September 2006 Archives
September 30, 2006
Oh. My. Heavens. David Cameron -- who, for those finding it hard to remember anything about Conservative party politics without falling asleep, is the current party leader -- has a new video blog, 'webcameron.' Complete with dinky little logo, curved corners, what I'll pretend are gradient fills, pink text highlights, del.icio.us buttons, and an almost-hidden 'beta' badge.
This isn't New Labour, this is Conservatives 2.0.
The site's been running since early in the month, documenting a trip to India, but today they've posted a welcome/intro piece from David, washing up in his kitchen while his kids pester him. It's... well, making speeches isn't the same as presenting to a camera, and he's bound to find it hard. Either that, or it really is massively contrived. Time will tell.
[update: the site's been built by Head London, who mention all manner of trendy websites in their post on the matter. One thing I didn't notice as I recoiled in horror from the cheese quotient was the Open Blog, which appears to be a moderated public-posting thing.
My biggest question about all this is whether Cameron's going to be able to stomach video blogging in the long run. Having somebody film you in your kitchen just after breakfast is tremendously intrusive -- does he really want to go the distance with that? Yikes. I'd also be fascinated to see just how many layers of communications management are involved; he's clearly not self-shooting, which implies that somebody's editing. How quickly can they turn around a video blog post, when it's not just Cameron talking to a webcam?
More to the point -- would he continue video blogging from Number 10?
Meanwhile, there's a bit more information from The Guardian. This isn't so web 2.0 that they didn't issue press releases or give journos early access, it seems.]
September 29, 2006
Mark, Mija, Simon, John, Kevin, Vinay (yes, Vinay)... you're back up again. Sorry it took so long. The really bad news is that you'll no longer have FTP access to your own accounts, since they're now owned by me. I'll work to getting this sorted soonest, which will likely involve some additional downtime, though also upgrades to Movable Type and WordPress installs also.
Let me know if there's anything else broken. For example, you might want to try posting a blog entry...
September 27, 2006
Behold my dad, standing proudly with the new Sanderson family kettle. We have a chequered history with such appliances. While my own Dualit has been going strong for a couple of years now, my sister has given up on electric kettles entirely and uses a stove-top model, and my parents seem to once again be going through a 'kettle of the month' phase. This is, apparently, their second for September.
Dad enthusiastically relates that:
"It has a lid which pops up slowly so we don't get splashed, a pretty blue light to show how full it is, it boils very quickly (3.1 kw. for 1.5 litres) and looks very pretty."
He then ruins the moment by adding:
"We bought it yesterday so I thought I would send you a photo whilst it is still working."
September 26, 2006
Though it's not clear that anything much has changed, to be honest. The Media Guardian reports that OFCOM has rejected ITV's request to drop CITV from terrestrial broadcast:
"The Ofcom board declined a proposal from ITV plc for a significant change in the volume of children's programmes on ITV1," said a spokesman for the regulator.
However, it's not clear that anything much changes as a result. CITV on ITV1 will remain at an hour a day, and it seems highly unlikely that any more new programming will be commissioned for 2007. Result: there's no discernible production industry. Hmm.
Still, it's interesting that OFCOM haven't just rolled over and rubber-stamped ITV's request. There's a bit of editorial from Media Guardian here, but nothing of any real substance. However, this story suggests that the regulator may be taking a tougher line:
Mr [Philip] Graf, who heads Ofcom's content board, chided shareholders, saying the company's [ITV's] salvation from its ratings and advertising revenue woes was "largely in their own hands rather than the regulator's gift".
September 25, 2006
As you may have noticed, Quernstone was down for a good while over the weekend. Worse, several (but oddly, not all) of my hostees over on deletetheweb.com were and are out for the count. I'm in discussion with the delightful folks at Dreamhost support, and I should be able to sort you out in the morning. At the moment we know how to fix the problem, they're just not sure how it happened in the first place and hence we're not quite sure what approach is for the best.
In the medium term, I'll probably tear down some of the older installs (which seem to be the ones affected) and rebuild them in a slightly different way. For now, thanks for bearing with me -- I'll get you back up and running as soon as I can.
And hey, it's not like anyone was reading your random blatherings anyway. Pfff!
September 24, 2006
The folks behind Nobody's Watching.tv (a domain name so good, I wish I'd bought it) have a new video up on -- durr -- YouTube. They attempt to answer the obvious question inspired by the Diet Coke/Mentos thing, vis: how come none of the 800+ videos used anything else? Funny film.
From their -- durr -- MySpace page, it sounds like they're backed by NBC too, which is interesting. Though... hang on a moment. MySpace... YouTube... backed by a TV corporation? Isn't that practically mainstream these days? [shudder]
September 21, 2006
It's a sign of how busy I've been -- or, perhaps, of how much I've been enjoying the black stuff -- that I've not managed to blog about this all week. This, dear reader, is the wallpaper in the hotel in which I've been ensconced this merry week. Yes, really. The light switch is there for scale, and to provide scant evidence that, wallpaper aside, the hotel is relatively modern. Indeed, I've been told today that it's a newish establishment, having opened only in the last couple of years. Which rather begs the question: who makes wallpaper like this, in the twenty-first century? More to the point: are they mad?
September 19, 2006
Inventor, installation artist, and thoroughly nice chap Tim Hunkin has an article up about his efforts to make a sign for Southwold Pier that was powered by the wind. He gave up and used photovoltaics, but the journey is fascinating, and a useful lesson in the problems and limitations of wind power.
September 18, 2006
I'm in Dublin!
This is going to be something of a common theme for the next few months, since I'm working here. You'd better get used to it. For that matter, so had I -- seeing dawn in from a Ryanair check-in queue isn't exactly my natural habitat. Nor, for that matter, is paying more for a taxi than the air fair. No kidding.
Anyway, yes, Dublin. Hurray! I'm quite excited, even if it is raining.
September 17, 2006
Most of my computer hardware is getting rather old -- the newest major component is my PowerBook, which will turn three early next year -- and bits of it keep packing in. A particular problem I've been bitten by is the shift from VGA to DVI graphics connectors, especially when my desktop Mac drives ADC and VGA, only the VGA socket got nuked when my old 15" LCD blew up back in January. But running Macs with just one screen... damn, that isn't right, so here's how I have things set up right now:
My PC is running RealVNC, and is headless. My PowerMac is running Chicken of the VNC to control it, displaying the result on its 17" ADC flatscreen. My PowerBook, meanwhile, is driving the PC's 17" Mitsubishi CRT as a second display, then it's using Teleport to fling keyboard and mouse control (and clipboard) over to the PowerMac (and hence, by extension, the PC). Consequently, the PowerBook has the PowerMac's keyboard and mouse plugged into it. The PowerMac, of course, has the best part of a terabyte of drives hanging off it, and is hence acting as a file server for the PowerBook.
The result is that I have:
- Three computers and three monitors.
- Everything controlled from one keyboard and mouse.
- No KVM switchy nonsense involved anywhere.
- Absolutely no idea which files stay where when I unplug the PowerBook and carry it with me.
If this sounds confusing -- damn right, it's confusing. Entirely baffling. On the other hand, in use it's surprisingly straightforward. You see a desktop; you point the mouse at it; and interactions happen. It's only mind-bending when you stop to think about the layers of keyboard emulation that are being applied.
And the real question is: can I survive for six months in Dublin with the doddery old PowerBook? If I can, then a Mac Pro (or at least an iMac) is on the horizon next Spring. If not... ouchie.
A bad workman blames their tools, and a bad photographer blames their camera, right? Well, on Friday I retrieved six films from the developers (five, actually, one of the rolls of XP2 apparently hadn't been exposed. Mind you, they naffed the other one up completely, so...), and the shots are... crock. Pretty much all of them. There are maybe three decent frames in the whole bundle, which is mildly irritating.
Some are dodgy because of vignetting, a significant issue with my wide-angle zoom that annoys me intensely. Some are badly framed, fair cop. Many exhibit horrific camera shake, which is fairly inevitable when shooting 100ASA indoors without flash, and not unexpected.
Worst, however, is that pretty much every frame is scratched, really badly. And no, I don't believe it's the developers' who've done this -- I think it's the camera body. It's done it before, and there have been signs that it's getting worse (though it's also mysteriously gone away, on occasion), but these negs are mostly wrecked.
I think it's time to admit that I basically don't have a camera better than my mobile phone, and to push the D50/D80/EOS 400D/whatever up the priority list. Ho hum.
September 15, 2006
Ignoring the whole just-how-green-is-this-really issue; how cool is the website? And: is this the perfect cloud-on-legs sheep graphic, or what?
September 13, 2006
Every now and then a piece of software comes along that I regret not having any significant use for. The latest is MemoryMiner, which is designed to help you analyse archives of photos, and to tell stories using them. You identify people, places, and times, and MemoryMiner helps you trace the events of a person's life. It looks like the sort of thing that would be terrific in a family history or eduction project context. It's also the sort of thing one assumes the intelligence agencies have been using for years, but that's by the by.
Best of all, it's been built with care and elegance in mind. Be sure to watch the demo movie. Lovely software. If only I had a use for it...
Chum Daniel was scouring the Argos website for said sporting implement, and stumbled across this piece of festive magnificence. He's particularly delighted, he says, that civilisation has developed sufficiently over the last few thousand years that we have now reached the point where we're able to calculate a fee for three years' product replacement cover for such an object.
Progress indeed. Human ingenuity marches ever onward.
If you've downloaded the new iTunes 7 and -- despite the bizarre visual inconsistencies -- are rather liking the nifty new bits like the CoverFlow browser view, you might like to take a look at CoverFlow itself. It appears that the iTunes implementation is based on the freeware/donationware I've been raving about all year, except that inexplicably the author was still releasing updates as late as last weekend.
You can snag the latest (and presumably last) stand-alone CoverFlow build from MacUpdate. There are significant advantages to this over the built-in version; get it while you can.
My guess, incidentally, is that the iTunes implementation is entirely independent of del Strother's, and they've simply done the decent thing rather than screwing him mightily. He, meanwhile, was racing to finish as much as he could before the concept and name became officially Apple's, and he had to stop work (in exchange for $$$, or at least a Mac Pro, one hopes). The standalone version is much more dynamic and fluid, with a year's-worth of clever little touches that makes it feel much more like rifling through a CD collection. It also seems cleverer about texture loading.
Just a theory.
September 10, 2006
I have two web browsers open (don't ask...), about fifteen windows, and maybe a hundred tabs. This is ridiculous.
- More on the lonelygirl15 thing. Nothing really new, but an interesting summary. Virginia Heffernan at the New York Times seems to be posting about nothing else at the moment.
- That marble-rolling Japanese children's TV show turns out to be called Pitagora Suiichi (Pythagoras Switch). there's stuff on YouTube too.
- Rubbish photo of my chum James breaking the world record for the number of people standing inside a soap bubble, at the British Association meeting in Norwich last week -- pending review by the Guinness people, of course.
- If, like me, you basically missed the news this week only to tune in to see a decidedly shaken-looking Blair confirm that yes, as we all knew all along, he's going in the next year -- the Guardian has a handy timeline of events. One thing bugs me: why are they 'Brownites' and not 'Brownians'? We don't talk about 'Brownite Motion,' so... anyway. Ahem.
- Vinay's hexayurt project has been mentioned in the New York Times, and some of his stuff is up on YouTube. As he says: he briefed the Joint Chiefs the other week... and they're still trying to deport him. Crazy but true.
- Interesting report via Foe Romeo on what people use different communication channels for.
- Unsleepable is the sort of reason I sort-of wish I was using WordPress for The Daily Grind. Hmm.
- I did get Vista pre-RC1 running, more-or-less, on the MacBook, but it doesn't seem to believe that Intel's video drivers actually work. So it won't offer me Glass, and doesn't seem to be doing any sensible video handling at all. Ugh. I've given up. These notes are useful, though.
- The Sopranos trailer on C4 just now played out with Tommy Guerrero as the backing track. I am so ahead of the curve when it comes to music. No, really.
- 1966 And All That. Genius. I'm snagging the audio as I type, thanks to Listen Again, Audio Hijack Pro, and... probably gaffer tape. Or something. "The BBC was discovered by John Yogie Bear and his assistant Booboo."
- Stuff about Technorati that I should read, but will likely never get around to: 1, 2, 3.
- TechShop. Given that I lack a garage -- or even a passable workbench -- this is exactly the sort of thing I'd like. Unfortunately, it's not in Glasgow. Drat.
- There's a minor kerfuffle going on because the OU have just been granted £220,000 for ISOTOPE, which is (a.) a strained metaphorical project title acronym, or (b.) a new science communication initiative that, at first glance, overlaps rather with several existing initiatives (delete as applicable). It's quite likely that they're not doing anything that overlaps too much with, say, BIG, or PSCI-COM. Probably.
- Those crazy Russians have been watching too much anime again.
- Richard's The Black Knight's blog has a fetching new header graphic. Ah, the things one misses when using an RSS aggregator.
- I pretty much agree with this assessment of why YouTube is so popular, and the opportunity that presents broadcasters, only with one caveat: I think Flash video is really sucky and a quality stop-gap that's 'good enough' only in the short/medium-term. But I can't see a way out of the current mess unless Adobe and Apple ink a deal to incorporate QuickTime within Flash. Uh... wait a second. Did I just write what I think I wrote?
- Aaron Swartz contests Jimbo Wales' claim that the bulk of Wikipedia is written by a relatively small number of contributors. Interesting, particularly in the light of new tools like MediaWiki fork Dekiwiki, with which I mean to play over the next few weeks.
- Fan homage to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time? No kidding. Rock on.
- A list of "TV shows only available on the web." Amazing that this sort of thing is even possible -- it's like 1994 all over again -- but then, YouTube only really kicked off bigtime a year ago, I guess.
CBBC commissioning rounds have typically had a few hundred submissions. The recent one had -- and I'd advise you to be sitting down -- 2,500. I actually feel quite sorry for the BBC about this, because wading through that lot is going to be a somewhat onerous task. Heck, finding somewhere to put them all will be tricky.
But let's think about it for a moment. Coming up with an idea, writing a pitch, talking it through with somebody senior, redrafting it, preparing something even slightly glossy, and submitting it -- that all costs money. By my reckoning, £400 is conservative. That's a cool million spent on pitches.
Currently, there seems to be a round of call-backs/pitch meetings going on, which involve (in my case) another day's work, being flown to London, and put up in an hotel... and there are three of us going. So far as I can gather there are circa 100 such meetings (again, conservative), at let's say an average cost of another £400. So that's another £40k.
There are, one gathers, about 7 commissions up for grabs. Suppose each of those commissions is worth £750,000. The 'production fee' for a CBBC show (in a facile sense, the profit margin) is -- I believe -- 15%.
(15% of £750k) × 7 commissions = £787500.
By this reckoning, whatever the outcome of this commissioning round, the children's TV industry is going to make a net loss.
Of course, I've not taken co-production money into consideration, nor future international sales. This is hardly a thorough analysis. But you see my point, no?
(while I'm at it: at the Edinburgh TV Festival the BBC admitted that they're also looking at the future of children's programming on BBC1. Interesting.)
September 9, 2006
Back in Glasgow, that is. A goooooood week -- more later, doubtless. Maybe much later, we'll see. Meanwhile: arrrrghhhh! Panic! Arrggghhhh! Too busy! Arrgghhh! I'm in London on Tuesday for a pitch meeting, which is rather exciting, then a week on Monday I start work in Dublin. Yes -- I got the job, we've agreed terms, and we're kicking off on the eighteenth. I'm hugely excited about it, actually, though mildly scared that between now and then I need to think of some blisteringly clever stuff to say about the show, and start to work out in what direction I wish to steer it this year. But hey, I'm sure I'll cope.
Meanwhile -- I've been offline for a week. 854 emails arrived, NetNewsWire is back over 5000 unread, and I gather that lonelygirl15 is definitely a hoax. Wait, that last one isn't news, right?
September 4, 2006
Hugh MacLeod finally confesses to the existence of a secret blogosphere A-list, months after I revealed the first hints of such a thing. I knew it! See, I told you! Hah!
Next week, I'll reveal the results of my research tracking down the super-secret wiki that's used to coordinate the Bilderberg Group. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff on there about... excuse me, there's a knock at the door...
September 2, 2006
A little while ago, BoingBoing had a series of posts about earwax and ear picks, from which we learned that there are two basic types of the stuff -- the squishy yellow stuff with which I'm unpleasantly familiar, and a dryer flakier variant that's apparently more prevalent in Asia.
Eu eu eu!
What, you've not been caught up in this yet? For heaven's sake! You call yourself a citizen of the net, and you've not watched every single one of lonelygirl15's videos on YouTube? You've not joined the raging is-she-or-isn't-she (a marketing shill) debate? Not even in the LA Times or New York Times or BusinessWeek? Blimey.
OK, so... the story so far: cute, doe-eyed, apparent-teenager starts posting 'girl talking to webcam' videos. So far, so generic. But the videos are very well put-together, 'Bree' is an engagingly funny performer, and after a little character-building there's a bit of a plot that bubbles up. People start to notice that Bree is remarkably well-lit (which, frankly, is a dead give-away. Lighting is hard).
Somewhere along the way, Lonelygirl15 becomes the hottest thing on YouTube, and debate rages. Is it a viral marketing scheme? Is there a whole production team hiding behind the door, trying to get signed to HBO? Did they make all the films in a single batch, or have they faked comments interaction too? And, remarkably, plenty of people still seem to think that the whole thing is absolutely what it purports to be. Yeah, right.
Me? I think I'm watching near-genius production, that Bree is perfectly cast, and I'm fascinated to see how the makers propose to make money out of this -- or even cover their costs. More likely, I think, is that they knew a fantastic young actress and decided to try something... and it all got a bit carried-away... and they're wondering about the money thing as much as the rest of us.
In the meantime, I can't begin to say how much I think Flash video sucks. Ugh ugh ugh!
September 1, 2006
Any TV company thinking of hiring me had better take note: of late, I've worked for IWC Media (bought by RDF), Mentorn (bought by Tinopolis), SMG Media (rejected merger deal with Ulster TV, but something's likely to happen soon, it seems), and The Comedy Unit. Who, yesterday, were bought by RDF (more here).
This is, I think, good news for Gavin and co. They're no longer quite so out on a limb, swimming against the tide of the 'superindie,' and they've instantly acquired things like New York and Los Angeles offices, international sales arms, and major clout with the broadcasters. Plus the founders will -- one assumes -- have pocketed a chunk of change for their efforts over the last ten years, and frankly, it couldn't happen to nicer people. Plus the timing's right -- it's going to be increasingly hard for a moderate-sized company to play the (shrinking) game.
Of particular note in that Herald story is the brief quote from David Frank, RDF's Chief Exec, that The Comedy Unit is one of the 'best managed businesses in the genre.' I'd say that's right, and encouragingly insightful. In an industry where absurdly rubbish management is the norm, Colin and April have developed a company atmosphere of healthy internal criticism and mutual support, without stifling individual creativity. They're not control freaks, but they're not absentees either. That's a rare balance, and working there was a rare pleasure.
But anyway, it looks like I'm some sort of merger/takeover totem. Does that put my rates up?
Just some more stuff from other sites:
- Cabel (of Panic) offers a videogamer's perspective on the Nike+iPod ecosystem. Lateral, funny, and bizarrely inspiring. If only they did a Nike+ cycle computer... except that listening to music while cycling is downright dangerous, I guess.
- My web host, Dreamhost, have a blog. In keeping with most of the rest of their communications, it's a little... well, let's just say that you could guess they were in California, even if you didn't know already. Josh has an amusing post up about how his wife got caught by an email phishing scam, that's worth reading as a lesson to be wary.
- via Gavin Bell -- an explanation of car stability control systems. Both my current and previous cars have had some sort of stability augmentation. On the (front-wheel drive) MINI it was unobtrusive and subtle, allowing a goodly amount of understeer to develop before gently capping the perceived yaw rate. I left it on. On my (rear-wheel drive, mid-engined) Smart roadster, it's... well, there's something odd. It certainly kicks in if the tail gets a little frisky, but by then I've usually corrected it myself, and while I've never got into an oscillation it has felt pretty weird at times. The thing is, I'm not sure if that's the stability control, or just how the car is -- a short wheelbase, mid-engineed, lightweight car with a wallop of turbo lag is always going to be a bit highly-strung. Is the stability software helping tame it, or making the 'snap' less predictable? I really need to take it onto a circuit to find out. One of these days...
- Alan: Airfix parent Humbrol goes into receivership. Nooooo! Though I'm equally astonished that it's Humbrol who own the trademark 'Plasticene.'
- Six Apart, publishers of blog software Movable Type and TypePad, amongst others, are about four blocks down the road from Technorati, publishers of the whole world, mwuah-hah-hah-haaaaaa! This video illustrates their cunning optimised message-passing 'puppynet' service.