIA this year or last. Maybe you heard about them afterwards. Maybe you discovered them on our website first. Anyway, here’s the story of our AMIA exhibition and beyond.

In October we delivered our 16mm film inspection system to Northeast Historic Film in Maine. Cataloger Emma let us observe and she talked to us about the experience. We call Northeast Historic Film our beta site. The whole point of the exercise was to learn from its use in real life. Get out of the lab.

We brought the FI-16 to AMIA and rented a conference room where we invited moving image archivists to bring their own films and try it out. That was fascinating! In addition to all the wise and experienced commentary, we got to see a remarkably varied range of films in all kinds of conditions. Sorry we couldn’t do that on the AMIA exhibition floor where we had a booth, but we figured that the people who brought their films to us deserved their privacy. Hey, when it comes to film inspection you don’t always know in advance what’s going to be on that film!

We learned from our friends at Northeast Historic Film and at AMIA that there were two areas of improvement that we could implement immediately. First of all, the films we inspected were larger than we thought people would be storing and carrying. Second, people have a lot more ideas about how to do film inspection than you would think. Some like to go really slow, some like to start slow and speed up, some like to just set and forget. Some like to look at the edges while the film is running, some prefer to look at the video workprint later when they can scrub and pause and so on. 

And perhaps most interesting, we built our system for photography and video to support the film inspection workflow for humans and for computer vision analyzed condition reporting. But you know what? Sometimes film inspection just means winding. Winding loose, winding medium, winding tight for shipment, or just winding so the other end of the film is outside.

So we brought the FI-16 device back to our lab in Baton Rouge and implemented those improvements. Will be sending it back to Northeast Historic Film soon, because they’re renting it for a year. Yippee 🎉!

While programming those motor control improvements we also discovered that with a little tweaking around the rollers, we no longer needed top platters resting on the films. At least most films. We’ll still ship top platters but hey, if you can remove that step from the film inspection process every little bit helps. It’s all about workflow and efficiency.

We also programmed in those new controls I mentioned. All the winding functions, film speed cruise control, manual and automatic controls, and a menu system right by your fingers so that you don’t have to look up at the computer screen because the film is right there by your fingers too.

Thanks to Northeast Historic Film, AMIA and beyond, today we’re building a production run of film inspectors. Our dreams are coming true. We hope for you too.

Co-Working Spaces

What’s the first thing you see when you walk into our office? Coffee tables made out of 70mm film reels. Media production awards. An ancient film projector and display shelves of film and television devices from every era.

None of those things belong to us but they make us feel at home. This is a co-working space in Baton Rouge Louisiana. It was built by a local entrepreneur and he’s proud of his town. Lots of moving image entertainment has been produced around here.

So what’s it like building a company in a co-working space?

We’re a small company, at least here in Baton Rouge. Half of our company lives in other cities and towns and they work remotely. They’ve all come to visit from time to time. And when they do, it’s a special day.

The other companies in this space are either video production teams or administrating educational programs in the area. We’re all startups, or at least young companies. That gives us a lot in common, lots to talk about at the water cooler.

What are the things that makes life good is social interaction, particularly with people for whom you can have empathy and they for you. So we’re a happy bunch here. We think that helps us to make better products too.

We started this company to serve moving image archivists. Startups and archives and make an interesting juxtaposition. The young and the old. I don’t mean the people, I mean the newest technologies and the longest-preserved films. I might be the oldest person in this co-working space but there are people here of all ages and I love the diversity. It reminds me of my other favorite places, libraries. Retired volunteers, children just learning to read, and every stage of life in between.

I suppose we could have least a warehouse in the industrial zone so we could set up equipment benches, wire cutting benches, 3D printers and so on. But we like this social life a lot better. There’s a video production studio in the back and I love it there too. we rented one corner of it behind the curtain and set up our storage shelves and soldering bench. Some days there’s a video shoot going on and we can’t get to our shelves but hey, that’s a minor inconvenience. With a wink and a smile we can always get to our stuff in a pinch.

How did we get to Baton Rouge? We started research and development in New York. Our CTO’s partner graduated from NYU’s moving image archives program and got a job at LSU. So we’re here, with no grand plan other than making the best of it. And the best of Baton Rouge and a co-working space and the ancient trees on the lake with the egrets and ducks and turtles, well, the best ain’t half bad.

You know what I really look forward to? Our products are designed for mail order. They’ll go all over the world and they’re shipping address is:

Creative Bloc, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

You can Google that title and you’ll find plenty of experts telling you all about it. I’d like to comment on it in particular for the preservation mindset and film inspection.

Cinequal’s FI-16 and Waypoint system isn’t perfect. We’re not trying to make it perfect before we ship it. We’re going to perfect it, speaking as a verb, for as long as our fans and customers need us to.

One thing needs to be as good as we can afford to make it at the outset. The photography is paramount because these photographs can persist forever. Even if the film is photographed again later, it will be older. So we spent most of our research and development on the camera, illumination, rollers, and motors.

There is software on the FI-16, and Waypoint is all software. We can perfect those and update them endlessly. And we will! We can add features and functions and tweaks and bells and whistles and with your help, really useful stuff.

It’s no secret that it’s human nature to judge the quality of our system based on the video workprints. Please don’t judge them too harshly yet because that’s misleading. They’re just video made from the photography. On board the FI-16 they’re made as quickly as possible because the machine operator has work to do, lots and lots more films to inspect. Their time is of the essence.

The photography is high-resolution, brightly lit, exposed and white balanced to suit the best that the camera sensor can make. You can make many more videos from that photography, ad infinitum. Craft editors can enhance video to be as pretty and perfect as you like. That photography isn’t meant to be pretty, it’s meant to be accurate and feed the best possible photographs that we can afford to make for video editors.

But that’s not all that film inspection is about. It’s about knowledge, and how you can interpret what you know about the films. Here again, perfect is the enemy of good.

Inspect the films now, as soon as you can. Waypoint will make a condition report the best that it can right now. It’s pretty darn good. Next time you run a condition report on that same film, using the photography and not running the film again, the condition report may be more perfect. That’s the magic of software.

Some years down the road you may inspect that film again, taking new photography of it, feeding that new photography to Waypoint for a new condition report. The difference between old and new condition reports is good information too. What changed in the intervening time? That’s a kind of film condition speedometer.

Software, software, software. It’s called soft because it’s malleable, improvable, perfectible. Join us and tell us what you think perfect looks like.