February 2006 Archives
February 28, 2006
It's done. I've said 'no' to the Birmingham job.
Scary. As. Hell.
Today, I have to decide what I'm doing for the next few months. On the table are a TV series in Birmingham, and a more-or-less accidental video podcasting project that has significant interest -- but confirmed funding only for a pilot stage -- from NESTA.
Financially, it should be a no-brainer. But, somehow, I've been agonising over this for days, swinging back and forth. The Birmingham gig is going to be hard work, and after last year I'm not quite sure I'm ready for another TV job where I have to be the hero who sorts it all out. The podcast project, on the other hand, would do my TV CV no favours whatsoever, but is at least unexplored territory for me, and I'd be my own boss. The biggest practical concern is whether I can secure enough funding for it to pay for enough of my time that I can actually live off it. I get the feeling one is supposed to do these education/inspiration/engagement projects as adjuncts to 'normal' work, but TV is so all-consuming that for me, it's all-or-nothing. The NESTA thing would be part-time (which has its own appeal), but I still have to live off it.
Over the weekend, at Colin and Sophia's wedding -- of which more anon -- I've swung this way and that.
Oh hum. Perhaps I should toss a coin?
February 22, 2006
This has been all over the web for the last week or so, but I've never been proud about avoiding linkbloggery: food photographers go a bit nuts with little tiny figures. Simply glorious.
February 21, 2006
"Can you help me move some boxes on Monday?" asked a chum. Of course I could. Somehow, however, I mustn't have heard when the dear chap described the contents of said boxes. Which turned out to be outrageously valuable hifi speakers (B&W Signature 805s, if you really want to know). Outrageously valuable, flamboyantly beautiful, elegantly constructed... and, it turned out, stupendously magnificent-sounding.
The boxes, you see, were being moved from one shop, around the the corner, to another shop. Wherein they were attached to a succession of similarly-stratospheric amplifiers, and equally celestial boxes which schlupped in little silver discs and span them around and around.
We sat. We listened.
After three hours, we went away and had a spot of lunch. We then returned.
We sat some more. We listened some more. We even -- and this is remarkable -- Decided.
We then packed everything up and went away again, bearing our boxes of speakers. We did not, however, walk out with a Quad CD-P and matching 909 power amp, which in my book was a crying shame since the combination was unbelievably clear and yet delivered deeply pleasant listening. Tragically, chum's ears are a tad more discerning (which is mildly reassuring, seeing as how he's a BBC radio sound engineer and all) and he was bothered by a slight harshness in the not-quite-top-end. Which, frankly, I didn't hear at all, but I was with him most of the way until then and actually I'm rather proud of that.
So poor chum is having to make do with his ancient CD player and a skanky Rotel 1062 integrated amp we'd purloined from the first shop. A mere £600-worth, and barely fit to be in the same room as the gorgeous speakers.
And, at length, I returned home. Whereupon I made the mistake of putting one of the discs we'd been listening to into my own system. My beloved bought-for-a-song Marantz amp, the almost-matching CD player I lovingly nickname 'Skippy,' and the twelve year-old baby Mission speakers which were a bit rough even before Lucy trod on one. The disc span up, and I listened.
Shit. I need a new stereo system. Anyone got six grand to spare?
February 20, 2006
Remember that story about Michael Crichton winning the Association of Petroleum Geologists' 2006 Journalism Award? It gets better.
He met with George W. Bush, too. In the White House. They are said to have talked for an hour and been in near-total agreement, but the meeting was kept secret for fear of outraging environmentalists. No, as they say, shit.
Story at that paragon of double-sourced accuracy, the New York Times (free registration required)
Can't... resist... must... not... gaaaahhh! ... too much... hubris...
Surely somebody else must have noticed that Yahoo News' list of 'Ten Reasons to Buy Windows Vista' is comprised entirely of things that have been available elsewhere for at least ten months already, and mostly for several years?
February 19, 2006
Gaaaah. I just watched Battlestar Galactica (better episode this week -- maybe I won't give up after all). Usually I'll watch it on one of my Macs, in either QuickTime Player or VLC, but tonight I was using them both for the aforementioned ninja CSS work, and only wanted to half-watch the show for the aforementioned thinking-of-giving-up-on-it reasons. So I dumped it down the network to my PC and played it on that.
Bad move. First, I tried to watch in QuickTime Player for Windows. Now, this was a torrent download, and like many of them it had been compressed using Xvid. Which is a curious codec. It appears to generate standard (and, indeed, rather good) MPEG4... but then it bundles it up in a Windows Media AVI wrapper. MPEG4, you will recall, is itself an industry-standard container format derived from... er... QuickTime. The point of wrapping it in AVI has always escaped me, since every media player I've tried on Windows seems quite happy to play standard .mp4 files, but there we go.
Unfortunately, QuickTime Player for Windows decided, on this occasion, that recursion was a bad thing, and disappeared in a nifty little vanishingly-small loop all of its own. So, in desperation, I double-clicked the file instead.
That launched some weird part of Nero I'll swear I've never seen before (not a great surprise -- I mean, has anyone ever seen all the different applications? Is it even philosophically possible within one lifetime?). After a little poking around I discovered firstly how to switch it to full-screen mode, and secondly the keyboard combinations for volume control. Hurrah! All was well with the world.
...for about twenty minutes. After which the audio was leading the video by about three frames. Now, maybe most people wouldn't object to that, but I make TV for a living and it bugs the hell out of me! Never something I'd noticed on the Macs, so for kicks I started playing the video over the network on my PowerBook, muted the audio, and shoved the window to the back. It stayed in sync throughout, but I probably didn't need to say that. Meanwhile, I tried to resync the video in Nero. Start/stop didn't do it. Neither did closing and relaunching the app; at 22 mins in, it was three frames out. Every time. Ugh.
So I tried Windows Media Player. Which is ugly as sin, but... worked! I even managed to zoom it to full screen, and after a few moments of trying to work out how to hide the chrome, it slid gracefully out of the way of its own volition. Hurrah! Only... it was too loud. Prodding at hopeful-looking keys didn't do anything (Windows Media Player must be the only such app that doesn't stop the video when you hit the space bar, for heaven's sake -- I can't imagine why I thought +/- might affect audio levels), and I had to resort to the mouse. After which the window chrome refused to hide ever again. Yes, I found the little camouflaged button that's supposed to toggle that behaviour. It merely toggled itself.
Gritting my teeth, I staggered to the end of the episode, then deleted the media file from the PC with as much aplomb as I could muster.
[sigh] Really, do people think this sort of crap is normal?
Curses! My CSS foo is not strong enough! (you sort-of have to read that with your mouth moving as if your voice is being dubbed from Japanese, à la Monkey -- which is back, hurrah, but that's another post).
I've finally had to get off my arse and work out what the difference is between '#' and '.' as CSS selectors. I read a book and everything. And now I know, and all is clear. It's...
Ben Hammersley -- who it's tempting to describe as the enfant terrible of the web, only that's doubtless (a.) been done & (b.) not true anyway -- is up to something. Again. Today, he's dropping big hints about online journalism. Oooh! Aaah! Shiny!
Also of note: in a month when everyone's going doo-lally about Tom's 'oh, that's what all this two-point-nought crap is about' 'Future of Web Apps' talk, Ben's gone to iWeb, with what I imagine is a face of extreme innocence. Tee-hee.
February 17, 2006
Quartonian is one of those jaw-dropping pieces of software that does something so insanely wonderful, it's almost entirely implausible that anyone will ever have any use for it. I stumbled across it while looking for video mixing software last year, but this is video mixing in the 'club' sense rather than the 'outside broadcast' sense I needed. It's still startlingly wonderful, though -- and the latest VSM stills manipulation version is getting close to being usable by mere mortals.
While you're at it, though, do muck about with Quartz Composer itself, from the Developer CD that comes with OS X v10.4. A whole new world of crazy; see Sam Kass's blog for examples. You can do similar stuff (with far more control) using something like Max/MSP, but Quartz Composer is (a.) free, (b.) easier and (c.) runs on your graphics card, so is stupidly fast until it blows up in your face.
Sorry, kids, but this stuff really is Mac-only. In fact, it's all Tiger-only, and you need a fairly kick-arse video card for it to work properly. Or, indeed, at all. My desktop Power Mac throws up its digital hands in despair and refuses to play, but my PowerBook has a decent go at it so long as I remember to close a whole bunch of other stuff first.
Now if only I could work out what to do with it...
February 16, 2006
The pseudonymous Tom Reynolds' forthcoming book is listed at Amazon. If you don't read his blog, you should. He's an excellent writer, and a top bloke (tugging the coat-tails of celebrity, I met him at OpenTech last year. He's a chum of Gia's, via (I think) London bloggers' meets. Curse my living way out on the long tail of the metropolitan geek scene).
Things are about to get funky around here, I think. In no particular order:
- I've updated The Daily Grind to the latest Movable Type. As a result, all the spam protection stuff has changed -- we'll see how well it performs. TrackBacks are back on for the moment, but I'll need to keep an eye on processor usage. Ironically, my hosting plan is total overkill for the bandwidth and disk space I'm using, but the last time TrackBacks were turned on, all the spam brought the server to its knees. Oops.
- I'm going to nuke this template and start again... most likely to end up with something that looks rather similar. So at some point, it's all going to look very odd. Bear with me when that happens. On the plus side -- I'll make the fonts a little larger this time around.
Meanwhile, outwith the Daily Grind:
- I've a project proposal in with NESTA that they rather like. Actually, that's an understatement, and we're all terribly excited about it. So far, we have pilot stage funding allocated and agreement on the goals, and there's been an expression of interest from the big-wigs. The next step is to plonk a brief of the plan in front of them and say 'this is what we intend to do'; so long as there's still at least interest, we'll press on with the pilot. Funding the full project could be tricky/weird/cobbled together, but that's (a.) next month's problem, and (b.) one I'd like to have. To NESTA's credit -- this has all happened in the last two weeks. Speedy.
- Fun night last night at The Stand, watching Gavin and Scrap It! presenter Will Andrews try out sketch material from The Comedy Unit. Will's in-development sitcom for Channel 4 is very, very strange and potentially very, very funny.
- These are a terrific idea, but be sure to read the comments about environmental impact.
February 11, 2006
Bob Park. If you haven't come across him, let me introduce you -- Bob writes a weekly column for the American Physical Society titled What's New. It's a short, punchy little piece, with the emphasis on 'punchy,' since Bob certainly doesn't pull them. Week in, week out, he launches broadsides at the Christian Right, manned spaceflight, energy policy... wherever he sees science being disregarded or misused, he'll wade in swinging. Go Bob!
This week, one unlucky focus of his attention is the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, who have recently announced the recipient of their annual Journalism Award, to be granted in April. It's... novelist Michael Crichton, being recognised for his recent best-seller State of Fear. Which -- in the manner of Crichton -- is a world-spanning conspiracy thriller taking as its premise the idea that global warming might not be for real.
Let me recap: Learned society. Journalism Award. Novel. Global warming hoax.
You couldn't make this stuff up. Thanks to Bob Park, we don't have to -- he'll point us at it. Bob's own book, Voodoo Science -- the Road From Foolishness to Fraud, is well worth a look too.
February 10, 2006
A week or two back, I mentioned that the council had nicked the road outside my flat, planing it away while my back was turned. Unfortunately, in their enthusiasm they managed to skim the top off a water pipe, with the result that -- for the first time in two hundred years -- Loch Skirving saw the light of day once more. This historic landmark was the location of the last great inland naval battle under sail, and more recently of a few traffic cones and a roadworks sign.
It's also been frozen over on at least two nights, which has presented interesting navigational problems, since it stretches right across the road. And the traffic is cars, of course, hurtling down the road at impressively ludicrous speeds, suddenly finding themselves with a lack of traction even the Conservative Party would find impressive.
Alas, it seems the noble Loch's days are numbered. They number three, in fact, for on Monday Scottish Water are turning up to drain and generally fix it. They're also turning off the mains for the whole area, and warn there'll be considerable noise. All this on a charming notice, posted on all the close doors around the area... except mine.
Given that the Loch sits right outside my front door, you'd think this was a bit of an oversight, no?
First up: I'm fine. Thanks to everyone who's written and called for being so lovely. But really, I'm fine. No, I'm not quite sure why, either, but I am.
But now, this blog will return to its usual mix of sparse posting, rubbish, and dull geekery. I know you wouldn't have it any other way.
First up: the curious case of the aeroplane on the conveyor belt. This is the sort of question that's famously prevalent in Cambridge physics (so... you'd think I'd be better at them, but sadly not). In this case, however, there's a crucial additional piece of information -- the precise wording of the question is utterly dreadful. Once you know that, it's entirely obvious that the aeroplane takes off (though of course in any real-world situation it would suffer horrific undercarriage mechanical failure and, very likely, grease fires. But this is a physics question so deal with it).
Next: Frasier Spears being deliciously cynical about the Danish Cartoons farce. Of course, the joy of a conspiracy is that one can usually construct arguments why either side might play the same game, which is the case here.
A very quick link: A Mac OS X weather widget that uses the BBC as its data source, rather than the flaky US-centric thing the standard Apple widget uses.
And finally: I had an entertainingly rambling conversation with my sister last night, who was holed up in some ghastly hotel near Euston between a council meeting of the Theatrical Marketing Association and another meeting with PR types. The latter thanks to a stage adaptation of a TV show that Kate's theatre is putting on. Now, I've known my sister all my life -- obviously -- but she still surprises me on a regular basis. Last night's shocks were: (1.) she can do a better-than-passable impression of girlie London PR types, which is so not her I found it slightly alarming, and (2.) she's learning about the pros and cons of different SQL servers.
Understand that Kate is a fluffy arty type who's worked in theatre management and marketing for about fifteen years: she really has no business knowing more about thread-safe transactions than I do, let alone load-balancing server configurations.
I'm unreasonably proud of her.
February 2, 2006
Digital watches. I've never really got on with them. I mean, it's all well and good telling me that the time is '13:03' or whatever, but before I can make any sense of that I first have to parse it into something more human, like 'just turned one.' This is why I've always got on better with analogue watches -- I just don't need to know the time that accurately.
It's a source of mild irritation, then, that my various computers all dutifully scurry off to talk to an atomic clock in Germany on a (presumably) regular basis, and smugly present little digital clocks that are accurate to tiny divisions of time than I personally consider to be entirely decent only within the confines of a physics laboratory. While such profligate accuracy may not be, strictly, wasteful, I do consider it... impolite.
For years, what I've wanted is a clock that can know the time as accurately as it likes -- to the femtosecond if it wishes, I really don't care -- so long as it tells me the time on my terms. That is: vaguely. I want a digital clock that says 'About noon.' Or 'just on quarter-to-three.' Or 'Time for elevenses.'
Imagine my joy, then, when I stumbled over FuzzyClock, which offers precisely this for the menu bar of my Mac. Hurrah!
Also of significance: the Talus Watch project, which is aiming to do essentially the same thing, but in a genuine wrist watch. Fantastic!
Tip of the hat to Martin and Gizmodo for the spot.