Going a little viral

I have three channels. The first, which I called ThreeStepsOverJapan, was created close to 14 years ago, and focused primarily on activities in Tokyo, anime and manga-related events in and around Akihabara, and Gakken Adult Science kit reviews. A couple years later, I set up the second channel, Curtis Hoffmann, to be more about the Gakken kits, and math and science stuff, but I kept forgetting to switch accounts when I uploaded new videos, so it ended up being a catch-all for everything; from live music events, to my Java synthesizer demos, and my Kagoshima fastwalks. The third channel, The Black Chamber, just went live 3-4 months ago, and is only for my cryptography tutorials.

Every so often, I would check my channel stats to see what kind of activity I was getting. I have a LOT of videos between the first two channels, but on average I’d have no more than 10-15 views each. The real exception was with my Java software arpeggiator demo. That was at maybe 600 views the last time I looked, about a year ago. I didn’t really like checking that one, because most of the comments were negative, either about my mispronouncing “arpeggiator,” or that fact that it was essentially a “tutorial for demonstrating a programming technique in Java,” and not a music video. Anyway, I stopped reading the comments for “What is an Arpeggiator”, and there weren’t any real comments on any of the other videos. If I could get the occasional 50 views on any one video, I’d be happy.

Then, when I set up The Black Chamber channel, I discovered that it was a lot easier to switch accounts than I’d remembered, so I went back to the ThreeSteps channel and found that it had picked up about 79 subscribers. I felt a little guilty in not having uploaded anything there in years, and I wanted to let everyone there know that the second channel was the active one. I wanted to make a channel-wide announcement, but Youtube doesn’t provide that feature if you have fewer than 1,000 subscribers. My only choice was to record a “what’s new” video, which I did for ThreeStepsOverJapan and Curtis Hoffmann, mainly to try to get people to subscribe to The Black Chamber, too. Three people responded in the comments in the ThreeStep channel, which was nice (better than no comments at all).

If that’s all there was to write about, I wouldn’t have bothered with this blog entry. So, last week, I was logged in under Curtis Hoffmann, when the “What is an Arpeggiator” video suddenly popped up in my recommended list. That seemed strange, since I’d thought that one had been uploaded under the Curtis Hoffmann channel name. Turns out, though, that I’d uploaded it as ThreeStepsOverJapan, and that it was suddenly up to 100,000 views.

That blew my mind. I started digging into the view stats for the two channels, and the numbers for the top five videos for each one were staggering (to me, anyway).

ThreeStepsOverJapan Channel
What is an Arpeggiator? – 100,000
Jass demo 1 – 6,900
Kaossilator Pro as an effect – 6,000
Fudan Juku 122108 – 3,800
duo rama – 3,600
Number of videos with over 1,000 views – 17

Curtis Hoffmann Channel
Yukata Matsuri, 2015, Yuria, Part 2 – 12,000
Kumo Gassen, 2014 – 9.2000
Karuta Competition Sampler – 8.900
Yuria, 150315 – 5,500
Synth Tutorial, Part 5 – 5,400
Number of videos with over 1,000 views – 18

This is all well and good, I guess, except that I’ve never monetized either of the channels, and The Black Chamber is a lot slower at gaining subscribers than I’d like. I would like to know what it is about the Arpeggiator video that’s suddenly made it so popular, but it is a nice feeling to see that something I’ve done has gotten more than 50 views, and I’m not going to complain now that it’s happened.

Shiroyama Fastwalk video

Direct youtube link

I’ve been experimenting with the GoPro Hero 8 over the last couple of weeks, to see what I can get out of it. Two of the experiments were with time lapse videos of the Sakurajima volcano. On the first one, I used the default of 0.5 second intervals, but the playback was too slow to be interesting. The second was at 2 second intervals, and the wind was too strong, blowing the camera around on the tripod and destroying the shot. Additionally, the wind flattened out the ash plumes, so none of the ash went up very far.

The third trial was for GoPro’s “time warp” function, which you can see in many online videos with sped up footage of events that normally take a long time to experience. While you can manually set the interval times, the camera’s auto setting will calculate how fast you’re moving and automatically set the interval that best matches what you’re doing. I decided that I’d use auto first just to get a baseline video, and that the route would be walking up Shiroyama hill, and then down the other end at the Reimeikan natural history museum.

The weather was perfect on Feb. 3rd, so that’s when I set out. The entire walk took maybe 45 minutes (I wasn’t timing myself), and I stopped in a few places to add narration. The GoPro has a screen button to switch between time warp and real-time, so I’d time warp while walking, and change to real-time when I wanted to talk. Total playback time is 13 minutes, with close to half of that being me talking about the history of the area. When I got back home, I discovered that the camera disables the microphone in time warp mode. I can understand that with interval recording, but I was hoping that changing to real-time would also activate the mic. I also discovered that the camera splits videos into shorter segments with weird-ass numbering (i.e. – GH010183, GH020183, GH030183, GH010184, GH010185, where 10183, 20183 and 30183 are all parts of the same recording session). So, the time warp video has this jump cut right in the middle of when I was talking at Reimeikan. Sigh.

The main differences between time warp and time lapse seem to be that time warp uses digital camera stabilization, and that battery life is extended a little more in time lapse. Normally, the batteries zero out after close to 60 minutes in normal recording mode and time warp, but time lapse looked to take closer to 80 or 90 minutes. That, and time warp has the real-time speed button on the screen. If you’re using time warp and want to record sound, you have to stop recording, switch to normal record mode and start recording again. This is bad if you want to have seamless transitions between moving really fast and then moving normally. It may be possible to use the tablet to remotely control the GoPro, so I don’t have to juggle the camera while pressing physical buttons, but that means having to carry the camera in one hand and the tablet in the other (since I don’t have a second person to walk with and assist me), and that’s not going to be comfortable after a couple of hours of walking.

Anyway, after discovering I didn’t have the narration recorded, I had to go back out the following day to walk the route a second time, with the GoPro in normal record mode. And, I had to roughly time the narrations in my head at each point. Sometimes I talked a little too long, and others a little too short, so I had to do a lot of cutting and stretching to get the timings to more or less work out. But, I also made sure to get background sounds (bird calls, me walking and breathing hard up the steps) that I could splice in for the fastwalk sequences. I had initially planned to use some of the royalty-free music the Lightworks editor offers. I decided on Lightworks based on some reviews of what the free version supports. I can’t afford the $24 or so per-month fee for a monthly subscription, and the music turns out to be $29.99 per song. Yeah, that’s not worth it, given the view counts of my other videos. So, I just used the background sounds instead.

Editing the full video suddenly revealed some limitations of the free version of Lightworks. I’d stripped the audio tracks off of the video files by using Audacity’s “import/export” functions. I had three video files I did use – a normal mode introduction to the video (30-45 seconds) and the two halves of the split fastwalk. Then there were 6 real-time audio tracks for a total of about 45 minutes. I had to cut and splice audio under the fastwalk video segments (anywhere between 3-10 seconds per segment (i.e. – up a flight of stairs, along a flat area, up a different set of stairs, places with different bird songs), plus the narrations, which ran between 30 seconds and 5 minutes each). I’d gotten up to about 10-12 audio segments and 7 minutes of video when Lightworks started crapping the bed. Switching between editing audio and project would cause zoom to jump to max zoom out. The playback position marker would erase the sound tracks on the screen (the sound itself was ok, but I couldn’t tell what audio segment I was on), and at one point, I wasn’t able to select audio segments to move them or do fade-ins/fade-outs. Eventually, I had to give up and export the half-finished project to an mp4, create a new project and then import that mp4 plus my remaining sound files, to edit the second half of the soundtrack. Even then, I started getting the unwanted zoom-jump problem when I had around another 10 audio segments laid down.

Fortunately, the videos I’m planning for The Black Chamber recreational cryptography youtube channel don’t use time warp, or very many audio or video segments (beyond normal editing to remove mistakes or long dead-air gaps). I’m hoping those will go more easily. Overall, I spent a full evening editing in the background sounds and narration (5-6 hours). The final result isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for the experiment. If you like the video, please press the “Like” button on youtube. If I get over 100 “likes”, I’ll consider making a second fully edited fastwalk video (I have actually done three of these now, but two of them don’t have overlay audio during the time warp segments). There’s a lot of history in this area, and some interesting sightseeing, and I can easily come up with 10 ideas for fastwalk “themes” (including the final battle between Saigo Takamori and the government he helped create, a walk around the volcano island, and caves the military dug for bomb shelters during WW II).

[Edit: While editing The Black Chamber Basics video, I ran into another problem with Lightworks. I discovered, by watching a youtube tutorial video, that LW doesn’t always like mp4s, and that it’s best to save video to .wav format when possible. Well, my Black Chamber videos are heavy on animated text graphics, and I needed some way to do the animation. I hit on the idea of making presentations in Microsoft Powerpoint, and saving the file as an mp4. But, the result in LW was really crappy when slide intervals were less than one second long, with slides dropping out or appearing in the wrong order. I tried saving the ppt output in wav format, but the free version of LW doesn’t support wavs. I had the ppt slide timings matched pretty close to my voice-over audio track, which took me hours to tweak. But, in the end I was forced to save the ppt file as sequential png image files, which tossed out my slide timings. I could import the pngs in bulk to LW, but the shortest interval LW supports is 1 sec. (a lot of my slides are between 0.1 and 0.5 sec.), and this ignores the fact that many of the other slides have timings between 4 and 19 seconds. That is, there’s no “one-size fits all” value I can tell LW to import the slides for to reduce the amount of work it dumps on me. I pulled all the ppt pngs into a temporary LW project, and spent 4 more hours trimming and copy-pasting the slides into the timeline. When I had roughly what I needed, I had to export the project to an mp4 video, then import that into my primary project. I know, I get what I pay for, and “free” doesn’t mean “perfect,” but for something claiming to be “industry award-winning,” I really have to wonder “what industry?”]

Theory 11 Cards

After I finished playing Neil Patrick Harris’ BoxOne, I received an auto-reply email from NPH promoting his deck of cards from Theory 11, and the challenge puzzle attached to it. Eventually, I broke down and went to the site to see what would appeal to me. Once I got started, I decided on getting three decks – Provision, Animal Kingdom and NPH. Provision was designed as a tribute to Philadelphia. Animal Kingdom has fairly simple artwork, but the fact the company donates $1 to the World Wildlife Federation was a plus. NPH worked with a Theory 11 artist to design his cards, which are largely traditional. All three decks have the same card stock and finish. The backs have the same artwork as the boxes. They’re all popular with card magicians and cardistry artists. $9.95 each. But, to get them to Japan cost another $10. So, $40 for the three decks. I can get a deck in Japan for $10 as well, but the paper quality for Japanese decks is just “average.”

(Animal Kingdom cards)

(Provision cards)

(NPH cards)

The Provision deck does come with one “gaffe” card, which has two backs, one of a different color. NPH has two “eye” jokers, the challenge card and an “instruction card.” There are a few little touches on some of the face cards that can be used for card reveals (like one queen holding a scroll with 3 “upright” and 3 reversed pips (for revealing a Three, or a Six). But, I haven’t noticed anything else more blatant, like one card actually holding a different card in its hand, or something).

But, I really got the NPH deck specifically for the puzzle. It starts out with the challenge and instruction cards. From there, everything switches to an online site. After playing BoxOne, the NPH cards aren’t that difficult. I did resort to taking hints from the Chris Ramsay video, but I still managed to get the solutions on my own, and in fact I figured out a few of the puzzles much faster than Chris did. If you’ve already played BoxOne, you can probably complete the NPH cards game in a couple hours. After that, there’s no real replay value to the challenge, but you still have the cards for endless hours of solitaire or poker.

I recommend the Theory 11 decks for the feel and paper quality. I’d also recommend the NPH deck if you like Escape Room games, but keep in mind that it’s not all that hard. I’m not going to give the solution here – instead, I’m going to write up a separate blog entry and put hints to the solution in a crypt on The Black Chamber site on Wednesday my time.

The Black Chamber is now on Youtube

Link to The Black Chamber channel page.
Direct link to youtube about video.

I’ve been working at this since December in my free time. Just have the About video right now, but I’m working on the Basics and Terminology video, and hope to get to the first how-to for Railfence next. Please be nice and at least watch the About vid directly on youtube a few times to bring the view counter up. And, I’d really appreciate it if you’d like the video and subscribe to the channel. If you’re feeling really generous, please share the video, too.


Pinterest papercraft ideas

I’ve been getting Pinterest announcements in email for months now, and most of them are crap about Twilight vampire memes, or women’s dress patterns. But just now I got a link to what seems to be old newspaper papercraft sheets. I don’t have time to make any of them, but they do have an amazing retro newsprint feel that I like.

BoxOne – Solved!

I’ve been watching Chris Ramsay’s puzzle solving youtube channel for at least a year, and he’s had some amazing stuff featured there. Back on Oct. 29th, he had a interview with Neil Patrick Harris, to introduce NPH’s new BoxOne game. It’s a solitaire box intended to keep one person busy for a few hours (I spent maybe 4 hours on it total) to a couple days. It’s a combined trivia, cipher, sequential discovery puzzle, and online escape room all rolled up into one, produced by Theory11, and sold only through Target for $29.99 (only in the U.S. right now, but Theory11 says they’re working on getting it to the U.K. “soon”). It’s hard to say how many copies sold (I consider the price extremely reasonable for what you get). There’s a list of people who also solved it, but only 10 for the day I registered. There were roughly 560 reviews on the Target site, too, but that may still be an undercount. I’m kind of torn – 2 months after the game came out, I’d like to think that I’m in rarefied air for solving the game, but I’d also really hope that BoxOne turns into a blockbuster, encouraging companies to come out with even better boxes in the future.

One of the requirements after solving the game is that you don’t give away any of the secrets. Just post about it on Instagram and Twitter, and maybe pass the box on to someone else that will appreciate it (not everyone will).

Is it worth the money? Oh, yeah. Just for the rush of seeing everything unfold. Would I recommend it to people that like solving ciphers and “escape rooms in a box”? Without question. Is the rule not to give away any of the secrets killing me? Yes, even as we speak.

I just wish Target had outlets in Japan. The overseas shipping costs are unbelievable.

News – Jan. 4, 2021

Welcome to the New Year. Not a lot new going on at this page – all the real activity is over at The Black Chamber.

I did get an email from Alexander telling me that the assembler for the GMC-4 microcontroller doesn’t work anymore, and that he has two pages that he wrote, for an emulator and the assembler. So, I updated the GMC-4 page to add those links, and to remove the broken links to my original photos. The video for my tape reader mod still works, though.

Zodiac Cipher 340 Cracked After 51 Years

Youtube Direct Link, Part 1

Youtube Direct Link, Part 2

Youtube Direct Link, Part 3

Youtube Direct Link, Part 4

Youtube Direct Link, Part 5

Gakken Best Selection 3 Update

(Images from the Gakken site, used for review purposes only.)

The main Gakken Otona no Kagaku page now has two new links for the rerelease of the kaleidoscope kit. The first (above) shows the main advertising photos for the kit, some samples of the articles in the mook, and a FAQ page.

Release: 12/10/2020
Price: 2,980 yen ($29 USD) w/o tax
Mook: 24 pages

The second link is for an online shop where you can buy two extra container tubes for 550 yen ($5 USD). The tubes hold a glycerine mix and whatever beads and colorful transparent objects you want as pattern generators for your projector.

You rang?


I’ve finished moving (nearly) all of the cryptogram-related posts over to my new WordPress page, The Black Chamber. The only thing I haven’t moved yet is the Wiggles encrypted story. Please let me know in the comments below if you’ve solved Wiggles, and if this is something you want me to continue writing.

The Three Steps Over Japan page will be used for general announcements, papercraft, wood kits and puzzles, Gakken kit reviews, and maybe science and math again. I’m in the process of deleting the cryptogram-related posts here, in waves, just in case I messed something up in the move to The Black Chamber. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know in the below comments.