April 2006 Archives
April 29, 2006
Whenever the full-on India crazy starts, it hasn't quite hit yet. I came to Bangalore Thursday evening, and yesterday was a mad run-around with a charming and delightful Icelandic woman from the British Trade Office here. 'This might be a little hectic,' she warned early on, 'I usually schedule two or three meetings for a day, and we have four. Sorry.' Yikes.
...and I think we saw the full spectrum of responses, from a university institute who were enthusiastic... to a point, to a large IT company who appeared to have forgotten we were coming, to a huge IT company who were unbelievably supportive and excited. We met with the CFO, who's opening gambit was 'What can I do to make this happen?' He then proceeded to reel off multiple reasons why he was so keen, finishing with 'It's the right thing to do, to help inspire the next generation of professionals.' That's a degree of corporate responsibility and long-term interest I'm simply not used to seeing. From discussions, it's clear why -- India's so large, and growing so quickly, that relying on central government to address issues like inspiring school children is clearly an inadequate strategy.
...all of which is very refreshing. There are still huge hurdles for our project, though -- which I shall, rightly, report to my employer and not you, dear reader.
A day of schlepping through insane Bangalore traffic -- even in a slick Land-Rover and with a hugely professional British Trade Office driver -- and staggering around baking-hot and unseasonably humid lecture halls has, however, taken its toll on me, and today I'm a bit of a wreck. It's something of a relief that we couldn't make the timings work for a trip to another tech campus in Mysore today, since that would have involved another ten hours' travelling.
So it's an easy day, then back to Delhi. Tomorrow I'm touring the old town (and wondering if I should have gone to Agra to see the Taj Mahal instead), then back to London.
April 26, 2006
So, I wrote this lovely little post back in Glasgow... then turned my PowerBook off before remembering to click 'publish,' and then the taxi arrived, and...
I'm in Delhi. Arrived at silly o'clock this morning (flight was fine, thanks -- everyone asks, not sure what I'm supposed to say). Just had lunch with extremely pleasant High Commission people, now back at the terribly posh hotel. It's obviously too hot to explore right now -- obviously I'm an Englishman, but I think one has to be a mad dog as well for that.
So -- thus far -- it's all a bit... well... insulated. I've seen ox-drawn carts from a distance and the whole system is a bit alien, but I've not yet had the full-on Delhi crazy. Doubtless I'll be completely baffled when I do.
All of which is, I suppose, testament to the miracle that is efficient five-star travel. Being met at the airport by a uniformed chauffeur with a shiny Mercedes will tend to cosset one from even which country one's in. There are times -- and perhaps this is one of them -- when that's an entirely sensible thing to do. It's just that this world is also alien to me, and while it makes sense and works, I'm not sure I particularly like it.
But I think I'll have a little sleep, now, and worry about all this later.
April 25, 2006
Right, here's how it pans out: later this morning I fly to Heathrow, sit around a bit, then on to Delhi, arriving horridly early local time on Wednesday morning. Wednesday is, then, an 'acclimatisation' day (read: 'gibber in a corner' day).
Thursday I've meetings with TV companies, then on Friday I've a meeting with a venue in Bangalore. I'm not quite sure how I get there -- flights, presumably, but they could be Thursday evening, could be Friday morning. Not to worry, I'm sure the High Commission has everything in hand.
Saturday: back to Delhi. The rest of that day is currently free, but -- guessing, here -- could well fill up. Sunday I'll be mooching around Delhi, and I fly out at 2am on Monday. Which, in the weirdly-warped manner of air travel, means that my nine-hour flight arrives five hours after it leaves. Or something like that.
Then it's back up to Glasgow for afternoon tea. Simple.
I've no idea what net access will be like, and it's highly unlikely there'll be pictures until I get back, but I'll try to lob some words up at some point.
Right now, I'm blearily working out what's going in my new bag based primarily on what dried overnight. Oops. Bad planning there. However, I have managed to adopt my usual approach to managing jetlag -- be so utterly frazzled prior to departure that I'd have no idea what time it was supposed to be had I stayed put, let alone when it is where I am then. Note that this doesn't actually help the symptoms one jot, but the alternative explanation for feeling rough as boots makes me feel a bit better.
Wish me luck!
April 24, 2006
Marching around Glasgow today, sorting myself out for the trip, I was melting in the heat. A whole 14C, apparently.
This, then, is slightly scary: the forecast for Delhi suggests it'll be about 39C all week. Ulp. At least the humidity is quite low. Yeah, that's a good thing. Gaaaaah. Then there's this forecast, which suggests it'll be more like 43C. Oh crumbs.
Inexplicably, one or two readers of this blog are at least vaguely involved in the whole digital rights / copyright / blah world. Comrades, our lives just became considerably simpler. No longer will we have to explain the minutiae of copyright law; no more shall we face confusion over ownership; never again shall the initial holder of title be confused or obscure.
No indeed, for now, I have a supplier for these admirably clear labels. Liberal usage will, I'm sure you'll agree, clear up all possible ownership confusions. Get your orders in quick.
Which of these things annoys me more?
- Channel 4's Lost Series 2 catch-up doesn't work for me in Safari (Mac), Firefox (Mac), or Firefox (Win)... and, in fact, it's not working for me in Internet Explorer (Win) either, on account of borked cookie stuff at their end and some lame stupid nasty advert trailer thing that fails to chain-load the (Flash) video of the clip I actually want to see, and itself plays only at 3 frames/second. Ugh ugh ugh, broken broken broken. --- or ---
- The whole concept that there could be a ten-minute catch-up to a 24-part series. --- or ---
- That, when you do finally manage to play the catch-up video, it's only 7:30 long anyway. And, for that matter:
- You know, I'm now better-informed about what happened in the whole first series than I was by watching the show in the first place.
Lost? I give up.
April 23, 2006
Good news: you can now buy your car road tax disc over the internet. Bad news: mine will arrive a day late, and I'll be somewhere over Russia at that point.
Good news: the tax on my car has gone down by £5. Bad news: it's less than 1% over the CO2 emissions boundary from the lowest-band-in-which-you-actually-pay-anything category. Drat.
This is genius. Martin Brundle has just accosted Bernie Ecclestone's daughter Tamara and is attempting to use her to doorstep Michael Schumacher, who he claims won't talk to him because they fell out three or four years ago, only neither of them can remember why. All this live on ITV.
You know, I'd forgotten how much I enjoy the whole pre-race buildup bit. F1 races themselves I'm still 'meh' about, but the soap opera aspect is gripping. If only I understood why there are two Red Bull teams...
[phoned Gareth and now I understand: it was an accident.]
You know, this is really going to do my head in if it continues: Blair's had an email exchange with Henry Porter of the Observer, and like the leader writer I have to admire him for sticking his head above the parapet and actually discussing policy. It's a frank and refreshing exchange, and while one might suspect Blair of being selective with his attention, there are similar lapses from Porter. However, when the PM writes passages like:
'I would widen the police powers to seize the cash of suspected drug dealers, the cars they drive round in... I would impose restrictions on those suspected of being involved in organised crime. In fact I would generally harry, hassle and hound them until they give up or leave the country.'
...I'll confess to being less enthusiastic. The key word there, you see, is 'suspected.' How, exactly, would this sort of thing work procedurally? What constitutes sufficient grounds for suspicion, how does the suspect defend themselves, and who makes the decision that yes, the police can have your car?
I'll skip the usual discussion about the rôle of the courts, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and all that. Partly because Porter does that better than I could, but also because what's really tweaking me is that, if civil liberties do become the political battleground for the next decade, and if the Tories get their act together, er... well, it's hard to see how I'm going to end up on Blair's side. Which would be -- well, weird, basically.
Then there's the problem of all my Conservative-leaning friends, who've taken the piss out of me for years for being a lilly-livered liberal. How are they supposed to adjust if they're suddenly asked to bang the 'due process', and 'personal civil rights' drums?
Friday, then, was London. Up at you-have-to-be-joking o'clock for the shuttle to Heathrow (delayed 20 minutes), in on the Express (delayed 10 minutes), hop over to Oxford Circus on the Bakerloo and thence to Whitfield Street to pick up some documents. In a cab -- quick, quick -- and so to Aldwych, where an ominously long line snaked around the corner of India House. I knew I should have been there earlier.
Luckily, I'd only been in the line for a few minutes before a charming lady from a central European country I couldn't quite place (possibly Hungary) asked if I knew that this was the collection line, and new visa applications were around the corner. Oops.
Around the corner I collected a yellow ticket from the booth -- number 1360, and they only give out 1500 a day, eek! -- ducked inside, went to entirely the wrong room, found the right room, barged through the huddle of people at what appeared to be (and indeed was) the wrong window, and discovered I was about to be called. Er... huh?
Ah. The ticket was 'B60,' not '1360,' and I needn't have worried about the rushing thing. Durr. Still, somebody nabbed my place at the window and I ended up hovering between three others, hoping I'd get in quick when the next ticket was called. The deli-counter style system was up the swannee, but there we go.
Finally, I got to thrust my paperwork feverishly under the soundproof glass partition, and make vague guesses at appropriate responses to the questions asked by the polite, patient, and almost entirely inaudible clerk on the other side. The discussion went something like 'You're a journalist?' / 'No.' / 'But you work for a television company.' / 'Yes, but I make science programmes, not news programmes. I'm not a journalist.' / 'Why are you applying for a business visa rather than a journalist visa?' / 'Because I'm not a journalist.' Matters became even more confused when the clerk noticed that my letter of reference from an organisation in India was from -- er -- The British High Commission in Delhi.
Ultimately, she passed everything on to the media desk to work out whether they'd have to send me through clearance procedures for journalists, which would, I gathered, take five working days minimum. Ulp. Vague memories of Douglas Adam's Infocom game Bureaucracy loomed.
I've no idea what happened in the next thirty minutes -- there may have been phone calls, or perhaps somebody just read the letters and worked out what was going on -- but my visa application was approved. Hurrah! So, back to join the mob I'd pushed through near the door, to wait for another inaudible clerk to call my number again.
An hour of that, and eventually that clerk asked if anyone was waiting for the 'B's. I was, so I enquired tentatively if he had B60 -- yes, it had been there for an hour. Umm... okaaaay. Where did... no, never mind. As the smiling clerk handed my visa-endorsed passport under the glass, he said, 'Ah, journalist. Have a good trip.' So now I'm completely confused, since my receipt says I paid for a business visa and it appears to say 'Type: B,' but... ach, I'm sure everything's fine. Yay! I have a visa!
After that, breakfast.
Shortly followed, as it happened, by lunch, loafing around on the waterfront with a chum, only to be rudely interrupted by ruddy great cannons going off repeatedly a few hundred yards downriver. Something to do with someone's birthday, evidently.
Hop, skip and jump up to Oxford Circus, in good time for my travel clinic appointment. A jolly consultation, stern advice about DEET, dogs, and denghi fever, followed by three jabs, a whacking great bill, and a rattle of antimalarials.
Back to Paddington -- missed the Express, quick quick, a bagel, ooh! Pickled chilies! -- off to Heathrow, start devouring the Rough Guide...
Felt rough as boots today, unsurprisingly.
Tomorrow: luggage, washing, tying up loose ends. Looks like I fly out Tuesday, back probably next Monday. By which time it may all make sense. Or not.
April 22, 2006
Having made a few things like this over the years, I can say with some authority:
- These are spectacularly good. Mine were never so complex.
- They're beautifully filmed. It's astonishingly hard to do these right -- you have to design for the camera right from the start, which is why BBC Choice's Simply Complicated wasn't as good as one might have hoped
- The Honda advert wasn't as original as everyone thinks. Aside from the Fischli & Weiss film, there were others.
- Bryson was absolutely right when he was pitching exactly this idea, long before the Honda ad. Ah, hindsight.
- Jack, you're up.
Link? OK, then. A video of charming machines, evidently from a Japanese children's TV show.
Sesame Street is, quite possibly, the best TV series of all time. Witness: REM performing 'Furry Happy Monsters.' Rock. On.
(via Fraser Spiers, wherein comments also point to the genuinely priceless 'Don't Know Why Y Didn't Come' -- a Norah Jones/Elmo duet. I'd love to know how many takes they have to do for these things before they get a complete pass without everyone corpsing.)
April 20, 2006
My jetset lifestyle starts, it seems, in Crewe. At a funeral. My grandmother's funeral, in fact -- no, it's fine, really, but thanks for your thoughts. She was 93, has had nothing like quality of life for years now, and... well, let's just say that the family circumstances are complicated. As funerals go it was a modest affair, a handful of family outnumbered by staff from the care home. A florid service with a character of a vicar (just short of the 'fire and brimstone' type), and a malfunctioning foot pedal for the curtain.
As is the way of such things, it was a surprisingly pleasant event. I was caught sneaking out of a greasy spoon by Uncle John and Auntie Eileen, long the jokers of the family, and they proceeded to drive me around Crewe ring-road until we achieved escape velocity. Which, with John driving, didn't take long but did involve plenty of bickering. We worked out later that I have identical memories of sitting in the back of their various cars while they bickered, going back something like 25 years.
Jetset phase 2: London. On the 06:30 tomorrow morning (and what does the '0' stand for?... yes, quite). The plan is that I collect a couple of scraps of paper from Tottenham Court Road, then head to the Indian High Commission and sit for as long as it takes to get a visa. Later in the afternoon I'm then due at a travel clinic for jabs. By then it should be clear whether I'm flying to Delhi on Monday. Assuming we can get a flight.
All entirely barking, of course. Somehow I'd be disappointed if it made sense.
April 19, 2006
Ignore the weirdness that may require you to turn off the advert blocker in your web browser (?!), and sponsor my friend Katie and her NESTA chums in next month's Race for Life in Battersea Park. It's in aid of Cancer Research UK; if you need any further convincing, head over to the blog Alan kept for Jules. 'nuff said.
April 18, 2006
London, Ri (that's 'RI' to the rest of us), NESTA, Tower of ibid, Crown Jewels (Ooh! Sparkly!), not the Eye, Greenwich, rain, Ducks, Bowling (bowling?), DIY window seat, circular saws, home again x2, jiggity x2, Bangalore next week, gaaaaah.
In the meantime, amuse yourselves with this.
April 12, 2006
There are, at rough count, about fifteen hard drives in my flat. One of them just died. Which one? Er... my main backup drive, that gets an incremental from my PowerBook every Saturday morning.
That's... that's not good, is it? Eeek!
So, now I'm frantically backing up before I catch the morning's red-eye to Stanstead. Ugh ugh ugh.
April 11, 2006
In November of 2001, this website asked its readers in a poll "What Star Wars mystery do you most want solved?" Most voted for the plot-centric "Why didn't Vader sense Leia," but five percent chose "Where does the ladder on Luke's X-wing go?" as their favorite puzzle.
April 10, 2006
This Mail plugin is genius -- it reads your outgoing mail, and if it looks like you've referred to attaching a file to the message, but have not actually done so, it... er... presents you with a smug dialog box suggesting that you might be losing your marbles.
From Rosie, reading TV industry rag C21:
The conclusion was that CBeebies needs to attract older children, particularly boys aged four-six. "In general, CBeebies is weak on the heroes and the dinosaurs and the diggers," says [channel controller] Deverell. "It needs to feel a little less gentile and a little more noisey and boisterous and surprising."
I think he meant 'genteel'. At least I hope so, or there's going to be a whole lot of very Jewish kids television.
To which I reply:
Can I blog that? Can I? Can I?
And Rosie responds:
Oh all right. I insist that there must be many gags playing on kids tv show titles, though.
Suggestions in the comments, please. Just skip the one about changing my font for blockquotes, I know that already.
I've just seen an NHS advert featuring schoolkids playing a card game based around fruit and veg. A few immediate thoughts:
- It's presumably aimed at kids. And it's on at half midnight. Does the NHS know something I don't?
- They don't understand the rules to Top Trumps.
- Partly as a consequence, it's patronising as hell.
- The linked website is surprisingly sparse.
- 'Swap chocolate for apples' isn't going to win them any friends.
- I really really like the logo.
April 9, 2006
So far as I can tell, this mp3 file is the soundtrack to the never-heard, long-lost, fabled, blah blah Channel 4 pilot based around NTK, from all the way back in the mists of time around The Second Coming of Jobs, and before the world-changing publication of... er... Starship Titanic. Hear Dave, Danny, and the crew generally rip the piss.
On the other hand, while the gags are mostly rather good, they tend towards the kernal-compilation end of obscure. It's not hard to picture a commissioning editor watch the tape only to respond with a resounding 'huh?' One for the contemporary history/alternate timeline buffs, but the geekier amongst us will giggle rather a lot.
April 7, 2006
A combination of being faffed around by people I may (or may not) be working for, bank errors, and the various airlines' ludicrous ticketing systems have conspired to keep me in Glasgow for the moment. If it's my money, I'm not coughing up £220. It was only £60 when I clicked 'buy,' but by the time my bank agreed that was reasonable, tickets were mysteriously rather more expensive. Ugh.
However, some of the people I should be meeting are still faffing, so not going gives them a little more time to get their act together. Hopefully, I'll be down Thusday-Sunday next week. And yes, at the moment, traveling on Easter Sunday is weirdly plausible.
Now all I have to do is work out whether I'm traveling on the train from Leeds (going there via Cumbria)... or from Glasgow. Ugh. Too hard.
Thanks for all the replies pointing me to the various airlines servicing Glasgow/Prestwick and London (Various). I'm tempted to be snarky, but on reflection I suppose it is possible that I was being stupid enough not to know about them. But for the record, I'm trying to avoid domestic flights when I can -- without going into the sums I suspect they're the least-sustainable thing I do, so I'm trying to cut down. I wouldn't mind so much if the trains didn't usually end up costing more. Joined-up this transport and environment policy is emphatically not.
So far as I can tell, however, these scripts merely simplify/automate something you can do directly anyway. All you do is set the object src to your poster, add an href param pointing to the movie, and set the target to be 'MYSELF.' Of course, now I know where to look, all this is explained in Apple's QuickTime documentation anyway.
Also: somewhere in this little bit of research, I came across this article explaining how to add closed captions to QuickTime movies.
Ah, all fun stuff to play with...
April 5, 2006
The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Apple have software for dual-booting Windows on a Mac! Arrrrghhhh!
One can't help wondering if this was intended to arrive earlier, and was delayed to avoid putting a real dampener on the Windows XP-on-Macs competition. After all, it'd have been a tad awkward if they'd claimed the $12,000 prize -- though they're still eligible for the graphics driver prize, I'd assume. Heh.
While nothing's ever entirely certain in this world, it's increasingly likely that I'll be in London on Monday and Tuesday next week. Anyone want to claim dibs on hanging out and/or putting me up on Monday night?
Don't all shout at once, now.
[update] Hmm. Looks like they're tearing up the West Coast mainline this weekend -- thetrainline.com is quoting between eight and nine hours for the journey on Sunday. Ouch. I asked it to look at Saturday, and the only thing it's offering so far departs Glasgow at 16:30, changes at Edinburgh, York, Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham, and arrives at St. Pancras at 09:45. There's a six hour change in Nottingham. Umm...
April 4, 2006
Quite why I bought a Griffin PowerMate has always been something of a mystery. It's a lovely piece of milled aluminium with a glowing blue LED in the base, that plugs into a spare USB port and is used as a rotary controller. It's been jacked into my desktop for a couple of years, but while I've admired it, I've never really used it. It's quite pleasant for scrolling web pages, but that's about it.
On the face of it, it'd be a fine controller for Final Cut, allowing one to zip through clips at a rate of knots. However, I never found it terribly satisfactory for this, as a result of a driver quirk. Having it emulate the left and right arrow keys worked fine, and allowed frame-accurate control -- but when you stopped winding through the frames the software overshot massively, playing back all the queued-up keystrokes. Useless.
Today I finally noticed something that's (most likely) been in the software since day one, which is having the thing emulate a mouse scroll wheel instead. Setting it to scroll left/right has two wonderful effects. Firstly, it no longer overshoots. But secondly, it winds through the media when the mouse pointer is over the viewer or canvas windows... and it winds through the timeline when the pointer is there.
Oh happy, happy day. I have an analogue controller with focus-follows-mouse, in Final Cut.
Lesson to self: RTFM.
April 3, 2006
Linked from the front page of BBC News this afternoon: ICA: The Show, a new bi-monthly video magazine on contemporary arts, released by the ICA. Since I'm sort-of up to my neck in web video at the moment, I aimed my browser in the general direction, and hit the 'thataway' button.
First up -- ooh, round-cornered gradient-filled delicately-shadowed design. Straight from the Web 2.0 stylebook, I see. Quite nice, actually. A quick poke around reveals flattering comments from the Arts Council and the DMCS, but enough of that -- let's have a look at the video, eh?
The registration procedure requires your name, address, date of birth, gender, marketing preferences... and the model number and serial code of your PSP. Without those, you can't register, and hence you can't download The Show. Even though it's most likely some variation on the MPEG4 theme and hence playable on any PC. Back at The ICA site, there's precisely no visible feedback address: the only useful note I could find reads simply 'all rights reserved,' which is hardly 2.0 of them.
So let's be clear about this: the ICA have hooked up with the marketing department of Sony, and between them they've gone to extraordinary lengths to complicate the download process and make the video available only to existing PSP owners. I can only assume that they're doing this to prevent those pesky iPod Video owners from seeing The Show.
There are many ways of approaching video on the web, and many potential models for its use. This one is, I predict and hope, dead in the water. Idiots.
Drat. Oxford won. Harrumph. Not enough Hall men in the boat, obviously. Or, perhaps, not enough pumps -- there was a bizarre snippet en passant in the ITV commentary, about the Oxford boat having a water pump but the Cambridge one lacking such a device, on account of 'the design of the boat.'
I'll be the first to confess how little I know about shell eights, but... what? How does that work, then?
April 1, 2006
Time to clear out some browser tabs. I don't vouch that any of this will be remotely interesting.
- Pre-pixellated 'logo' T-shirts. This is both a great idea and tragically dim at the same time. They look great... but the emblem could still become a distinct brand and featuring it on TV could be considered 'undue prominence.' Or perhaps that's the Americans doing irony again.
- Is it just me, or are the toolbar controls in Interarchy 8 waaaay too close to the window edge? Anarchie/Interarchy used to be one of my favourite pieces of software. I forget why I moved over to Transmit, but I've no reason to go back. Heigh-ho.
- PayPal Mobile. Oh happy happy day... though one does have to wonder if PayPal's vendor fees are still rather large?
- Windows Vista in 2007. Ish. 'Business-oriented' versions are still due this year, but it's not clear to which of the six (or was it eight?) editions that refers. Regardless, the consumer version is now due in January 2007. Given how far away that is (again), one has to wonder what the confidence level is in that prediction. After all, every previous Longhorn schedule has been wide of the mark, and I see no reason to believe this one more than the others. But what's really interesting is that we're all expecting Mac OS X 10.5 to be out by the end of the year. It'll be an interesting comparison.
- Onlife feels like the sort of thing Martin and I used to talk about under the heading 'Serendipity.' It's an application that watches what you do and keeps a rolling history of it, viewable and searchable in timelines and calendars. I'm surprised it's taken this long post-Spotlight to arrive -- my guess is that the user interface for this sort of thing isn't easy. Onlife looks good so far, and I admire the developers for making it free while they're trying stuff out with it. I'll have a play and see how I get on.
- Oooh! Oooh! Plus, Onlife's dev invokes Vannevar Bush's memex, and started playing with this stuff at the Media Lab. Cool! :-)
- (free) Fonts that look like scribbled and illegible print and handwriting. Genius!
- I actually rather liked the EuroMedley hoax on Today this morning. Makes more sense than sea shanties, anyway, and good on Kinnock for playing up to it.
- ZipLight -- add filenames within .zip archives to your Spotlight catalogue. Handy.
- All-squid, all the time: Squid.us. You want squid info? They have it.
- Gia's gone all video on us. Next week, I have to find out how to do that thing where an embedded QuickTime movie shows a poster frame, then reloads itself in situ. Then I have to make that work with this whole ActiveX debacle. This looks useful.
- Heh. Giles linked to my little post about apple.com/macintosh being broken -- I've been linked from O'Reilly.com! The book deal must be close... or at least, getting back into the top 100,000 blogs on Technorati.