It seems churlish not to blog something about the ongoing saga of Flossie’s shopping for a specific type of under-frock bra, given that the adventure has thus far caused an exploration of West Yorkshire car parks, multiple discussions about the nature of scaffolding, and the purchase of at least one internet domain name. However, I fear the process may be too stressful for all concerned to be treated so flippantly.

I hope you’re all having a lovely Christmas, anyway. I’m standing outside the changing rooms at M&S, in what the ad-hoc group here is calling ‘texters corner.’

Test post

I might have finally sorted the export of Markdown text in the feeds for this site, let’s see:

There was a link up there; here’s a bit of a quote

Which leads us to a heading

After which there may as well be some text before:

  • A bullet point
  • And another one

That’s all.

Merry Christmas, by the way.


I don’t get out much. Recently this has been due to the familiar homeworkers’ burden of having to wait in for Amazon deliveries, which always seem to end up split into more parcels than items. Or perhaps I’m just a stop-at-home.

When I do get out, then, and find myself around town and of a lunchish mind, I rather enjoy discovering new haunts. What invariably happens, however, is that shortly after I order, I work out that I’ve been to the establishment before. I know this because I always end up sitting in the same chair.


4 minutes

Four minutes is a long time. This is why SciCast films are limited to 2:30: filling four minutes requires far more material than people expect. What they guess will take four minutes can invariably be done in 2:30, and if you think maybe 10,000 might see a film, that’s two hundred and fifty person hours right there that the world isn’t going to get back.

So keep it short.

In fact, four minutes is so long, you can cram an overview history of Saudi Arabia into it. Wow.

Mind you, it helps if you have seriously good graphic designers, mad skillz with 3D compositing, lots of time, and a vast archive budget.

[Update: See? Told you.]

More on storytelling

Further to this and this; a report on a storytelling panel at a video games developers’ conference. It’s worth reading that, and then skimming this remarkably circumspect review of Mass Effect, Bioware’s latest and greatest RPG. It’s been getting rave reviews, but PCWorld are refreshingly arms-length about it.

I’m currently playing Bioware’s previous effort, Jade Empire (yes, I know, I’m late to the party). It’s one of the first games since Ico to make me stop and stare at the scenery – oooh, pretty! – and the clickfest combat isn’t annoying me half as much as I expected. Probably because I have it set to ‘stupidly easy’ mode, come to think of it, and I do enjoy feeling like an unstoppable hero. Well, don’t we all?

However, I’m slightly disappointed by the storytelling. It’s a decent enough yarn, but I’m about a third of the way in and I don’t get the feeling that the main story branches at all. That is, I don’t feel as if my choices are having an effect on how the game plays out – there’s one story, and you’re funneled down it.

There’s sound reasoning for this, of course, but it’s still not very satisfying. I’m unsure, however, if my principle complaint is that I lack control over the narrative… or that I lack the illusion of such control.


Science video quality

Cross-posted from the Planet SciCast blog:

There are several reasons we’re not using YouTube to publish SciCast. Chiefly that it’s blocked in many schools, which would rather limit the utility of our films, but there are issues surrounding quality too.

Quality of video playback, for one thing – we want these films to be projected on a classroom wall, and that’s hard with grainy YouTube quality. The downloads we’ll make available will be high-resolution, high-quality, and in our tests have looked terrific on big screens.

Quality of discussion is another worry. We all know the web is full of knee-jerk, intemperate comment, but even given that, does anyone else think YouTube comments are still below average?

The third issue is quality of content. We can’t rigorously vet SciCast films, and they’re not all textbook-accurate. But they’re rarely complete rubbish, and we haven’t any yet that I’d describe as ‘anti-science.’ We want SciCast to be a source you can trust to be frequently entertaining and at least mostly accurate – and with current web video, that’s unusual.

The first piece of work I’ve seen on this issue was published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and it makes for alarming reading; there’s an excellent summary at Ars Technica.

There are good reasons why scientists need to be capable and effective communicators; part of SciCast’s ambition is to raise standards, and disseminate skills and best practice.


In discussion with Vinay, on the natural lifecycle of institutions and what happens when each generation runs into the limitations of the existing structures, we mentioned that the open-source software world feels like it’s institutionalised. I wrote:

I hear the bazaar has a roof now.

Quite proud of that.

Producing factual video

A friend and colleague is mentoring a science engagement project today. Since it involves video, he asked me:

Do you have 3 key “producer” questions that I can use inside my head to help me review their film on the spot?

Well, gosh. Here’s what I wrote, somewhat stream-of-consciousness:

Basic stuff:

  • Does the story make sense?
  • Can you hear and understand what people are saying?
  • Are there moments when you find yourself saying ‘What was… oh, right, I see’? Fix those.

Advanced stuff:

  • What’s the ‘take-home’?
  • what, specifically, are you expecting a viewer to remember/think about/learn/be impressed by/etc?
  • Where do you get bored?
  • The first time you watched the film, when did you first glance away? When did your internal voice first say ‘Oh crap, there’s six more minutes of this’? Why?
  • Is there something that could be left out that, by omission, would improve the film? (note that ‘shorter’ is almost always ‘better’ with video. While there’s a lower bound to that, it’s far lower than anyone expects).
  • The other way of looking at this; does each element of the film earn its place? Does it advance the story, add information, provide breathing room, entertain, set the scene? Or is it padding?
  • Is it sticky?
  • What makes me want to share the experience of watching the film with other people? Is the idea so cool and exciting I have to tug someone’s sleeve? Do I have burning questions I need to discuss with someone? Do I immediately want to see it again?
  • ‘What will they talk about in the playground’ is a mantra of kids’ TV. It’s one of the few bits of dogma to which I subscribe, though my interpretation may differ from that of others.

Over-arcing stuff:

  • The producer is the viewer’s proxy.

The viewer is – for TV, at least – a very large number of disparate individuals. The producer’s job, then, is to smooth the film’s acceptance to as broad a range of people as possible; you’re trying to reach into the tails of the distribution, to broaden the appeal. So you’re looking for big stuff, but also really finicky little bits of annoyance, because every tiny niggle you spot will be a deal-breaker for someone else. And you want each of those people to watch.

Can’t believe I’ve boiled down ten years’ experience to that, and then given it away. I’m an idiot.