October 2005 Archives
October 29, 2005
Mechannibals, incidentally, isn't on tomorrow. Again. So far we've seen three shows, then its slot got usurped by the snooker. The following week it got gazumped by some nautical geezer who's been dead for two centuries. This week... it's just not on.
Apparently it's not returning to the Sunday slot at all -- rather, it's going to pick up with programme 4 on 16th or 17th November. Then it runs for another four weeks, after which the snooker kicks it out again, then the last show should be on the week before Christmas.
I could speculate on likely causes and plausible implications, but I think I'll refrain. Draw your own conclusions.
File under 'I didn't know that': for historical reasons, Avid editing software doesn't use QuickTime formats. Thus, it's normally impossible to move media between Avid and, say, Final Cut Pro without using something like Automatic Duck's convertors. However, Avid do offer a freely-downloadable QuickTime component for their Meridien uncompressed and barely-compressed format.
Install it, restart Final Cut, and you're good to go. OK, so it's a bit weird in that you can't always preview the footage without error dialogs, but the clips will render if you stick them in a sequence.
Our brilliant graphics chappie was outputting Meridien 2:1-compressed renders from After Effects, which were fine for the Symphony online but naff all use for the ancient Media Composer 7 offline. So... I installed the filters on my PowerBook, rendered the graphics to DV, and spat them out to tape, which the offline could then read. All a bit belt-and-braces, but it does work.
I note this here because I had to scoot off and find the codec download page again, as I'm trying to use the graphics masters to make menu backgrounds for the DVDs.
Five years ago, DVD burners cost something like $5000. Then Apple started fitting them to Power Macs as a standard feature. When I bought my G4 tower back in mid-2002 I remember working out that the DVD burner accounted for almost half the cost of the machine (admittedly knocked way down to £1000 as end-of-line stock).
That built-in DVD burner was one of the very early ones, able to write a complete disc in a little over an hour. Which is a tremendous thing, but not when you're hoping to write a couple of dozen discs. However, it's a standard piece of kit, so... it turns out one can just rip out the factory-fitted DVD burner and slot in a new one.
XLR8YourMac have a clumsy but incredibly useful Drive Compatibility Database; I bought a Pioneer DVD-110D from the local PC components shop for a hair over -- get this -- thirty quid. Apple have an excellently clear video showing how to remove the optical drive caddy from the G4, then it's merely a matter of swapping the drive unit over and bunging it all back together. Oh, and slipping off the front bit of the drive tray, so it doesn't jam on the G4's natty bezel door thingy.
Boot up again and basic things 'just work,' but for some more funky stuff in iDVD and the like one needs to give OS X a little kick to reassure it that, yes, the drive will play ball. Download and run Patchburn, restart, and you're done.
So... I'm now burning DVDs eight times faster. The drive will go twice as fast again, but I was a cheapskate with the blanks I bought.
Expanding on my previous post: there's something peculiarly wonderful about finishing projects, some aspect of the TV process that seems to fundamentally agree with me. Something to do with timescales of a few months, packaging everything up at the end of it, and being able to say, 'I could have done this or that, maybe more of that would have been better -- but you know what? What I did was this, and that's the end of it.' The residue of weeks of deliberation and toil, impassioned debates, hair-tearing creative bursts, late nights, surmounting seemingly-impassible obstacles, and bashing against failing or inadequate or inappropriate kit to force it to bend to your will... is a small pile of tapes.
There's always a moment, late on in the dub process, where you line up the tapes on a table, regimenting them in neat, serried rows. Then you... look at them. Often the editor and dubbing mixer will join you in silent contemplation. You'll never see those tapes again, yet they're what you've been working towards all along. They're the physical embodiment of all the effort, toil, and creativity of all the individuals involved in the series. Tens of thousands of pounds buys you, in the end, a few hundred feet of iron-carrying tape, wrapped up in neat blue boxes with discrete sticky labels bearing obtuse technical details.
Of course, the real product of TV happens in people's living rooms, as they watch the show. But as programme makers we never see that. The tapes are our offering to the deities of transmission; having nurtured their contents, we set them free (via courier), wish them well, and... hope.
It's a bitter-sweet moment, leaving one in a state of mildly perplexed euphoria which can last as much as several weeks. In this case, I barely have time to enjoy it, since I'm frantically trying to clear the decks in Glasgow in preparation for the new London job on Monday. Pity.
Yesterday: waving a fond farewell to the transmission masters, I filed a small mountain of paperwork, handed over the clear-up notes to Duncan the production secretary, and... cleared my desk. Today I'm messing about trying to do DVDs of the show so the cast and crew can actually see it, and I still have to write half the billings, but otherwise -- Scrap It! is finished. Thirteen weeks since I started on it, and we've delivered thirteen shows.
I've never worked that fast, but it's been an absolute blast. OK, so some of it we got away with by the skin of our teeth, and the dub was a bit rushed, but it's been one of the most fun jobs I can recall. It's not really for me to judge, but overall I'm delighted with the show, the commissioner seems extremely happy, and while it's still a tad early to say with confidence, it's looking like we even brought it in on budget. Which is something of a miracle, frankly.
Transmission is on Discovery Kids from November 7th (a week on Monday!), at 7:25am, 12:10pm and 4:00pm. The billings are somewhat out of date (we never did shoot the nose pump mentioned in the first episode blurbs...), but that's probably because I haven't had chance to write them yet. Well hey, we only worked out the series running order a week ago!
Oh, and the pig? At some point, I brought in a very cute cardboard pig made by Dave Pitt for The Big Bang, many years ago. I think it was supposed to be an example of the level of finish we were aiming for, or something. Anyway, it ended up as set dressing... then the graphics guy got his mitts on it... and now it's animated all over the titles and graphics sequences, despite having come from an entirely different series. But hey -- everyone loves the pig.
October 28, 2005
Philip Greenspun has one of the most original takes I've heard on the whole 'teaching of Intelligent Design' debacle -- that scientists should cheer it on. His logic: only by crippling the intellectual development of a generation of students can scientists be guaranteed ongoing careers. If there's nobody to replace you, your employment prospects go up. Win!
October 25, 2005
As a rule, I don't get phone calls offering me work. Unusually for TV, I've never really moved in those circles, instead falling from job to job. So the call from Mentorn this lunchtime was something of a surprise.
More of a surprise was the call from Pioneer this afternoon, asking if I'd like to direct a documentary. Er... yes. When?
Next month. Bother.
Ah well. In accordance with the Bus Queue Postulate I'm now waiting for the phone to ring once more -- meanwhile, many thanks Patrick for pointing them in my direction.
Monday. That's when I start. We have eight weeks to put five shows together, then they go out on Five from Boxing Day. Live. It's... the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.
The astute observer of my CV may recall that I worked on the Christmas Lectures back in 1990 -- which was, in fact, the last time I worked in London, before I was even a student. So, I'm unreasonably excited about the whole thing. I only vaguely know where I'm going to stay, it's only just dawned on me that I may not be able to leave London for Christmas itself, and the pay is rubbish. But... it's the RI.
October 24, 2005
Over the weekend the Telegraph ran a story about a new report, apparently funded by the BBC, recommending that children's TV presenters should be older and more conservatively-dressed. At least, that's how the Telegraph chose to tag the article -- quite what the report itself says is anyone's guess. I was alerted to the story by Sam Pinkham, erstwhile presenter of this parish. Or at least, of The Big Bang, anyway -- he's mostly a DJ for Heart 106 in Nottingham, doing the drivetime show. Would I, he enquired, care to record a brief interview on the subject, since they were going to discuss children's TV this afternoon?
Of course, I tried to fob him off by offering up Fred Dinenage, who's a living rebuttal to any concern that children's TV is entirely full of scantily-clad youngsters barely out of their teens. He's been presenting the same show since 1966, you see. Fred gamely stepped out of a meeting down at Meridian and did the interview... but then Sam rang me again anyway, and we recorded a little something.
Now, I get nervous as heck doing this sort of thing. I'm OK again in front of an audience -- finally! -- but radio brings back horrifying flashes of a live interview I did on BBC Radio Humberside when I was 17. It was supposed to be a two or three-minute piece, but some link or other went down... then the news feed collapsed... then something else packed in... and before I knew it the host and I were twelve minutes into the discussion, surrounded by terrified-looking station execs frantically making 's-t-r-e-t-c-h' movements.
So I regret to report that I've absolutely no idea what I driveled on about. I think I got a good boot into the BBC at some point, for not showing anything much resembling factual programming and thereby setting a terrible example to the rest of the industry. But really, for all I can remember I could have been wittering on about the weather in Patagonia. I'm just hoping I didn't make too much of a fool of myself.
Wow. There's a blast from the past. I'm currently -- that is, over on the other Mac right this very moment -- editing the last session video from July's OpenTech. I got most of it done and uploaded the week after the conference, but then this inconvenient job sort of drove in and sucked up all my time. But now I need the media drive space back so I can prepare DVDs of Scrap It!, which is something of an incentive to get the laggard sessions edited, compressed, and uploaded. These include Suw, Gavin, Ewan's iPod Shuffle Shuffle (which I didn't think I had, but it turned out the other camera more-or-less caught the audio), and Rob McKinnon's demonstration of the most amazing GreaseMonkey site rebuilding.
And I'm nearly there. Only... oh gnats! I've just spotted James Larsson's Motherboard Kerplunk, which was sort-of not on the programme, only it's very lovely and I do actually have video of it and... bother.
Heigh-ho. More video hackery to come, then. And I was soooo close.
October 23, 2005
David Rowan, writing in the Times Magazine back in May (though I've only just seen this), explores the games children play in the school playground. A fascinating insight into an alien world. I may make television for children, but I wouldn't claim to begin to understand them.
OK, this is so mad it has to happen: the Mini Concept Tokyo, as reported on CoolHunting. As they put it, it looks like the designers have been 'smoking some Marc Newson weed from a Paul Smith bong.' Make sure you scroll down until you see the roof interior shot. You'll be glad you did.
More pictures at Mini2.com; it's a reprinted press release with all the expected nonsensical marketing/design drivel. Awful pretty, though. And personally, if this is the 2006 Mini's front end, I much prefer it to the current 'facelift' version.
(And if you're wondering: yes, I'm catching up with NetNewsWire again. Hence the sudden flurry of posts).
It's Sunday afternoon. Four cars just parked up on the road outside my flat. Six people got out, five women and one man. All are wearing blue polo shirts, white boiler-suits and green rubber gloves, and appear to be carrying cleaning products. They've just entered a house opposite. One of them has a stepladder.
There are several scenarios I could hypothesise to explain this, none of them pleasant. I haven't been in all week, so I wouldn't have noticed... oh, I don't know... a large police presence or whatever.
Update: They're now marching in carrying multiple Numatic Henry vacuum cleaners.
Update 2: Ten minutes later, they've all gone again. Er... weird.
A sometime colleague of mine theorises that any noun can be turned into a west-end musical by the simple addition of an exclamation mark. For example: Squid! works better than you'd expected, right? How about Elastomer!, or maybe sprocket!. Hair! has, of course, already been done.
Thus: Teach!, inexplicably called Reach! on the video itself, which is clearly a typo. Or something. It appears to be a bunch of students doing the sort of thing students do, only with amplification, multiple video cameras and perhaps a little more panache than most of us managed back in the day. Made me laugh, anyway. Linky to Quicktime video: enjoy.
There are more videos too, though they're mildly obfuscated by one of those annoyingly slow Flash interfaces, and there's nothing I can see about the perpetrators.
October 22, 2005
I'm posting this with the very-very-beta-release of Flock. So far I'm in the 'meh' camp, but I need to test rather more and see if I can tell what's intentional and what's just plain unfinished -- it'd be rather mean to complain about stuff too early, except constructively. The Cassini photo's stunning, however.
October 21, 2005
I've often suggested that television is surprisingly free of jargon. This position is somewhat hard to maintain when faced with exchanges thus:
"Where's my tone gone?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'm sending tone to the racks relay, but I can't find it. Where's it gone?"
"What's it routed to?"
"The DS, SP, Digi, DV and SX decks. Everything but the D3."
"Try the other Digi?"
"Nahhhhh Oh! I know! It's that weird 440Hz for the M&Es, not 1K"
"Oh that's what the hum is! Who the hell uses 440?"
"Read the delivery spec sheet."
(does so) "Gaaaaaah!"
Why are Fridays never simple?
Clock details confirmed? Check. Audio sync? Check. M&E tracks in place? Check. Tone and alternate tone? Check. Presenter captions? Check. End rollers? Check. Textless elements? Check.
DigiBeta tape loaded for 16:9 archive master? Check. BetaSX backing tape loaded? Check. DS Nitris suite primed for 14:9 letterbox transmission master render? Check. MiniDV tape loaded for internal archive? Check.
First problem found -- four seconds in. Bollocks.
There's a production going off in London that I've been meaning to look up -- actually, there are two, but that's another matter. Turns out an old mate of mine is doing it, which is great and all but actually I'm a bit jealous. At least, I was, until I spoke to him. Turns out he needs help on the thing, and while the money's a bit crock and the job title might be a step backwards in some respects, for historical reasons I'd leap at the chance to do the gig.
Only, another old chum is also in the running for it. And, me being me, I gave her a hugely positive reference, since I think she's wonderful.
My mum will ruddy throttle me when she finds out. And yes, she does read this blog. Come to think of it, I might ruddy throttle me, when it sinks in. Still -- no decisions made yet. We'll see what happens.
On paper -- or at least, on the schedule -- we deliver all thirteen programmes today. T'ch, yeah, right. All I actually have to send off is the first six shows, and... well... we'll get there. Somehow. Right now we've about seven shows dubbed and mixed, and the entire series is conformed (that is, the pictures are back to their reasonably-pristine original form rather than the looking-through-a-sheet-of-mud offline placeholders). But still, we have to:
- Put the ident clocks on the front of the shows (you should never see these, but people take great pride in their clocks and the transmission chaps like to see them. Mostly because they can't read the tape label when it's in the machine, I suppose).
- Replace credits crawlers with final versions.
- Make up the production caption and add three seconds of it to the end of each programme.
- Add name captions at the start of the show, for the presenters.
- Chop up the show so anything that's got text over it is spliced on clean after the programme, so if/when Discovery put the thing out in, say, Portuguese they can translate all the visuals.
- Check we've replaced all the library music beds (expensive) with composed stuff (cheapskate, and mostly better, actually).
- Drop in voice-over for the menu sequences (recorded yesterday -- Will did a stonking job on them).
- Play out the audio tracks.
- Take the voice-overs out again, tweak the mix, and play the audio back out again to make dialogue-clean music & effects tracks for international use.
- Add the audio to the pictures.
- Add the other audio to the pictures.
- Play out the 14:9 letterbox transmission master. Yay!
- Play out the 16:9 anamorphic archive master (what, they don't ARC on transmission?! Evidently not. Weird).
- Dub off the VHS, BetaSP and miniDV viewing copies (yawn!)
What's a little weird is that... er... we haven't actually had chance to watch any of the shows since last week. So we've little real idea if we've used too much music, too little, how it changes the pace of the shows, and so on. Walter the editor and I have just been staring at each other, trying to work out how brave we're feeling. Have we time to watch them before we've passed the point of no return?
"Nah, just play it out."
We'd only want to change things, after all.
There should be a word for the poignant ennui one feels on discovering that one's coffee is, in fact, empty, despite one's expectations of there being a mouthful left in the cup.
October 19, 2005
Billings are the 30-word blurbs about TV shows that show up in listings -- newspapers, magazines, even the Radio Times. Technically, the page editor writes the billings, but they have to have something to go on. So along with delivering the final final please-make-this-final programme tape, paperwork so the musicians get paid, paperwork so transmission control know how long the show is, more paperwork to verify that the paperwork has been completed, and yet more paperwork to attest that the electronic copies of the paperwork have been completed and filed... one also has to deliver little blurbs about each show.
Which means that somebody has to write the blurbs.
Which means I've been sitting in the back of the edit suite all day trying to write 13x30 words. You'd think it'd be easy, but noooo. Editors want vim, they want style, they want teasing. They want alliteration and puns. And they also want repetition, since it's basically the same thing that runs for each show -- only, I know, since I've been doing this for years, that only about six words of what I write will ever be printed anywhere.
The whole exercise is as close-to-pointless-whilst-actually-being-demonstrably-necessary as I can conceive, and for that reason and the repetitiveness I find it astonishingly boring. I'd rather wash up. I'd rather clean the bath. I'd rather sit and feed tapes into an online suite. I'd rather do practically anything besides writing billings. But today I hit a new nadir of displacement.
Today, I caught myself avoiding writing billings by -- and I'm wincing as I confess this -- checking my junk email folder for messages that shouldn't have been filtered there. That is, I preferred to read junk mail.
(incidentally: sorting by subject works surprisingly well for sifting through very large volumes of mail. Delete all the multiple duplicates and you have far less to skim through)
"You're listening to BBC Radio Two. We're discussing Saddam Hussein -- send us your texts and emails on whether he should be tried or just locked up, locked up or suffer the death penalty. Meanwhile, here's Elkie Brooks."
Deletetheweb.com started out as a jolly gag. Back in November 2001, while working on the first series of Science Shack -- and, indeed, whilst sitting in the Cardigan Arms -- Damien and I thought it might be an amusing jape to build a website which offered to 'delete the entire world-wide web', presented you with 'OK' and 'Cancel' buttons, then if you were foolish enough to pick the former it would proffer up a progress bar for 14 trillion files. We bought the domain that afternoon, and I slapped it on my shiny new Dreamhost service plan.
Of course we never got around to writing the site and Deletetheweb sat idle, waiting for me to work out what to do with it. Until March, 2003, when Jules was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
300 miles away and feeling somewhat helpless, I had some bizarre inkling that maybe, just maybe, it might be easier for Alan and Jules to relate their experiences in public, once, rather than to individuals, many times. So I installed Movable Type at deletetheweb.com/jules, threw Alan the keys, and left it at that.
What developed over the next 14 months was a moving tribute to Jules and her astonishing stubbornness, to Alan's dedication, and to their joint bravery. It's an everyday tale of struggling against the odds and, ultimately, losing. Alan's writings, however, stand as a defiant testimony, eulogy, and inspiration. I never, for a moment, thought a weblog would have such an impact, and I feel honoured to have played a small part in the story, however much I wish it had turned out differently.
Along the way, Deletetheweb picked up other residents, more people with stories to tell or simply an urge to experiment. Some have persevered and blog almost daily, some post sporadically, some have drifted off -- it's been a pleasure to read them all. Worth singling out are the original Damien, who turned an initially-dodgy photoblog into a plaudit-winning exhibition of mobile phone photographic art, and John, whose Unstuck Diaries I've never understood but in which I've continuously found amusement, inspiration, and beauty.
Today, a reminder arrived exhorting me to renew deletetheweb.com's registration, which was due to expire in a few weeks' time. Did I bother? Of course I did, and without hesitation. Hosting the site has brought me much pleasure over the last four years. I think it's worth a modest gamble on the next.
October 13, 2005
Wondering how to rip DVDs on your Mac? That is; do you want to copy the (encrypted) movie off a disc so you can back it up to your hard drive, carry it around on your phone, or just plain watch it because -- say -- somebody just gave you a boxed set of The Twilight Zone only it's region 1 not 2 so you can't play it?
You need this HowTo guide from Marc Pilgrim. Mighty fine.
What to think of the new Secret Intelligence Service (AKA MI6) website? Should we be impressed by the understated-yet-stylish design, or appreciative of the clean XHTML page code? Or -- perhaps more to the point -- should we be mildly surprised by the Russian language version of the site. Er... what? I suppose one can understand Arabic and maybe Chinese versions, but if Russian... then why Spanish and -- gasp -- French? Are they alert to potential skullduggery by the dastardly garlic-eaters? Surely not!
October 10, 2005
The other mildly bizarre blogworld thing to have happened last week goes like this; two-and-a-half years ago I posted a quote from Eddie Mair on PM which rather amused me. Six months later, I noted that a surprising number of visitors reach my blog via a Google search for 'Eddie Mair,' (still in the top 10!) and hypothesised that a Mair-stalking blog would be a sure-fire Google hit.
Well... Roland McLain-Smith has recently started exactly that blog: Eddie Mair Watch. I know this because he's quoted my original story, linked to The Daily Grind, and left a polite comment informing me. Which is all well and good and perfectly reasonable and even rather amusing, but... but... actually, no, I suppose it isn't stalking. Quite.
Still a bit weird, though. I wonder what Eddie thinks?
Oh, and if you've no idea who this Mair character is -- Wikipedia can, as ever, fill you in.
In preparation for ditching my Demon dialup account (yes, I still have that), I recently yanked all the website rubbish that was there. Nothing had been touched in something like five years, and archive.org has its mitts on it anyway, so I figured it didn't really matter.
Of course, the next day somebody got in touch asking where something had gone -- specifically, the wonderful X-Ray image of a Newton MessagePad 2100 that Martin took, waaaay back in the day. I still had the originals of course, and happily the somebody -- Grant Hutchinson, take a bow -- has now posted the scan to Flickr. Not only that, but he's improved on the original by annotating as many of the bits as he can make out.
Ah, Newton. Mine's still in a state of torpor, since there's data on it I don't wish to lose (notes written during my US road trip), but I don't think it's every going to boot again without being brain-wiped. Bit of a dilemma, that, and as a result I haven't used it in two years. I miss it. Still the most elegant user interface designed.
October 9, 2005
I've suspected this has been going on for a while, but haven't had a good example until now: Technorati search results don't seem to be stable. If you run a search and hit 'reload,' I guess you get cached data, but if you wait a few minutes and search again, you get different results. You'd expect this if there have been new results... but you wouldn't expect the older results to disappear, would you? They do.
Technorati broken? Old news. But they've recently upgraded a bunch of stuff and I was hoping it was more stable. But either they're still tweaking heavily (on a Sunday?) or there's something deeply whacked-out going on in there.