August 2005 Archives
August 31, 2005
Why -- why oh why -- did I not own any Rolling Stones until last week? I'm sitting in the office scripting furiously, writing ridiculous visual gags and set-ups, rocking away on my iPod to All Over Now and... actually, all of it.
Damn. Over the weekend I asked Mark to knock me up a stylish badge reading '(just outside the) TOP 100 (thousand) BLOGS'. But this morning I've picked up another link from somewhere, and Technorati now lists me as rank 98,443.
Zombiemobs: the second in a series of posts intended mostly to allow Mac users to marvel at the swashy italic Baskerville dropcap 'Z'. But wait! There's also a link, to this hilarious Daily Texan article about a zombiemob hijacking an American Idol audition, then getting hijacked themselves and ending up being filmed for the show. No-one was hurt. According to a spokeswoman for the Austin Police Department, the city has no history of zombie-related crimes.
August 30, 2005
That's odd. I was under the impression that Mechannibals was due on BBC2 at 8pm next Monday, but it looks like Map Man is starting instead. Do still watch it -- my chum Richard was one of the directors -- but... darn! My parents happen to be in Glasgow and everything; I was going to have a little TX party.
August 28, 2005
"One of the more tense moments of the series." No shit, Richie.
Phew! Damn. Now I'd better do some work.
In my previous post, I mention a discussion in which it took me a few seconds longer than normal to understand what was being said to me. That is, the message started to arrive considerably earlier than its content.
Somewhere in there is a lovely metaphor for the concepts of phase and group velocity, and hence why we keep seeing stories along the lines of 'light exceeds the speed of light'. Unfortunately, I fear it's in that subclass of neat metaphors which make sense only if one already understands the subject of the attempted explanation.
Which is in itself an interesting concept, deserving of a adjective. Or perhaps an explanatory metaphor.
So, I'm up to my eyeballs in scripts for Scrap It!, with altogether too little time between now and shooting the thing. Nevertheless, one can't work all the time, so yesterday I upped and offed to Edinburgh. It's the Festival, don'tchaknow, and as I've noted here already Gareth has a show. Now, I've seen a couple of reviews and they've been moderate, which is in itself interesting -- my best guess is that the reviewers wanted to do a hatchet job but actually, it's just not that bad a show, which left them rather bereft of a story.
Meanwhile, a less happy accident had befallen Gareth. "The show's cancelled -- he's had an accident." informed the box office. Eek. OK -- so I called him, intending to demand something like a street-theatre personal performance. Violet answered, sounding a little intense but otherwise like Violet. "Oh, hi Jonathan. It's horrible," she said, with an airy cheeriness, "Gareth's having muscle spasms and can't breathe, but not to worry, the paramedics are here now."
"Oh right," I said, catching more her tone than the words themselves, "so where are... what?" The information content finally caught up with me.
After a few hours sitting in A&E they finally saw a doctor, and Gareth was soon discharged. Just a bit of muscular weirdness, they thought; don't do whatever he did to cause it in the first place. Which isn't entirely reassuring, but in the circumstances probably better than the alternatives.
Meanwhile, Rosie and Mark and I had circled in a holding pattern in case Violet needed us, and also because John was with her and the whole thing might have turned into a bizarre and impromptu deletetheweb bloggers' meetup. In a hospital, but I'll take any Edinburgh venue I can find. Eventually, we tried to get in to see Ben Moor at the Pleasance, but he'd sold out (later it transpired that he hadn't, and the box office was just being mean because they thought we were late, their clock being six minutes fast)... and then I came home and set to work on the scripts.
Much later, I had a long conversation with a somewhat hyper Violet, and a shorter one with a somewhat spaced-out-on-painkillers-and-muscle-relaxant Gareth. Poor lad.
Today, Gareth's on much better form but still not sounding quite all there; he didn't do the show this afternoon. He's clearly despondent about this, but I think he's done amazingly. By rights, the whole endeavour could (and, playing the averages, perhaps should) have been an unmitigated disaster. It wasn't. People turned up, he had reviews -- some good and none bad -- and the audiences loved it. This is not how shows from Edinburgh virgins usually pan out.
Chin up, mate. But not so far it wrenches your back, OK?
For those unfamiliar with the finest sport in the world, there's a fine old tradition when it comes to commentating on cricket. Engendered in part by the game's civilised pace (some might say 'glacial,' but they're heathens), it's considered quite normal, even de rigeur, to discuss matters other than the cricket itself.
Those brought up on television coverage tend not to understand this -- which might be the cause of Suw's regrettable and I trust temporary confusion -- but those introduced to Test Match Special at an early age cope just fine. We grasp the importance of, say, discussing the relative merits of chocolate cakes sent in by listeners.
TMS is available via the BBC's live RealPlayer stream, of course (my favourite means of listening: this Dashboard widget, or maybe this one or this one). But at times -- say when frantically writing scripts over a weekend -- spoken commentary is too intrusive. Happily, there are several live ball-by-ball or over-by-over web feeds available, including reports from the venerable and magnificent CricInfo.
My favourite, however, is the Guardian's coverage. Their scorecard is cleaner than the BBC's, and the over-by-over commentary incorporating emails from readers is often downright hilarious. Right now they're discussing what's on the reporter's iPod, Abu Dhabi, and trying to remember what the capital of Borneo is called.
August 27, 2005
From Martin -- who seems to email me links at random, as some sort of plausibly deniable vicarious blog -- this movie. Some crazy digital media cats in Berlin mount a bunch of stuff (projector, battery, voltage inverter, magnetic clamp... mac mini) in a flight case, and then... oh, you just have to watch it. It's a glorious endeavour, though one has to marvel at it not turning into a study of, say, mac durability vs. small quantities of 'controlled explosion' plastique. Also -- if you're going to have shoals of fish swimming with the train, surely there should be porpoises too?
Damned ingenious, however, and all the more admirable for that. Bravo!
For all your bug-identification needs, What's That Bug?.com.
Ah, the joys of the internet.
August 26, 2005
August 25, 2005
Deletetheweb hostees -- looks like I've done something terrible with email. Sorry. Will sort as soon as I can.
[update: I think it's just forwarded addresses. But that's most of them. Drat. Working on it...]
[update 2: Personal email should be back up. Mailing lists are still patchy. Bear with me...]
August 24, 2005
Worth mentioning: two things that cheered me up today. The first was talking to Gareth on the phone. It's going to be tricky for me to get to his Edinburgh show since it's on at lunchtime (Saturday, maybe?), but this afternoon he sounded completely jazzed about the whole thing. He'd obviously just had a rocking performance, his audiences have been reasonable-to-large (no mean feat), and he's clearly enjoying himself immensely. A three-starred review in The Scotsman sounds a tad rough, but... it's in the Scotsman, for heaven's sake! Good effort, and it's terrific to hear Toppy sounding so happy.
Secondly, the Scotsman also reviews Joss Whedon's Serenity, playing in the film festival prior to its release next month. To say the review is positive is something of an understatement, and that's a major relief. Did I mention I'm a fan of Firefly? Oh, I did.
For some reason I've not blogged much about the new series I'm making, which is a shame because today's been probably the least encouraging day so far, and now you're all going to go away with the wrong impression of it. It's not a nightmare gig, I've just had 'one of those days.'
The series is a(nother) children's make&do show, of the sort I should probably avoid on the grounds of CV atrophication. However, the production company is lovely, the rest of the production team is a Top Bloke, and there are interesting aspects to the gig. Notably, the budget is tiny. OK, all TV people these days complain about squeezed budgets, but this... woah, boy. I've made similar shows in the past, but for those I had five times as much money. 'Minor scaling back' doesn't start to cover it, and one is hence pushed into somewhat radical solutions. Of which more anon, since it's fun working out what they might be.
One consequence, however, is a somewhat compressed schedule. Which presents a problem when things don't quite go to plan, since there's not a whole bunch of leeway involved. So, today, with filming three weeks away, we should have been confirming crew for studio. Frustratingly, we weren't in a position to do that. The immediate knock-on effect is minor, except that I'm supposed to have another production chap start tomorrow and... well, I'm not sure either of us know if he's turning up or not. He's a laid-back sort and I'm sure it'll be fine, but I dislike relying on people's good natures like this.
The second difficulty could perhaps be referred to as an 'imbalance of ambition.' This is, by its very nature, an ambitious show. We're putting as much effort into the content as we have on any previous series we've made, but there are fewer of us and fewer weeks' prep, so we're spread rather thinly. Item ideas are ahead of where I'd expected (Gavin is something like a genius when it comes to making games out of cardboard and yoghurt pots, and if he can dream it up I can usually make it work). Scripts are doing OK, though by the nature of the show they're fiddly to redraft, and that worries me since time is short. But props... woohooo that's scary. We've a mountain to climb, and we're only just starting to see a plausible way around it. My gut instinct is that it's touch-and-go on getting everything done, and I've made a genuinely ridiculous number of series of this sort: my gut is usually right.
So now isn't a good time to be discussing fairly-to-seriously major additions to the format. It's not that our commissioner is making ridiculous suggestions. Far from it, I like her a lot, think she has some great ideas, and find her approach refreshing. But my best guess is that we'll come seriously unstuck if we try to do everything that's currently on the table. So that's going to be a nice phone call tomorrow. 'Sorry, you can't have that' -- never a good opener.
...and then I came home to the most hilariously huge bill from the Inland Revenue. Oh, I laugh now, now I've worked out why it's nigh-on double what I was expecting. Still, it's another major thing to sort out, and suddenly there aren't enough days in the week, let alone hours in the day.
So, not the best day ever. I'm going to bed.
August 23, 2005
Thankfully not mine, which I'm sure is something of a relief to all concerned. No indeed -- dear Gareth, currently playing Edinburgh dontchaknow, has a podcast up. I was initially skeptical that it was, technically, a podcast at all, but it has an RSS feed and everything. L33t!
You can also find the feed on the iTunes Music Store here, which since Gareth's site is on my server means, I assume, that I'm now serving stuff for Apple. Or something like that.
Is the show any good? Yes. Gareth and his chum Zog discuss weird noises made by F1 cars, and petrolhead websites including the perennial favourite SniffPetrol.com. It's nicely hacked-together with samples and stings and all that, and they're rather engaging as a pair. It's the sort of double-act that could grow, and I hope they keep at it and give themselves time to settle into it. Also to develop the show's format, since the interjections by Violet and Tycho (Gareth and Violet's eldest son) are probably the most charming parts. There are a couple of minor technical blemishes -- Zog is very quiet at some points -- but they're only noticeable because it's otherwise a thoroughly professional production.
In general I remain to be convinced that podcasts are anything other than amateur radio shows run by people who shouldn't be on the radio. Given that, I'd rather have more Radio 4, thanks all the same. Nevertheless, there must be many podcasts that are worth one's time, and Gareth's might fit into that group. We'll see how it develops.
August 19, 2005
Posted here for my own reference for the next time it happens; occasionally, the icons on my Mac refuse to drag anywhere. Which is a bit weird. Binning the cache and preferences files listed in this post, then logging out and logging back in again, solves the issue.
Oh, and trashing QuickSilver's prefs fixes the problem where it disappears as soon as you invoke it. Yes, I have filed a bug report about that.
Shock! Mac OS X isn't completely hassle-free! Gasp!
August 18, 2005
OK, so it's now sufficiently official that it made the Guardian yesterday: ITV is launching a new children's channel on Freeview, earlyish next year.
Current intelligence is that there's limited scope for new commissions, for a while at least, but doubtless there'll be some. I might suggest they'll likely all be dramas, but that would just be a moan without, necessarily, any substance.
Memory is a curious thing. Mine is far from photographic, but I still often do that trick of recalling where on the page the line I'm looking for is, and how far through the book (and what the book looks like, where on the shelf it is, and how far up the unit the shelf is... but rarely which town the shelf is in).
Recently, I found myself writing a neat phrasing and realised that I'd borrowed it from an exchange with a friend, long ago:
Me: "How did your viva go?"
Her: "Well, I think. They nodded at the maths and laughed at the jokes, which has to be better than the other way around."
I've admired that inversion ever since, and enjoyed appropriating it partly because in my head it's always associated with that balmy summer afternoon, walking through the grounds of Trinity. There was nothing particularly memorable or significant about the occasion, it's more that I'm surprised and delighted to find myself appreciating the connection between a structural phrasing and a physical event. Just as some smells might be associated in one's mind with specific songs, perhaps.
Anyway, the friend and I drifted out of touch, and I never knew what happened to her. Her research papers appeared in Google, but nothing else. Until the other day, I happened to try again, and it turns out she bailed on science and is now -- or rather, was, a couple of years back -- Strategy Manager for BBC Radio and Music. Blimey.
Since I've mysteriously picked up some new readers of late, and I'm about to vanish into the black hole that is 'the fortnight before studio, then studio, then post,' now would be an appropriate time to repeat the standard offer:
I host weblogs for a bunch of friends, over at deletetheweb.com. I do this because they've been known to post interesting things, and hence I enjoy reading their blogs. And because I get a kick out of things like Damien's exhibition of mobile phone photos.
If you, dear reader, would like a blog to call your very own -- or, indeed, pretty much any other web application: galleries, message boards, wikis, whatever -- drop me a line and I'll see if I can sort you out. Note that I have to trust you not to abuse the offer, so it helps if I actually know you, or we're introduced by a mutual friend. Note also that my customer service is described as 'legendary.' That is to say, legend has it that there was once, long ago, customer service. Ho ho.
Email me as jonathan[at]quernstone.com. This coming weekend may be your last window for a while -- hell, I hope Movable Type 3.2 comes out tomorrow -- so don't delay.
Stack rocks up into nice little towers, film yourself pushing them over, and then reverse the film. Sounds neither difficult nor likely to be especially interesting, right?
Er... no, sorry, wrong. Do it right, and the result's peculiarly beautiful. 'Rock On, Rock ON: Balancing point' is the site, with the trailer playing at iFilm. I'm not sure I could watch an hour of this, but I've had the short on repeat for ages now. Do also check out the gallery of balanced rocks.
So, the defense press is joking about unmanned combat aircraft having 'commercial applications,' like tracking parcels, or making deliveries.
Forgive me, but -- Conor, didn't we do exactly that gag in a Rag revue in... er... 1993/4? And if memory serves, it wasn't very funny then, either, though mostly because I totally flubbed the lines.
August 16, 2005
Suw Charman has an excellent summary of forthcoming legislation the UK is attempting to push through the EU, why it should concern you, and what you can do about it.
...and, not coincidentally, she demonstrates why the UK digital (rights|freedoms) organisation mooted at OpenTech last month is very probably a rather good idea. Suw's post is the first example I've seen of the sort of thing such an organisation would and should do. The Pledge is still running -- 729 signatories to date.
Smart cars being stalked by lions in a safari park. That's... unnerving. And tell me, the staff stationed 'by the lion enclosure, to deal with any problems.' -- what exactly do they do? Run at you waving madly and shouting 'Run away! There's a lion!'?
Born and brought up in Hull, me. No, really.
My favourite quote from that page:
Once a week The Hull Daily Mail leads with an article about the latest great scheme for the town centre invariably accompanied by an artists impression which looks like it came from the Eagle in the 1950’s.
My chum Daniel, meanwhile, went to school in Yarm. The joke is that he actually paid for that, a thought which never ceases to make me chuckle. Mind you, I now live in Glasgow so I'm not sure who gets the last laugh.
"Somebody's just threatened to sue me"
"That's nice. Who?"
"The Girl Guides."
August 15, 2005
As I type, they're talking about the caterers doing the washing up and, evidently, smashing crockery. No mention yet of chocolate cakes, and if they don't get one in fast they'll run out of overs.
The match is a tad tense too.
[update 17:55: Oh crap! They've dropped off R4LW for -- get this -- The Shipping Forecast. Exactly how many people need the shipping forecast over a RealPlayer stream?
Now, where's the dial for me to twiddle this thing to Radio 5 Live?]
[update 18:00: Warne's gone!]
[update 18:47: Merde.]
Finally, Mechannibals has a transmission slot. Monday September 5th, 8pm, BBC2, and weekly thereafter. I saw the first show a few weeks ago, and it's a hoot, so I'm looking forward to the rest.
August 14, 2005
While I was making Mechannibals, I didn't have much chance to catch up with the wider world online. As a result NetNewsWire faithfully syphoned up a ridiculous number of unread blog posts... most of which I never read.
This morning, it topped well over 4,500 unread. This afternoon, I've managed to get it back down to: none. Oh happy, happy day.
Quite how I can avoid that ever happening again, I've no idea. And really, I should have been trying to do the same with my email inbox. Maybe next weekend, since I seem to have have a zillion or so open browser tabs, each containing an interesting article. Drat.
[update: Tee-hee. I just tried to command+tab to NetNewsWire, and suffered a moment of confusion. Without the red-flashed 'unread posts' count, I didn't recognise the icon.]
Mac-using readers (ie. Colin, my dad, and... actually, that might be it. But hey, that's 50%!) should check out this list of the Mac software you should know about.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any more weird: Christopher Walken for President, 2008. I have no idea whether it's for real, but if it is -- who's the dream ticket running mate?
[update: A Technorati search shows an awful lot of bloggers asking 'is this for real?' My guess is 'no,' but it still has the air of something that starts as a joke but turns out to have been true all along in retrospect. I'm trying to start something similar around the news that Joss Whedon is going to remake all six Star Wars films.]
August 12, 2005
Favourite site of the day: Maopost. Chinese propaganda posters; just like you imagine old Soviet-era posters to have been, only for the most part, they weren't. There's also a Maopost Dashboard widget.
One of these days, I'll get around to defining a category for these sorts of comment+link posts, and either running them in a sidebar or inline but in a different style. Hmm...
August 10, 2005
Drat drat drat. I think I just turned down a job on Scrappy Races.
That is to say: an old chum called me to find out what I'm up to because they might have a producer/director job going (on a maybe/not sure basis); the dates clashed; I gave them the number of a director chappie anyway just in case.
Three hours later that chappie rang me. "I think I start on Monday."
Um... bother. I'd have enjoyed that. Ah, well -- I'm otherwise engaged, nothing to be done about it. All good karma, or whatever.
August 7, 2005
A wonderfully cynical -- but in fact rather cogent -- piece on the evident pointlessness of manned space flight, at least as currently practiced by NASA. Yes, it's hugely exciting and all, but... why do we bother? (via Kottke).
Only touched on is the common notion that the manned programme is there mainly to secure funding for NASA, and hence that the (relatively straightforward to justify) unmanned programme couldn't exist without it. While that may have been the case back in the eighties and early nineties, NASA have had some notable successes of late. Smashing things into comets, driving robots around Mars, visiting Titan -- not only are these remarkable achievements, they're actually exciting too.
As a geeky child of the seventies I was as excited as the next kid about Columbia, and the idea of actually going to space was hugely thrilling. Heck, I came within about two weeks of starting a degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics, though come to think of it that may have had more to do with a certain Lightning at Paull airshow one year (and maybe Airfix) than the Shuttle.
But today -- do kids get the same kick out of manned spaceflight as we did back then? One could form a plausible hypothesis thus: in a post-Robot Wars, pervasive internet world, children are now so accustomed to indirect experience that it really is the mission content that's significant. Sending people up to spin a few pencils, grow some crystals, and regrout their own spaceship is just... dull. Besides, if you really want to travel into space, NASA isn't your ticket -- Branson and Rutan are. What they're doing is far more thrilling than the Shuttle, no?
Would a really bold space agency have decided that 'Return to Flight' was a pointless exercise and declared that they had more important stuff to do?
And here's a really big idea: if it's the mission content that's important, does that mean that 'the medium is the message'... is obsolete?
Time for breakfast. It's too early on a Sunday to be writing things like that.
I just sliced my thumb open on a yoghurt pot lid. There's blood everywhere, and it ruddy hurts!. Ow ow ow!
August 6, 2005
So... Extras, right? Did they:
- (a.) Dress the entire crew in costume and use them as the extras? (which would have been hugely confusing on set but could have been quite a laugh), or:
- (b.) Use extras conventionally, and then not credit them?
If (b.), is that (i.) ironic, a (ii.) missed trick, or (iii.) plain rude?
I have a similar reaction to Extras as I did to The Office. I think it's a terribly clever idea, I chuckle merrily for about the first four minutes of each show, then about ten minutes in I find myself in the kitchen washing up. It's not that I dislike it, I guess I just don't find it entertaining. Weird.
August 3, 2005
One of the goodies in my recent-ish monster Amazon parcel was a DVD of Lost in Translation, which the regular reader (singular, I fear) may recall I absolutely adored in the cinema. Quite why I hadn't got around to watching it is something of a mystery. Perhaps I was scared I wouldn't like it as much the second time around, but I needn't have worried. I still think it's sparsely beautiful and boasts unreasonably wonderful photography. But I'm still most impressed that it manages to capture on film a state of ennui that, by rights, should exist only in one's mind: a magnificent achievement. While I can see why many people dislike it, I'm not amongst them.
The redheaded lounge singer wasn't a professional actress, but rather the real-life lounge singer of the Hotel where the cast and crew were staying at, and they thought her performance of the "Scarborough Fair" fit the theme of the film so well, they asked her to be in the movie
....which is pretty much the definition of 'glorious understatement' in that the point is exquisitely clear, and yet goes entirely unmentioned. Which is, of course, the story of the film.
Ah, happy hap... GIANT KILLER ROBOTS! ARRRGHHHH!
(only one person will understand that, so you'd better ruddy well post a comment, you slacker.)
August 2, 2005
Away in some near-future vaguely-Gibsonian alternative universe, there goes an industry like this: the personal shopping channel. Back here, 'Personal shoppers' are well-known amongst... well, basically, the rich. So maybe I wouldn't know, but nevertheless the personal shopping channel is not something that's attracted my attention.
The basic idea is this; the personal shopper heads out into the brave new world of... gosh, I don't know, Regent Street, Soho, wherever such people go these days. Meanwhile, they're videoed by the shopping channel people, who -- moments later, in a nearby Starbucks -- cut together and upload footage of the shopper's selections. Uploaded solely for the individual paying for the personal shopper, of course.
Is anyone doing this? They should be. It feels so... frivolously, gloriously, pointlessly right.
Ooooh shiny! Monotype have released Gill Sans as an OpenType package. If only it wasn't $690. Drat.
I'm trying to view a showreel for a client of one of the London artists' management agencies. The file is in Windows Media Player format... only, WMP crashes on launch on my Mac. My work PC is so old it can't handle the compression, and it doesn't have audio, anyway (a common circumstance). So... I can't see the showreel.
So, I try reinstalling WMP for Mac OS X. No dice, it still falls over. I check the help site, and find this wonderful gem:
Although it is usually possible to play protected files by using Windows Media Player 9 Series for Mac OS X, in some cases you may encounter one of the following issues:
- The Player displays the error message "Cannot open the file. Verify that the path and file name are correct and try again." In this case, verifying the path and file name will not solve the problem.
- A Web page is displayed that informs you that you should upgrade to a newer version of the Player. In this case, you already have the latest version of Windows Media Player for Mac OS X, so upgrading will not solve the problem.
In both cases, there is no way to resolve the issue, and you won't be able to play the file.
Oh, for heaven's sake! If the file was in anything like an MPEG4 format, I could play it on pretty much anything. Including my phone! Grrrr!