April 2003 Archives
April 30, 2003
I took a few genuine creative risks while filming The Big Bang this year, and of course I didn't expect them all to pay off. One item in particular worried us all in pre-production, still worried us in studio, and didn't feel like it quite worked in the edit:
Michael sits foreground, showing how to make a retracting roll barrier mechanism that you could stretch across your bedroom door to keep your brother out. Upstage, Kate sporadically enters shot fighting a huge conflagration, wrestling a dragon, chainsawing something else, and generally upstaging Michael outrageously. Michael, of course, acts completely oblivious to this throughout.
Now, on paper, it's a classic and wonderful gag. On paper, it's both simple and outrageously funny. On paper, it can't fail. In practice it's tremendously hard to pull off with any degree of panache, and looking at it in the edit we screwed up the timings, and indeed the order of the upstaging. It was moderately amusing, but not the festival of side-splitting hilarity for which we'd hoped. Heigh-ho, some you win, some you lose.
Yesterday, we put the sound back on. Nick the dubbing mixer, it turns out, is a fan of Mel Brooks, the Zucker Brothers (especially Police Squad), Kentucky Fried Movie, et al. He's done a stupendous job of papering over the seams, and the whole item is now outrageously funny. Genuinely outstanding job, though the chainsawing sounded rather disturbingly like... er... a pig being attacked with a chainsaw, so we toned that down a bit.
It's still not the funniest item in the series - that's either Kate losing her rag in Flicky Thing or Michael camping it up in Hair Rope - but it's certainly worthy of a place in the series.
Top nonsense. Oh, I do like kids' TV.
April 29, 2003
'How many people read your blog?' she asked, innocently enough.
I thought for a moment. 'I think... about four.'
Her look defied description (an artful way of admitting that I've really no idea what she was thinking).
So... should I be promoting this site a bit? Would anybody really care? Would I care? With reference to this post, I suspect: not a lot, frankly. Hmm. Interesting.
Last year so was I, only I actually did. It's a surprisingly disappointing document, in that it mostly discusses the type of vessel to be used in the preparation, how the lid should fit, that sort of thing. It's a procedural document for comparative taste testing, based directly on the older BS 6008 (1980) standard that's available from the British Standards Institute for rather less money (£11 - search for 'tea' and you'll be gobsmacked).
Unfortunately, I can't find Kevin's email address to warn him of this. Boo!
Says Fortune; Apple looks set to license the forthcoming Windows version of iTunes as the music download client for AOL. That would somewhat rapidly make them the biggest player in the 'net music game, which is interesting in itself.
But it also sounds like what used to be called a 'middleware' deal. And... er... wasn't that Gil Amelio's thing?
(Cheap shot, I know. I'm still sore that despite the Apple Music Store being cool, quick, and really really slick, I can't actually buy anything because I'm a limey.)
April 28, 2003
Ben Hammersley says exactly what I want to about iTunes4 and Apple's new Music Store. But I have to say, AAC sounds damned good anyway and still encodes at 12x. [sigh]
April 26, 2003
Arrghhh! The bastards! Microsoft have effectively given up on Office 2003 using an open XML file format. So far as I can make out, extracting specific data from Word documents will still be a job limited to hideously-expensive VBA developers. Ugh. So bang goes that particular implementation stream for my mooted TV production environment, ShowFlow.
What I want to do is this: I want to have multiple authors working on a bunch of files on a server. Those files each represent a script for a specific programme item which may or may not end up in the final series. Each item script contains lists of props, costumes, technical requirements, and so on.
I also want metadata associated with the scripts for things like estimated running time, item type, and a couple of other things. Then I want to be able to view all the items as a bunch of tiles on a grid. I want to be able to slide those tiles around into columns, which - for the sake of argument - we'll call 'Programmes.' I currently do this with 6x4 index cards on a pin board.
At any point, I want to be able to generate a 'programme script' - that is, take a specified column and have the system crash the item scripts together, extracting props lists and the like into neat tables at the start of the document. This sort of thing happens a whole heck of a lot during production, and it's still done entirely by hand.
There's some other clever stuff that could happen, but the above is the start of it. And it's not a difficult workflow - outside of TV, similar things are going on all the time. Yet, to even think about implementing it, it looks like I'm going to have to write a bleedin' XML editor, or something very similar. What?
It's 2003. This sort of smart, data-manipulating collaborative working should not be hard. But no, we're still doing things exactly as we did when I started in this game, working on typewriters. It's insane.
And there's a real kicker in the wings, too - I reckon I could implement the bulk of ShowFlow in FileMaker Pro, in about a week. Really. But that would be just as proprietary as using MS Office, so what's the point? I still need to be able to read these scripts in five years' time.
Damn, this frustrates me.
April 25, 2003
My Director left today (for Tobago, jammy git), so the Big Bang production team is now... er... me. I did have an Executive Producer, but apparently he left the company a week or two ago, and nobody told me. Today was his leaving do too; one of my colleagues was mortified that I wasn't invited, but I can't say I was. It's always been a strange department, and The Big Bang is entirely a stealth production.
In fact, this year it's been so low-profile internally that nobody more senior than my production manager has seen anything. I do hope the Powers That Be like the series, because I've just spent a third of a million quid on it. I should probably be rather worried by this, but it genuinely is a terrific series, so there.
Now there are two weeks left, and pretty much just the sounds to put back in place. Then I'll be shown the door, like all good freelancers. I'm very much looking forward to that, since I'm completely knackered. It's been an easy week, but still, stringing this post together is... well, it's not one of my finest, is it?
Meanwhile, check in on Jules' Weblog to see how she's getting on. Chin up, lass. Big hugs.
April 24, 2003
Next best thing to being there? Jason Kottke's site. Thanks!
(The first paragraph is a huge 'in' joke that only about one person can possibly get. And I'm very serious about it)
April 23, 2003
On the basis of having grooved along to it on the Secret Agent Channel, I bought some stuff by Tommy Guerrero (see? Net music can work!). Specifically, this mix album and this collection of originated stuff. Guerrero is apparently a pro skateboarder, but rather than the thrashy trashy hype normally associated with the sport, he favours deeply mellow riffs. Think Zero7 more than Slipknot.
The mix album is pleasant enough, but I love 'A Little Bit of Somethin'.' It's an all-too-brief collection of fragments; some tracks are more like extended basslines, others appear to be accompanied by a Bontempi organ circa 1983. But there's an infectious atmosphere of a bunch of mates coming together to lay down a groove or two, and that's about it. Deeply cool, without giving a monkey's. Love it.
I saw my first P800 yesterday. It's a gorgeous piece of kit, but... well... it's just too big. I suspect it's only about as big as a combined phone/PDA needs to be to be usable, but even at that size it still compromises its utility as a phone. It's too big for a pocket, which in my book is a bit crippling.
Shame, really. I was pretty keen for a while there. But I'll stick with my oh-so-untrendy-but-not-exactly-nickable-either Bluetooth-enabled T39, thanks. And bits of paper, and a Newton when I need it.
Shucks. Will somebody please produce a tablet computer with a screen between five and eight inches diagonal, and batteries that last a day or so? Please? Pretty please? And then, a tiny Bluetooth cellphone with a flip, like the T39, so the keys simply cannot get pressed when it's shoved in one's jeans.
April 22, 2003
Mark Pilgrim proposes the Winer Number, and with commendable attention to details attributes his inspiration to Pal Erdös, not Kevin Bacon. Though this amuses me greatly, my own Winer Number would be so large as to be immeasurable. Darn.
April 20, 2003
What the hell happened in Stratford, circa 1988?
My parents moved house over Christmas, as a result of which, great steaming piles of stuff that had been neatly shoved in boxes in storage in Hull are now cluttering up their somewhat smaller house in Leeds. Needless to say, I feel a tad bad about this, but since my own flat is far too small even to contain all my network hardware, there's not a great deal I can do about it until I find somewhere I can genuinely call 'home' myself.
I can, however, take the occasional box to show willing. Mostly, this ends up sitting on my lounge floor for three months while I try to work out just what I'm going to do with the contents. Today, for reasons that only a few people know and are entirely my fault, I found myself at an unexpected loose end - so I sorted through the most recent box.
It was initially composed of junk mail, vintage 1995. This was mildly surprising, since I can't for the life of me work out how it ended up in Hull in the first place. However, delving deeper into the substrata I came across a slew of letters from university chums, immediately post-graduation as we headed our separate ways. Some of these would have been useful at Daniel's wedding a year or so back, but that's another story.
Deeper still, letters from said friends over the summer of 1993, when I was trying to work out what degree to do (I nearly failed my second year, and Daniel and Becca in particular were a tremendous help guiding me through that particular emotional turmoil, bless 'em).
Deeper still, a huge pile of letters from a certain Welsh girl, with whom I was madly in love a very, very long time ago. The last letter in the sequence is still heartbreaking, but isn't at all what you might imagine if you don't know the story. Tough. I'm not telling you here.
Deeper deeper deeper... why have I kept all these letters? There's one from my neighbour in Hull, summarising his views on Cambridge colleges, which must date from 1990 - it's hilarious, and possibly slanderous. Deeper... exchanges with the fine folk I went to Australia with, in 1989 - three of whom I still consider close friends despite not having spoken to them in a couple of years.
Deeper deeper... sloughing off the years of my life as the paper flies, a curious and not altogether pleasant sensation...
The archive stops at about 1988, perhaps 87: for some reason, nobody noted the year. I guess, when you're 16, there haven't been enough years yet for it not to be obvious which one is meant. A bunch of silly letters from my friend Alan, a few sketches we wrote together back when I wasn't paid to be unfunny.
And then a curious pair of letters from two girls in school, who were each others' best buddies. One of them was probably the only girl in school I ever took an interest in; my nervousness built until one day I'd plucked up the courage to call and ask her out - the phone rang before I could dial, and she asked me out... on behalf of her best friend.
The letters relate to the aftermath of the annual school trip to Stratford-on-Avon. Both apologise profusely for making my life hell; one declares undying love, the other has a somewhat more subtle frisson. The tragedy is this: I have absolutely no recollection of that particular Stratford Trip, beyond David Calder fresh out of Star Cops and in something fairly dreadful at The Swan.
What the hell happened on that particular Stratford trip? From the letters, it was fairly Earth-shattering at the time. How curious, I have no memory of angst there at all. Which begs the leading question: when people write their autobiographies, they're making half of it up, aren't they?
Eventually, one arrives at the conclusion that one possesses wholly too many cardboard boxes. Once I've been to the dump, I shall personally possess significantly fewer than I do at present, but still, alas, rather too many.
This has not, of course, been the most significant development over the last few days. However, I've already made a big enough hash of that particular story during the first telling of it, and I'm not about to compound the error by retelling it here and now. Sorry.
April 13, 2003
A while ago, I bought a font - I forget which - from Emigre, a foundry in California. One consequence is that, every now and then, they send out mailshots of samples of their work. I've today opened one that bears a sample brochure for a spectacularly old-fashioned body face called 'Tribute,' by Frank Heine.
To an amateur type nerd like me, it's beautiful. There's something about pages of well-set, interesting type that I find fascinating and pleasing in equal measure. Last year I unexpectedly found myself trying to ape the style of Baskerville's setting of Virgil's Bucolica, in type by both Caslon and Baskerville. Or rather, their current Adobe interpretations. Speaking of whom, Adobe's lovely UK press office provided me with the means to do half-decent typography with minimal effort, in the form of a copy of InDesign. The results, printed onto hand-stained papers, were beautiful - I wish I'd framed them.
Type is one of the most undervalued modern commodities, in my humble. Everybody just sticks with Arial or Times New Roman or (heaven forbid) Comic Sans. They're missing a lot of fun, considerable pleasure, and much beauty.
April 12, 2003
I wonder how representative this really is? If The Guardian is doing its job well (and I've no reason to suspect otherwise), it's mostly encouraging news for the West. I think.
So, the Inland Revenue have finally caught up with the stuff I sent them in November. At least, I think they have - they're not very explicit about it in the statement I received today. Except that they seem to think they owe me five thousand pounds.
Er... that can't be right.
No, it really can't be right, since they seem to have forgotten about a whole slew of other stuff. Like, last year's tax, which they still haven't collected. So there's no way I owe them five grand - but it's beginning to look like I don't owe them five grand either, which at one point they seemed to think I did.
A dangerous situation. Particularly when (a.) I think I'm about to buy a flat in Glasgow, (b.) the sums suggest I should trade my Mini in for a new one - no, really, and (c.) it's been pointed out to me today that I'm supposed to be a gadget freak, and that most of the kit I own (camera, palmtop, etc) is more than five years old and therefore hardly convincing in the gizmo stakes.
Still, one step closer to getting it all sorted out.
April 11, 2003
Happily, I wasn't involved in this morning's This Morning. But it does remind me that the only times I've come close to seriously injuring people have been when I've employed 'professionals.' Even so, I've never understood peoples' animosity to risk assessments. It's good practice to stop and think and write it all down, not to mention The Law.
Meanwhile, Jules should be out of hospital today (Friday). Rock on, kid.
April 9, 2003
Hey, my chum Gareth's finally got his head around his weblog enough to actually post to it. Cool. Now if only his partner Violet's Mac would recover from its suspected hard drive failure, they'd be first-class citizens of the infosphere. Or something like that.
April 7, 2003
Just in case anyone wondered whether I really set foot in television studios or have faked the whole thing, here's me standing in a plausible mock-up of a studio the other week. That's Carol the floor manager mugging disgracefully in the background. Picture taken by Richard the director, which is slightly worrying since the implication is that he wasn't doing his actual job at the time.
Oh, and I'm wearing a dinner suit and red baseball cap because... oh, you work it out. Answers on the back of a £20 note, please.
April 6, 2003
...that the troops who just attacked Jack and Nina were Sherri's own honour guard. I also predict that George will turn out to be suffering merely a nasty cold; Kim will have spent the last year being trained by the CIA and it will, in fact, be she who defuses the nuclear bomb; Jack will admit that he always preferred Nina to the sappy Teri; Despite the attack squad, Sherri will turn out to be acting completely altruistically; Nina will reveal that she set the whole thing up because she still carries a torch for Jack too; and right at the end, as they all live happily ever after, and Kim and her boyfriend drive off in a car that for once doesn't have a body in the boot, Tony will... will... smile.
Hmm. P'raps not that last one.
Yes, it's that time of year again, when ex-Oxbridge types try to justify why they're glued to the telly. Sod that, it's just terrific drama.
1631. They're off. Excellent start by Oxford.
1632. Cambridge striking slower to my eye, on the outside, but holding Oxford well.
1633. M&S have an offer on teacakes. Rather different to Tunnocks, but very pleasant.
1634. Cambridge a canvas down, but more-or-less holding Oxford. Looking good for the Hammersmith bend.
1635. Wish I'd brewed some tea. Level going into Hammersmith, Cambridge gaining perhaps a gnats.
1637. Cambridge half a length up through Hammersmith bridge.
1641. I've now eaten too many teacakes. Horrible overlap, Oxford stroke side rowing in Cambridge bow side's puddles, but Oxford not giving up.
1642. Advantage down to half a length. Uh-oh. Actually, it looks like less.
1643. Cambridge bladework a little splashy, which it wasn't five minutes ago. Boats about level.
1644. Oxford ahead by a quarter-length, maybe a half. Blimey, this is tense. I really should have made that tea.
1646. Oxford three-quarters of a length up...
1647. Down to half a length.
1647. Quarter of a length! Sod the tea.
1648. Oxford holding.
1649. Oxford by about a stroke. Bloody hell.
1650. 'Best race in history' already. Oxford have it. Feckin' close. Storming.
Closest race in history; there was apparently a dead heat in the nineteenth century, but the judge had been in the pub so it was a dead heat by about six feet. This was 'Oxford by one foot.'
I think I might go down to watch the 150th race, next year. I've only been the once, and it was a hoot.
My chum Alan's fiancé Jules (er... so 'my chum Jules', then) had eight hours of brain surgery the other day. As you, by and large, don't. She no longer has a tumour filling a quarter of her head and by all accounts is doing marvellously. And that does seem to be 'doing marvellously,' rather than 'doing marvellously, considering.'
Before she went in for the op, Alan asked her what she wanted to do when she gets home again. Nothing much forthcoming at the time, but ten minutes after she came round, she said 'Big plate of chips, mayonnaise, cup of tea, Fawlty Towers. That's what I want to do.'
Which, I tend to think, is a rather good sign.
I kinda missed all this while it was happening, despite following many of the weblogs involved (via NetNewsWire) - my attention was somewhat elsewhere, I guess. Still, it's an interesting moment - and Orlowski's writing style is, for once, appropriate rather than irritatingly smug. The Reg: Anti-war slogan coined, repurposed, and Googlewashed... in 42 days.
April 5, 2003
I have new glasses. Oh yes, I can see again, and it's a slightly disturbing experience. My right eye in particular, having strained for a year to compensate for incorrect astigmatic correction, is clearly confused by now not having to do so. It's going to take a few days to adjust. The new frames, however, are wonderful. Retro chic indeed.
Meanwhile, my Mini no longer has a little collection of scratching and scuffing where someone broke a bottle on its bonnet. In fact, you'd never know it ever had. It does, however, now feature the most amazing deep rattle at high revs, and a graunching sound at low revs, both of which are new. Hmm. Back to the garage with it, I fear.
Saturday is brought to you by onion bagels, marmite, cheesy scrambled egg, and the word 'paralepsis'. All at once.
April 1, 2003
Now that that nasty computer stuff is sorted, this blog will return to its scheduled programming of... er... pretty much geeky ramblings, I guess.
Wait, wait... no, I'm moving cardboard boxes in a vertical fashion tomorrow. That's not very interesting.
Oh, hell. Obviously, my attempt to recover from studio enough to actually get a life hasn't quite borne fruit. Yet.
I should report, however, that The Big Bang edit is mostly going rather well. The giant meringue is a little disappointing (and how the hell did I miss the horribly large safety problem in it? Yowser), but there's plenty that's simply sings, even at crappy Avid quality. Oh, and I'm dead happy with the new titles sequence. We have some sound/vision sync problems to sort, but they should be simple enough.
So, Mandrake 9.1 is booting on my old K6 box, and running surprisingly nicely. GNOME's Nautilus is far from snappy, but it does work and for the most part isn't ugly. For the first time I now have font antialiasing on Linux, as a result of which OpenOffice is actually useable. That is, it's possible to read the type in Writer. All praise the GPL.
Linux on the desktop certainly does keep getting better and better, and on cursory examination this is the best distribution I've seen. Looking back over my install logs for previous Mandrake, Red Hat and SuSE distros, more of this one worked without tinkering than ever before. That said, I'm not entirely confident that this will continue as I play more. What, for example, is the MySQL root password? Is PHPNuke still installed by default? What's the admin password for that? Dunno. But hey, I've not got there yet.
But there's still a nagging problem. However polished this system is - and it stands up pretty well against Windows XP, which is slicker but far more patronising - it still looks to a Mac user as a pretty naff hodge-podge. Take, for example, the 'OK' button swapping sides all the way through the installation. Come on, this is really basic, noddy stuff! OS designers have been getting this sort of thing right for twenty years!
So, I'll probably play a bit. And at least I have a spare gash PC I can pull out, which is potentially useful. And apps like Mr Project really have come on dramatically since I last saw them (heck, the last time I launched Mr Project, it failed to completely start up). But that's about it.
However, there is one really significant change I can report; for the first time in my experience, installing Linux hasn't been an exercise in frustration. This is partly because I have more of an idea of what I'm doing, but mostly because it's genuinely getting better. If I wasn't a Mac user, I might even like it. Now that's progress.