July 2007 Archives
July 31, 2007
Home again, after an excellent BIG Event: people even attended my session on copyright law, which shows what a snappy title can achieve. Over the weekend we met Flossie's 98 year-old grandmother -- who cooked us lemon meringue pie, which I think means she like me -- and took some video of Barry bay from an altitude of about 50 feet.
Yes, the kite aerial video project has finally happened. A few days too late to make it as an entry in the BIG Best Demo Competition, but not to worry. It was rather good fun, and something that will be repeated fairly soon. Watch out for the video, 'coming soon', as they say.
July 24, 2007
Last night, I labeled up all the tapes we've shot for SciCast, from March 2006 to the Dorchester workshops at the beginning of the month. By my count there are about 125 tapes, covering roughly 90 short films. For comparison, this is equivalent to a series of The Big Bang, which used to run to about that many tapes and items. That was a half-million-quid broadcast series, with usually two edit suites running and a total post-production staff of nine. SciCast has one tank of a G4 Mac running Final Cut, and me.
Mercifully the shooting ratio is rather lower and there are already (mostly) rough cuts, but it's still going to take a while to clear the backlog. Particularly since I'm off to the BIG Event tomorrow, and will doubtless be shooting a couple more films there. Including -- weather permitting -- one or two with the large and dashing Cody box kite that just arrived. Oooh, exciting.
I've been feeling a little swamped by the scale of the job ahead, and I know it must be frustrating for the schools involved not to be able to see their work. But labeling everything last night and being reminded of the films, and of how terrific some of them are, then laying the tapes in these serried ranks -- that's got me all excited again.
Roll on next week: editing, and... jury service. Great timing, huh?
July 19, 2007
I like strong coffee. While I will occasionally succumb to the allure of a layer of froth, I mostly take coffee black, without sugar, and most certainly not instant.
I've drunk ristretto overlooking the Jet d'Eau in Geneva. I've drunk kopi luwak, the coffee made with the... er... 'assistance' of civets. But the coffee I've made just now is different. It's not merely strong, it's exerting a discernible gravitational pull. The mug containing it looks slightly odd, almost as if it had...
This isn't just coffee. It's Event Horizon coffee.
Drat. That first submitted SciCast film isn't going to make it up to the website this week, I fear. I now have the DVD, and the film's great... but it's got a Red Hot Chili Peppers track mixed in with the sync sound. Oops. No can do, sorry.
Fingers crossed the makers can unpick the audio and resubmit the film. It's fun.
Terrific web documentary about the growing menace of minstrelism: The Lute and the Fury. Beautifully done.
July 18, 2007
Quite possibly the perfectly-constructed blog post; the right sort of length, human and personal, wonderfully phrased, and with a drop-dead fabulous closing line that effortlessly merges 'geeky' with 'heart-warming' and 'social observation'.
Or maybe it just made me laugh.
My local deli makes excellent sandwiches to go with their superb coffee. A few weeks back, I was ordering up an elegantly simple ham salad on a granary roll, and hence enquiring about their mustards. "Oooh, we're a bit low on mustard at the moment. We've got English, but that's about it."
A brainwave struck, and I mooted the concept of piccalilli (Wikipedia: 'this condiment-related article is a stub'). The jolly staff duly scoured their shelves, unearthed a jar, cracked it open, and presented me with both a delicious sandwich and a diverting discussion on undervalued and oft-overlooked pickles. It turned out, you see, that nobody else in the shop could recall eating piccalilli anywhere other than at their gran's, when they were about six. They all thought it revolting stuff, but conceded that this may have been lack of recent familiarity.
A few weeks later and I returned, once again fancying a spot of ham sandwich to follow my daily constitutional. "Do you still have, behind the counter," I ventured, "a jar of piccalilli?"
"Yes. Nobody else has had any since you."
I'm appalled. Genuinely appalled. At least, I will be, once I've enjoyed devouring this excellent sandwich.
Mike Davidson single-handedly solves the problem of email, and does so in a way that callously breaks my long-standing signature quote (above). Damn, and I could so get on board with this, too. Five.sentenc.es. (The photo is from a school in Dorchester in which I was running workshops the other week. The walls are plastered with these 'motivational' posters, with this one pretty much the first you encounter as you walk in the door. They may have thought I was a bit strange when I pointed out that it's misattributed...)
July 17, 2007
Yes, I know reception is always pants, but I hate missing interesting bits of the Today programme, so I've been looking for a shower radio for ages. They're surprisingly hard to find... and then this turns up. Count me in. From here, apparently. I can't help thinking that this is how John Humphrys should look, too.
We've had our first submitted film for SciCast! Yay! I haven't seen it yet -- the disc is winging its way from NESTA's London office to me in Glasgow -- but we'll see if we can't get it on the site this week. Best of all -- the school who've sent it isn't one we've ever heard of. Looks like they picked up the story from Learning and Teaching Scotland, or possibly the Times Educational Supplement who ran a story a week ago in Scotland (odd, since they previously ran stuff nationally in May, but I'm not complaining).
We've also had encouraging and positive meetings with the National Media Museum and Scottish Screen, and I'm starting to think about how the site might evolve in the next year. I've a vague plan that gets about as far as taking over Europe, if not the world, each stage of which sounds almost frighteningly plausible. Funding, however, is going to be tricky -- I think it's hard to see this happening without industrial support.
Trouble is -- where do you find a company or organisation that wants to spend money to identify with the next generation of creative, science- and media-literate, publishing-savvy, web-community-participating citizens? A company that wants to be seen supporting a practical, collaborative, non-competitive, positive approach, in which users develop materials for mutual learning and entertainment? A company that wants to bask in the reflected glory of doing something cutting-edge modern, and yet reassuringly familiar -- taking the forty years-old ideals of public service children's TV, and updating them for the twenty-first century? A company that wants to help people to help themselves, spreading life skills and building a shared resource that will last for years?
Damn, that's going to be hard. Those are really weird ideals. [cough]
If anyone reading this should happen to want to save me the hassle of knocking on doors, and has six figures to spend (probably low six figures, depends exactly what you want), drop me a line: jonathan(at)quernstone.com. No, I don't seriously expect this to work, but hey -- it's worth asking. Some odd people read this blog.
July 16, 2007
OK, so I've managed to trick my N95 into talking to the updater app. Now, the updater downloads 120Mb of update (?! for a phone?), connects to the N95, starts squirting the update... and then the phone crashes. Every time.
A pleasure, then, to read stories like this. I always did have a soft spot for Esprits.
The current bane of my digitally-connected lifestyle is my new Nokia N95 übergadgettelefunkenphone. It has a fabulous camera... that takes forever to turn on, features astonishing shutter lag, and insists on offering to upload each damned picture to some random piece of blogware I don't use over a data tariff that borders on daylight robbery. It has GPS... which takes several minutes to lock up to the satellites and then drains the battery while it fails to download the bit of map it thinks I'm on. It has a battery... which lasts a little under a day. It has a a slide design that automatically locks the keypad... then unslides itself in your pocket and manages to dial out anyway. It has 3G data... but refuses to pipe anything out over Bluetooth. And so on.
Anyway, it's also quite the most hilariously unstable phone I've ever used. Yesterday it didn't crash at all, but on Saturday it crashed four times in the same phone call. Flossie was not amused.
Now, I happen to know that there's a software update for the thing. I can go to Nokia's website, fumble with their web form, hoik out the phone's battery (getting good at that now -- when the phone warm-boots after a crash the microphone is disabled, requiring another power cycle to get it working again. Yanking the battery saves about a minute of waiting for it to draw cutesy animations that are, I must admit, wearing a little thin), and bash in the multi-digit ID number. At which point Nokia's website proudly informs me that my phone's an N95, which I can read in neat stenciled letters on the front of the thing, thanks.
Oh, and yes, offers the website, there is a software update. Download and install the Software Updater to download and install the software update. Umm... OK. My phone is usually hooked up to a Mac, but I'll fire up the PC if that's what it wants.
...and the Nokia Software Updater, of course, assures me there's no such thing as a software update. 10.0.018 is, I'm told, as recent as it gets. Anything I may have heard about 11.0.026 and its 'general stability enhancements' is, evidently, a lie. Let alone 12.0.013, which I must have made up.
It turns out -- according to discussions on Nokia's own support site -- that Orange's locked N95s don't play ball with the updates. So Nokia blame Orange, and Orange doubtless blame Nokia, and...
Apple, save me from this nonsense. Please!
Lovely, lovely article at BBC News Magazine in which Clive James explores sportsmen with brains, and what they bring to their sport after they've stopped playing. As usual with James, it's worth reading simply for the flow of the language.
July 15, 2007
The story so far: there's a new trailer out (playing ahead of the world's most expensive toy advert, but luckily you can catch it at Apple's movie trailer site instead), which appears to be for an as-yet-untitled JJ Abrams-helmed flick. Since he's the exec producer behind Lost, it's probably no surprise that there's already a 'net-wide hunt-the-wumpus game going on, as fans try to track down additional information on the new film via websites that are assumed to exist.
Is it just me who's a bit bored by all this? I mean, I'm as much of a fan of ARGs as the next guy -- which is to say, I haven't thought about them much, but in principle I guess they might be OK, so long as they're not like LARP -- but this is a film. It's been shot. You're not going to influence the story, you're just finding bits of back-story they didn't think were important enough to put in the film itself.
My time is precious. If I'm going to choose to squander it, those who would entertain me had damn well better be doing the hard work themselves. If they expect me to work through their deliberately-obfuscated plotlines for them, then I shall take my custom elsewhere.
July 14, 2007
Harrumph! Wikipedia already notes that Hyperdrive's HMS Camden Lock bears the registration XH558, noting:
The set and prop designer, model maker Andrew Glazebrook is quoted that, "Its registration number XH558 is actually that of the Royal Air Force's 'Avro Vulcan' bomber and was suggested by the show's writers, Andy Riley and Kevin Cecil."
So much for my eagle eyes.
Also: read this page for details of brake testing procedure during development. Rather than mount cameras on the plane, they strapped a photographer to the front gear strut. Interesting risk assessment exercise.
The second series of Hyperdrive started this week, and I still don't know what to make of it. I almost gave up the first time around, but the occasional gag had me chuckling into my cocoa. This second series opener was more of the same -- some cute observations, but overall somewhat 'meh.' Except...
Except the space ship in the series bears the registration 'XH558,' which is either cruising at a ludicrous improbability factor, or a clear reference to the last remaining not-quite-airworthy-but-it-will-be-any-day-now Avro Vulcan: see here, pictures here.
Shortly after that shot there was a voice-over reference to the Utterly Butterly Barnstormers. OK, so they've changed sponsors this year and are now Team Guinot, but they're still a lovely bunch. In the piccy: Scope's presenter Kathriona, in a sequence we filmed earlier this year.
My concern: is it geekier of the production team for including these references, or of me for spotting them?
Don't answer that. You can't, because comments are still down, but even so -- don't. Humph.
July 11, 2007
Anyone I host, either at Deletetheweb.com or on their own domain, needs to be aware of this alert from our hosting provider Dreamhost: they're physically relocating the servers this Friday/Saturday. There'll be a roughly five-hour outage early Saturday morning, UK-time, affecting web and mail.
You shouldn't lose mail in the process -- it'll just spool up on their servers waiting to be delivered -- but if you see some weirdness, this will be why. Your websites will be down and unavailable. You'll likely also be unable to send email during the downtime.
Back from Dorset, Cardiff, a storytelling festival, a meeting at the National Media Museum, and storytime with my nephew and nieces, to... consulting on a new Richard Hammond series. Yes, I was surprised, too.
Anyway -- expect more posting than the last couple of weeks. And some more films at SciCast soon, too (finally). In the meantime, here, courtesy of Flossie, is the Welsh Space Agency. Rock on, guys.
July 6, 2007
High time I came straight out and said this:
I've made a substantial amount of children's television, and I'm appalled that the current generation of children aren't getting the sorts of inspiration enjoyed by their predecessors. Yes, the BBC is still making good stuff, but they're now the only significant supplier, and their track-record for factual programmes in particular has been patchy for the last decade. Hence: scary times.
However, while I broadly agree with the goals of Save Kids' TV, I think their focus on high-quality drama is part of what got us into this mess in the first place, and isn't necessarily a full solution. Heck, I don't even agree that television is necessarily part of that solution.
So while I'm interested that Jana Bennett's been suggesting tax breaks (rather than top-slicing the BBC license fee, natch), and I'm delighted for the animation and pre-schools industries that they can integrate the back-end -- ie. merchandise the hell out of their properties, and sell internationally by re-dubbing (see comments at that link) -- neither of these help me directly.
See -- it might not be obvious from the current website, but SciCast is my first stab at 'Children's TV 2.0.'
Some of them are the future, right now.
Sorry, but if it takes us five years to solve all this stuff, we'll have missed an entire generation of kids. While I should have been at Showcomotion this week, I'd only have been ranting about how it felt like dinosaurs discussing meteorites. Look over the other side of the watering hole, and there's a bunch of ugly furry things that don't understand this 'cold-blooded' concept you have going on.
But what really drives me up the wall is that I only have another few weeks before the cash runs out, and I have to do something else entirely. For the first time in my career, being a freelancer sucks.