December 2003 Archives
December 31, 2003
I'm fed up doing the same calculations every six months, so I'll post them here in the hopes I remember where I left them. I'm also fed up with whoever decided that television pixels would be rectangular, and whoever decided not to include any conversion system in QuickTime, but there we go.
Conventional 4:3 aspect PAL transmissions are taken to be 720x576 pixels. Which the Carol Vordermans amongst you will instantly recognise as being 5:4, not 4:3 at all, so to make a full-frame PAL capture look right on a computer monitor, it should be scaled to 720x540 pixels.
Now, a 16:9 widescreen capture is still stored at 720x576 pixels, simply stretched more at the display (which is the sensible approach when you can't change the transmission bandwidth, to be fair). So to make a widescreen frame display right on a computer, scale it to 720x405 pixels.
Some notes: I'm assuming the pixels on the target computer are square - It used to be the case that Macs would only do square pixels, but now we have more choice of monitors there's more scope for the user to screw things up. 1280x1024, for example, isn't the same aspect ratio as 1024x768, so it'll look squished on (4:3) CRT monitors; 1280x960 is a 'better' resolution. Windows users have been able to mess things up like this since SVGA came along, of course.
Also, you may wonder why I'm only scaling the vertical resolution - why not interpolate horizontally rather than throw away vertical data? Well, because the vertical data isn't really there in the first place; the highest-resolution capture format that's common is (so far as I'm aware) DigiBeta, which is what most of my shows originate on. DigiBeta record decks typically handle about 500 vertical lines, maximum. When running widescreen, many cameras simply subsample the (4:3) CCDs, giving an even lower 'true' vertical resolution. Which sounds ghastly, but bear in mind that people happily watch VHS recordings, and VHS staggers to only about 240 lines vertically; even DV is only about 360 lines, I think. And funnily enough, all the stuff I'm playing with is DV-sourced; so scaling to 720x405 is still interpolating upwards from the true capture resolution.
There. I hope that's clear. The magic numbers are 540 and 405; on my monitor, they look right. Thanks.
December 25, 2003
Back in a few days.
December 21, 2003
Have spent the weekend thus far recovering from the rigours of TV production. Which for the most part means that I've been asleep.
I am starting to catch up with things, though. I have a very long 'ToDo' list (very long), and the number of unread entries in NetNewsWire is down below 800 for the first time in about three weeks.
December 15, 2003
It surprises me that the BBC doesn't do more of this sort of reporting online. It's a terrific combination of world-class journalism and the immediacy of the web, the former being particularly significant in a mediasphere increasingly under threat from ill-trained bloggers who make up in enthusiasm what they lack in rigour.
December 13, 2003
Back in Leeds for a flying visit. Dad's much perkier than I expected - he's tired and short of breath, but really rather chipper. His Mac's less sickly than feared, too, the only problem being an air gap in the mains cable. Remedy: plug it back in again. I'm posting from it now, so it seems to be working.
But I'm being rude to my mother by conversing with a PowerBook rather than her, so I'll go now.
December 11, 2003
Note to self: read this article about the MMR vaccine and surrounding hysteria. Looks like somebody finally got the story right - unfortunately, it isn't next week's drama on Five. Boo!
My dad's out of hospital and back home again. He still has a long way to go, but it sounds like he's now better off recuperating at home rather than surrounded by ill people in the hospital. I'm going to dash home to see him at the weekend.
I'm not sure if this is a general thing, or a local offer, but the Somerfield down the road is flogging half-cases of Heidsieck Monopole blue-top NV for under sixty quid. That's way under half-price, for a wine that (if memory serves) is absolutely fantastic at the full whack.
If I knew I'd been paid for last month, I'd have picked up a case tonight. Must check bank account tomorrow...
December 7, 2003
Kevin and Mija dropped in on How2 studio filming the other day - I'm kinda busy and haven't had much chance to eat/sleep/buy milk/blog/etc, so I'm a bit behind here. They sat around for a few hours. Maybe it was raining outside or they were bored, or something, I'm not sure. Anyway, they seemed to enjoy themselves, and professed to find the headlong careering plunge that is studio recording 'fascinating.'
At some point Kevin asked what, exactly, I do. I had to think about that, since it's rather hard to describe if the questioner doesn't know how television production works. In the end, as I looked around at the scurrying figures, flurries of activity, and people loafing between being called to do something somewhere else, I realised that an adequate, if conceited, answer was, "These people are all working for me."
At least one of us - and I couldn't say who - said quietly 'Woah!'
Tomorrow, of course, all but about five of them are working for somebody else. But that's not the point.
December 6, 2003
I finally saw Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine tonight, when it went out on Channel 4. It's fascinating, but like most of Moore's stuff I found it strangely irritating.
The usual way it pans out is like this: the first third is a little laboured; the middle third utter genius; the final third undermines the preceding by managing to miss the point made so eloquently only a little earlier. Bowling for Columbine seemed to me to fit this pattern rather too well.
What, I wonder, was the point of skewering Charlton Heston? Hadn't Moore already demonstrated, via comparison with Canada, that widespread gun ownership was no indicator of shooting murder rates? Hadn't he made a convincingly strong case that basic standards of living were the key discriminator: access to healthcare, unemployment benefit, urban regeneration?
Dragging the argument back to the doorstep of the NRA seemed to me to be (pardon the metaphor) taking pot-shots at an obvious target, after identifying the far more insidious threat elsewhere. Sure, getting Wal-Mart to abandon the sale of handgun ammunition was a remarkable achievement, but it's hard to see it as anything other than tokenism. Stunt tokenism, at that.
I found myself similarly frustrated by Moore's book Stupid White Men, which makes a glorious point about how it's the white guys in Washington of whom you should be scared, not the black guys down the road from you. But the book then cracks on into half a dozen other subjects, some of which simply don't ring true and present sloppily-constructed arguments. Which rather scuppers the authority of the original essay.
I'm left with one conclusion of my own: if Moore is the best liberal media agitator America can muster, they really do have a long way to go before they can sort out their problems.
December 4, 2003
One of the entries buried away down my 'To Do' list is a little cluster grouped under the heading 'Serendipity.' Collectively, this would be a set of tools to assist one (principally) during the writing process: Martin and I got some way down the route of defining some assistance systems that currently don't exist, so far as we can tell. Some of them, on the face of it, don't seem terribly hard to implement, particularly since Mac OS X already has an excellent full-text retrieval system and a half-decent summarisation tool, which constitute two of the tricky bits.
The first component of Serendipity was called 'Prompt,' and it goes like this: Imagine software that watches what you type. It continuously performs keyword extraction on the last sentence or two, and runs proximity searches on a specified folder of reference material. A secondary window displays what the system thinks might be relevant passages.
One can see this working well, for example, if one starts to quote a line of Shakespeare, and has the Complete Works in the reference folder: it should be straightforward to make the appropriate verse appear just around the time one forgets the precise quote, no?
Of course, this isn't an original idea. There's an Emacs plugin to do much the same (from MIT or somewhere), and Microsoft have recently been waving flags about this type of tool. But the other day, I stumbled over a reference to a patent on exactly this, dating from 1999 - a little before Serendipity was sketched out. The patent is held by... Apple.
This suggests several things: firstly, that such systems are indeed possible. Secondly, that there's a huge layer of subtlety in pulling them off cleanly (I suspect one not-obvious problem is presenting sufficient helpful material without it being distracting: smoothly cross-fading the prompt window from one guess to the next might help, for example). Thirdly, one suspect we will see such a system from somebody, someday.
I look forward to that day.
Oh, and this other patent is worth a look, too. It's a year older, but obviously dates to before the dissolution of the Newton group on Jobs' return in 1997: it refers to keyword extraction from calendar entries leading to the automated retrieval of relevant information from other document sources. Which is the sort of logical extension of (what I called) Serendipity Prompt that gets me quite excited.
December 2, 2003
Sparse updates for the next couple of weeks - today I started in studio with How2. An excellent first day, I'm particularly happy with the changes we've made to the set. Last year we struck out in a 'bold new direction' (sic - self), which turned out more successful, and therefore less risky, than we expected. This year we've pushed a little harder in the same direction, and it's looking marvellous on camera.
I'll post when I can to How2's own blog. There may even be pictures, if I'm not too knackered.
Knackered, because I've been down with lurgi for the last few days, barely able to speak - either a very bad thing for a producer, or a very good thing, depending on your point of view. I've not been as ill, however, as my Dad, who's in hospital in Leeds with pneumonia. That's the bad news: the good news is that he's stable, and starting to respond to the antibiotics. So while he's extremely uncomfortable, he is getting better. It's going to be quite a long recovery, though.