August 2007 Archives
August 31, 2007
I wasn't expecting this to appear for another few weeks, so a great spot by my dad: BBC News' Click technology show has a 'Webscape' column, and this week they're featuring SciCast. Yay! The review should be going out on Click bulletins over the weekend, and with luck will be in BBC Breakfast News at 0645 Saturday morning, on BBC1.
If I'm not much mistaken, this would be the first time anything I've made has gone out on BBC1. ITV, Channel 4, Five, Discovery, Discovery Kids, BBC2, and a bunch of other channels - sure. But BBC1? Not that I recall. I'm hoping they show a clip of my nephew Stanley...
Thanks also to Violet, who as far as I know is the person behind this happening.
Good news: my gigabit ethernet switch arrived today.
Bad news: the network card in my old G4 doesn't support jumbo frames. D'oh!
The switch is a Netgear GS108, by the way. I can't remember why I plumped for this rather than the 'domestic' model (per-port something or other, or maybe the jumbo frame thing, or... something); very cheap at Amazon right now.
Meanwhile, working in front of this many pixels is a joy. Everyone should have two good LCD panels.
August 30, 2007
The pixels have landed. Bits of the SciCast publishing system only work with Internet Explorer on Windows, so for the last couple of months I've had a horrid dilemma: run Final Cut with a single monitor, or keep scrurrying around beneath the desk to replug the 'second' monitor between the Mac and the PC (yes, geek fans, I tried VNC -- not quick enough for what I needed).
This week I succumbed to the inevitable, and bought my first new monitor in about five years. It's a Samsung 206BW, and so far it seems lovely. I'm going to have to keep futzing around with colour profiles with it, and it's damned bright (I'm now running it at around 40%, to avoid burning my retinas), but it's looking pretty good.
The scary part is that if I tot all this up, I'm looking at rather more than 4 million pixels. If I open the MacBook it hits 5 million.
Reading the news today, something odd struck me. Colin Moses, chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, is quoted as saying:
"When Gordon Brown puts his 81,000 prisoners in prison, he puts them into the hands of my members, who have to put up with eight assaults a day."
Compare and contrast with this piece about assistance calls from bus drivers, discussing statistics obtained by Tories in the London Assembly:
The statistics also show the incidents of code red calls -- when the driver has to stop the bus and call for outside help -- due to anti-social behaviour increased from 465 cases in September 2005 to 697 cases in October 2006.
It's hard to compare the two sets of data, but on the face of it prisons are a safer work environment than London buses. Of course, even one assault is too many, but still… what?
August 29, 2007
August 28, 2007
Media Guardian's Organ Grinder has a nice wrap-up of the unFestival, quoting a bunch of people including yours truly. My own reflections:
I'm not remotely surprised by the lack of TV people present. They've paid good money to attend the TV Festival, and it's a considerable risk. Plus, TV is this huge behemoth with hundreds of millions of pounds somewhere, which of course everyone is chasing. Digital media is a completely different world and it doesn't work in anything like the same way.
Accordingly, I personally no longer expect the Big Ideas to come from TV. Perhaps TV people might be involved, but if you're in the business of being good at TV that doesn't necessarily extend to the web. We don't expect book publishers to come up with great TV shows on the side -- though in rare circumstances that does happen.
Hence, we need to stop looking to the TV people for creative, content-based leadership. They're not a likely source.
However, the idea of growing the unFestival in the direction of something like SXSW is extremely good, in my book; there's plenty of boundary-challenging work being done that's exhibited in Edinburgh, so let's see how broad an unconference we can foster.
Roll on 2008, I say.
I'm not sure how seriously I meant that.
[addendum: Vinay's essentially the top Google hit for 'Vinay Gupta,' which is one heck of an achievement. In the future, when one's income is index-linked to one's PageRank, he'll be loaded.]
August 27, 2007
It’s strangely reassuring to discover that even YouTube has outages. As I type, it’s been failing to respond to my hails for over an hour. Which makes a change from my own blog not talking to me.
Meanwhile, I’m gently breaking in Martin’s old Power Mac G4-450DP, which he’s donating to my Dad. There’s been a certain amount of RAM shuffling to make both this box and my almost-as-old-but-still-used-daily G4-933 roughly equally happy, and to work around some DIMMs that appear to have gone bad. At the moment, though, things are looking good.
That said, there’s still a stray hard drive inside the thing. Quite how we missed it I’ve no idea, but it’s showing on the desktop and is of sufficient vintage that it’s damned loud. Screwdriver poised and ready for the next time I have to restart for updates…
Meanwhile, as a reward for having read this far through a useless and frankly rather dull post, here’s the European Commission’s UK Press Room’s list of bogus EU stories from the UK press, with their rebuttals. Surprisingly entertaining, including the truth about bananas.
August 26, 2007
I had a blast at the unFestival yesterday, and regret not making it over to Edinburgh today for the 'Best of...' session in the main TV Festival. Mind you, I feel rough enough to have just cleaned the bath (which only seems to happen when I'm under the weather), so...
More later, doubtless. Also more as I grapple with MT4, which is looking pretty good, though making a clean start from my 2.2-vintage templates has been fiddly, and for all the talk about how lovely the default stylesheets are, I'm not terribly impressed with the typography.
Right now, I have Yorkshire puddings to cook, but in the meantime I'm delighted that [Stellr at least got Twittered about](http://twitter.com/rachelclarke/statuses/226972372).
August 25, 2007
The BBC iPlayer speaker hasn’t turned up. Oh, the irony. Heckles included:
“Neither has the player” &
“It’s OK, none of us would be able to watch the presentation anyway”
At the Edinburgh TV unFestival. It’s quiet so far, but it’s early. It’s two years since I videoed OpenTech, the launch of backstage.bbc.co.uk, Euan’s iPod Shuffle Shuffle, and caught the birth of the Open Rights Group on camera. Two years on, and… I don’t know anyone any more. Fun.
Another test post. Comments are back, by the way, though note:
- You pretty much have to 'comment anonymously,' which is the equivalent of the old... er... just commenting.
- There's one of those dreadful unreadable Captcha things, which almost certainly doesn't work anyway and absolutely blocks anyone with vision impairments from commenting. I'll see if I can find another way...
- 'Anonymous' comments are held for approval.
I'll do something about the horrid font in due course. I know how much you all loved the old Baskerville, even if it was a bit on the small side.
Rrright. So… we have the green back, at least. And the posts seem to be here. The archives are borked, though, and since ‘archives’ includes individual entries I’m guessing comments are unreachable too.
But hey — ladies and gentlemen, MT4! Woohoo!
The actual upgrade was fairly painless, but convincing the system that I really did want to throw away my templates and start over was perhaps reassuringly hard. Unfortunately, the refresh option appears not to have inserted fresh archives templates, so… well, anyway.
MT4, and I’m going to bed.
If I could find one of those ‘under construction’ graphics we used to love back in 1997, I’d slap one of those here.
August 24, 2007
Woah! I completely missed this -- Avid are discontinuing their FreeDV offering, which provided a limited version of Xpress for free. It was great for people learning to use Avid, and all the tools it offers. However:
Effective September 1, 2007, Avid is discontinuing the Avid Free DV application offer, and has no immediate plans to make an updated version available.
Get it while you can. From September, this leaves Liquid as Avid's cheapest solution (£500), and Xpress Pro as the cheapest 'proper' Avid (£1245). Good education pricing, but still -- Premiere Pro ($800) is back with a vengeance. Apple, meanwhile, really needs to update Final Cut Express ($300) to serve all the people abandoned by iMovie'08, though it's still a stonkingly good package.
Wikipedia on the White Mulberry tree:
The White Mulberry is scientifically notable for the rapid plant movement of the pollen release from its catkins. The flowers fire pollen into the air by rapidly (25 µs) releasing stored elastic energy in the stamens. The resulting movement is in excess of half the speed of sound, making it the fastest known movement in the plant kingdom.
Outrun by a tree. Oh, the shame.
August 23, 2007
Here's how patents work: when you invent something original, you document the nature of the invention and lodge that description with the Patent Office. Subsequently, anyone wanting to exploit your invention has to negotiate a license fee with you. I paraphrase, but you get the idea.
Thing is, we could have done this the other way around. Think about it:
When you mess something up in a new way, you document the type of mistake you made, and lodge that description with the Screwups Office. Subsequently, anyone committing the same mistake has to pay you a license fee.
As far as I can tell, these two systems are exactly equivalent, but opposite. And if we do one, why not the other too?
Can I file for a patent on a business model that's the exact opposite of the patent system? And if I can, then I claim registered Screwup #1: the Patents system, a framework for rendering inventions inaccessible to people who had the same ideas independently.
Some menus wrap around; that is, if you go past the end, it zaps back to the beginning.
Some menus don't.
Er... what? Didn't we work this stuff out in, like, 1993?
And don't even start me on scrolling speed and overlap margin inconsistency. It's not that the interface is bad, see -- it's that it's inconsistent. So unless you're completely fanatical, you never quite know what the phone is going to do.
I just hooked my phone to my PC for the first time in a few weeks, and tried the Nokia software update tool. Previously, it hadn't recognised the phone model number, since Orange UK use a custom variation.
Good news: this time it agrees there's an update, and is downloading 11.0.026. Which isn't the most recent firmware going, but whatever.
Bad news: the N95 crashed during install, and on reboot appears to be unresponsive. Merde.
[update: leaving it a few minutes without power, it now starts up. I'm attempting to update again.]
[update 2: nope. Tried three times, and the phone crashes out each time, at the same point. Nokia forums are full of people having problems even with the latest 12.0.014. My advice remains: avoid the Nokia N95 at all costs, it's a shambles.]
Flossie and I have a new game: send the other person a food parcel via Tesco delivery, and require them to blog what they concoct from the contents. The opening salvo in this trial of wit and culinary cunning was an unchallenging shot across the bows, but I sense a degree of escalation may be involved in my retaliatory volley.
So: a question to the web geeks here -- how might we pressure Tesco to add an API to their service, so we can do BBC Backstage/Tesco TV dinner mashups? Or integrate Google Maps, get Tesco to deliver to GPS coordinates, and thus do on-demand drop-delivery geocaching.
Come to think of it, my phone has a GPS unit -- why can't I do operations like 'I'm up this mountain and really fancy a bun. Tesco!' ?
We took the decision to host SciCast films ourselves -- rather than use YouTube, Revver, Blip, etc -- 18 months ago, so it's interesting looking back and trying to work out whether we were right. The list goes like this:
Quality. Old Flash video (Sorenson Spark) plain sucks. It was fine in its day, but that was 10 years ago. The frame-rate is poor, the compression blocks obliterate fine detail -- even more significant when you're making technical films -- and it looks really rubbish when blown-up to project on a classroom wall, which is a typical use case for us. YouTube's presumed move to H.264 will mitigate this, but see my previous post about high-quality stuff.
Rights. I believe YouTube changed their licensing package last year -- I should explore this. But I've a sneaking suspicion that by uploading films you still grant YouTube some control. I can do that for films we own, but contributed SciCast films are under CC licenses, so I don't have the authority to assign subsidiary rights except under Share-Alike. Which means contributors would have to upload directly. Which might be fine, but SciCast is also about editorial quality, not just sheer numbers. Tricky, and messy.
Advertising. Advertising around educational content is a thorny issue, and I'd rather duck it entirely. As I understand it, the UK ban on advertising 'junk' food to children applies to print and broadcast, though not the web. If that should change, not having control over advertiser focus would simply be untenable. YouTube have recently started running ads over video, too, which makes a lot of sense, but isn't something that would be acceptable in a classroom environment.
Comment Moderation. I feel very strongly that a site aimed at children should be a 'safe' browsing environment. That means, crucially, pre-moderated comments -- nothing gets published before it's been read. You can now do this on YouTube, but the proximity to other content (as little as one click from something over which you have no control) makes it hard to maintain a buffer. So you end up building your own site anyway, and embedding YouTube videos -- all you really gain is a clean upload mechanism. Which is significant, but not enough, because:
Blocking. YouTube is often blocked by school and/or Local Authority-level firewalls. Game over.
It's easy to assume that YouTube 'owns' web video, and that doing anything else is swimming against the tide. I don't hold to that, since I think video is easy and it's what you do with it that's hard. YouTube is the cable TV of the web -- oceans of material with the occasional gem bobbing around. What I'm trying to build is more like BBC4 -- targeted at specific audiences, and hence with a much higher hit-rate. I'm trying to build something that's fun and useful.
...which is partly why I'm keen on a middle ground between a commissioning model (cf. broadcast), and a free-for-all (cf. YouTube). There aren't many sites taking such an approach, but one prominent example is Current.tv.
We've been discussing -- again -- whether we should make 'big' versions of the SciCast films available for download, or just the embedded H.264 versions. By 'big,' I mean about 20Mb/minute, 640x480 resolution or higher, H.264 or WMV9 (VC-1?) -- nigh-on broadcast quality, and in most cases high enough quality to reveal problems with the original camera rushes. Archival-quality big.
I've felt all along that it's the right thing to do, and of course this is all Creative Commons-licensed so there's nothing stopping me doing it on my own time and bunging the films into Archive.org. But yesterday I found myself saying something that 'feels' right:
We publish high-quality versions of the films because they allow people to do things with SciCast we haven't thought of.
I've even got an example of this -- somebody has a quasi-commercial idea that would rely on their being able to munge the films in specific ways, and they couldn't do that without access to large-frame versions.
We should be pushing these ludicrous-quality versions up in the next week or so, though we haven't yet worked out how to integrate them with the site, so it might be a bit of a kludge in the short term.
August 22, 2007
Excellent story about programming laziness relating to leap seconds, from the Risks Digest.
This article won't be the last WordPress-vs-Movable Type 4 comparative review, but the comments thread is extremely useful. Credit to the respective product managers for showing up and answering questions too -- to be fair, Movable Type staff have a long history of doing that.
...which should probably alert the wary reader to coming flakiness on this blog, when I finally get around to updating it.
In chat, Vinay and I just came up with a new web application protocol we'd like to see. Our options:
- Do nothing about it.
- Seek venture capital, then build it.
- Build a slick website about it, write reviews of example apps, and see if anyone reverse-engineers the protocol. Thus saving us from having to write it in the first place.
I'm veering towards option #3.
Jeff Carlson has an excellent first look at iMovie'08, over at Macworld. Worth a read.
Having now had a little chance to play with the package, here's my present thinking:
- It's easier to lash a bunch of clips together in iMovie'08 than in iMovie'06. The new interface is very, very slick indeed.
- You hit the limits of iMovie'08 much sooner than you do those of '06, mostly because it simply does less.
The issue for me is that you can't cut dialogue-driven, classic 'drama continuity editing' style films in iMovie'08. You just can't do it. You can do it in '06, but it's a pain in the arse. What I was hoping for was a revision to iMovie that helped mere mortals cut such sequences, letting them keep an audio track intact while trimming an edit from the mid-shot to the detail close-up, and back again.
Evidently, the famous diving-holidaying Apple video engineer either didn't get that at all, or decided it was Way Too Hard. So, what we have is a tool that makes crashing clips together really really simple. This is, quite likely, what the world has needed for the last three years.
But as more and more people discover the joys of video, they're going to hit the limits. What's really interesting isn't what iMovie'08 does, it's what it doesn't do, and where they're headed with it. There's no obvious reason why they couldn't add a conventional audio timeline to the project window, and show video timeline length as at present. If they've really thought it through, then by iLife '09 we might -- finally -- have the video editor for the rest of us.
In the meantime, there's Premiere Elements. If you're on Windows.
August 21, 2007
Man, did I call this one: Adobe Labs have released a beta update of Flash Player 9 that incorporates H.264 playback. Finally the video wars are over, and we have a winner: It's not Flash, it's not Quicktime, it's not Windows Media, and it's not DivX/XviD -- it's H.264.
For once, this is the right outcome. With YouTube encoding their entire back-catalogue as H.264 for iPhone and Apple TV, it's been clear for months that they must be heading to the same codec on the main site. Now we know how -- still in Flash.
What'll be interesting to see is how they're encapsulating the video. Done right, it might be viewable with either the Flash or Quicktime plugins, but Adobe's initial demo embeds a Flash-only .swf file.
Still, this is great news. Around the end of the year we should start seeing a huge jump in quality for online video.
[update 2: here's the full developer blah. Looks peachy so far.]
August 13, 2007
Merde. We're about to hit a situation where we've half a dozen people phone-bashing and generally agitating for SciCast. We'll be spread around different organisations and even cities, and we'll all be doing this part-time. Coordination and 'the big picture' is going to be hard.
I'd love to use Highrise to bring us all together. Unfortunately... that would be exporting personal information to the US. Which is, one suspects, a bit of a no-no when it comes to the Data Protection Act. Dang.
I guess I'm going to have to read up on what all this stuff means...
August 12, 2007
One of the things that rather amuses me about the Nokia N95 is that the more I use it, the more I stumble across features that are spectacularly brain-dead.
This morning's example: I wanted to know if the thing will play H264 video, since it'd be quite handy to carry SciCast films around with me. Now, I could go and look up the information, but it's easier to fire up Bluetooth File Exchange and wave an example film over to the thing. 5Mb or so at 85Kb/sec -- it's quick enough.
The trouble is, the N95 puts the received movie not in its filesystem, but in the Inbox. From where I can do... absolutely nothing with it, except move it from one Messaging folder to another. It doesn't appear in the filesystem browser, and I can't open it from the Messaging app. Does this mean it doesn't work? I don't know.
Obviously, anything arriving via Bluetooth must be a message, right? Even if it's a 5Mb video file. Rrrrright.
Stupid stupid stupid. As I've said before, I'd be at least entertained if it was a good phone. But it isn't. The phone UI is clunky and crashy; it's so keen to offer me the option to video call somebody that it enforces an extra click I just don't want, every time; the SMS application has real problems with screen redraw, which slow it down tragically; etc etc.
It's plain laughable. And not in a good way.
August 10, 2007
Yes, I know the front page of SciCast has a big black hole in it, and the movie doesn't play. I've no way of fixing this, I think -- it'll be like that for the weekend, until the backroom boys return on Monday.
August 9, 2007
Damien has a set of photos up on Flickr from The Big Bang, the kids' TV show we used to make in Leeds. They give you an idea of what it was like to make -- involved lots of goofing around in an office with rolls of sellotape and string. And, yes, getting paid to do that. Fun!
Amusingly, I'm not in any of these pictures. By my reckoning this was series 6, shot in 2001. According to my notes, that was the last year we did significant location work -- poor Sue in costume had to deal with 70+ outfits for all the history inserts, which was insane. I recall sitting in the online when dear Patrick asked us to rotoscope out the TV aerials in the back of shot, and us saying 'This has gone too far.'
After series 6 we refocussed on studio make&do only, but by then CITV was starting the death spiral. For series 7 there was a change of presenters, and the resulting delays pushed the studio dates back so they straddled the technical closure of the department in Leeds. I wasn't involved until the last gasp of shooting, when both Patrick and Colin (the original and then replacement series producers) had left the company.
When it came back for series 8 we were all a bit shocked, and it was a consolidation year, cherry-picking the good bits of the turbulent series 7. Damien was well gone by then, as I recall, heading eventually to his current feature film surfing magnificence.
Happily, series 9 was a fabulous return to the glorious behind-the-scenes atmosphere of the early years. If we had to finish the run, I'm glad it was then. A wonderful group of people, great ideas, and some corking telly out of it.
Big Bang was a nightmare at times, and I usually finished a series vowing never to do another one. But I still miss it.
[can you tell I'm in H264 compression greybarland, by the way?]
Superb production values, and a damned funny script:
Here's a lovely use of a micro IR-control plane and a cuddly gorilla to re-enact the ending of King Kong. I'm particularly fond of the überwidescreen letterboxing, and for once the end credit jokes actually made me chuckle. Bravo!
Yesterday, Apple updated the iLife suite to '08.' It looks like a significant update all round, but most dramatically for iMovie. I'm a big fan of iMovie -- while there are some parts of it that are less than obvious, training kids to use it takes all of five minutes, and in another five minutes they're completely ignoring the software and concentrating on telling stories. Which, in my world, is what film-making is all about.
But you know, what I can see of iMovie '08 worries me. The new interface and editing method looks, frankly, amazing. So what's the problem?
The focus is on throwing movies together quickly, polishing them a little, then bunging them online. So iMovie now makes it easier than ever to find the bits of your rushes you like, shove them together, and export. Great. It looks like trimming (ie. adjusting an edit) is also more obvious than it was before. This is a distinctly good thing.
...and that's about it.
See, the biggest limitation I find with what's suddenly 'old' iMovie is that it's hard to separate audio from video. 'J' and 'L' cuts -- where an audio edit precedes or trails a picture edit -- are extremely hard to pull off, and when you do, it's frighteningly easy to lose lip-sync subsequently. The result is that it's nigh-on impossible, in old iMovie, to edit dialogue and fix the pictures later. Which is what one normally does in... oooh, you know, films that tell stories.
Want to take dialogue somebody's said and cut in a close-up? Not trivial in iMovie. Want to cut to a reverse for cover while you fix up a fluffed line in an otherwise good take? Not trivial in iMovie.
So the way SciCast workshops have gone is: students shoot, we pull the video into iMovie, and they lash together a rough-cut for viewing that afternoon. Great. But even from a standing start, by the end of the day they're all asking how to use that bit of audio there, and trim that bit, and put that clip -- minus its sound -- there, and and and. But we're out of time, so I take their notes and I finish off the film for them.
...which typically takes me about three hours in Final Cut Pro, often recreating the rough-cut from scratch before polishing it up. I am not, I should add, a slow Final Cut editor -- I'm not a professional editor, but my standards for such things are extremely high, and I'm faster than some Avid pros I've worked with. I'd love to be able to fix stuff up in iMovie, but if there are more than a couple of edits to tweak it's less infuriating to start again and have all the tools to hand in Final Cut.
What does iMovie '08, then, have to offer the budding film-maker in this regard?
On the face of it, in my world... nothing.
Er... yeah. I've watched Jobs' demo, and I've seen all the training videos, and from what I see there's no split-track video/audio view. So the only way to do what I want -- what my budding young film-makers want -- will be to extract audio, delete pictures, and try to make identical-length buffer clips to keep everything in sync. Or something. Basically, impossible. It's not even apparent if 'skimming' [cough'scrubbing'cough] clips scrubs audio too.
At first glance, it looks to me as if iMovie 08 is highly optimised for cutting together a short, elegant clipsreel. But film-making? Not so much. In fact, anything that's dialogue-led (except for voice-over), or anything that's using multiple passes and takes, or anything with multiple cameras -- from what I can see we'd be better off sticking with iMovie HD 6.
I can't quite believe this can be right. This is Apple, right? They're all about the creatives, about subtly training their users to become more professional so they graduate up the product lines. This is why some people think they're patronising -- iMovie has relatively few cheesy wipe transitions, because they make your video look awful, so Apple heavy-handedly protect you from that.
Can they really have made it harder to tell a story with video? Didn't we go through all this with desktop publishing, when we had InDesign and that Quackers thing at the high end and basically nothing that mortals could use, and then eventually Pages came out and suddenly the rest of us could again make documents that looked good? What are 14 year-old directors supposed to use? Final Cut Express?
Or Premiere Elements on a Dell?
I'll be buying iLife 08 as soon as I can, in the full hope that my worries are a product of Apple's marketing focus rather than limitations in the new iMovie.
Of course, the next problem is that iMovie 08 won't actually run on my old Power Mac. Gaaaaaaah!
[update Thursday morning: iMovie HD 6 has been made available as a free download for owners of iMovie '08. Implication? 'We know it's not done yet.' Also, lots of discussions in Apple's boards about '08's partially lacking audio tools. Sounds like it's not as bad as it might be, but still not a step forward except for clipsreel-type cutting.]
August 8, 2007
Gaz and Debbie have a long run of Visualise -- the beauty of science in Edinburgh at the moment. Flossie (who was involved in earlier incarnations herself) has pointed me to a pair of reviews that appear to bear out the contention that the show divides audiences.
I rather like the show, myself. Toddle on down and see what you think. And hey -- there are reviews. That means audience. Plural!
August 7, 2007
DV Start/Stop Detect. Hallelujah.
New startup video blog digest thing, inexplicably on the front page sidebar of Ars (unflagged advertising placement?). Like Rocketboom, but with two very important differences. Firstly, it's shorter. Secondly, it's just about watchable. It'll be interesting to see if they inherit Rocketboom's highly flexible format, or stick with a quick blog overview.
(and for the record: I think Joanne Colan is a distinct improvement on Amanda Congdon, but still needs to work on slowing down a little, and on softening the more strident edges to her voice. I so want to like Rocketboom and their quirky story choice and format, and I drop back every few months, but I don't think I've ever managed to sit all the way through one of their episodes.)
There's a story going round about physicists in St. Andrews having a theoretical dodge for the Casimir effect. Which, if it turns out to have practical realisation, is goodbye friction for nanomachinery, hello brave new world. Or something like that.
The same group, apparently, were amongst those who posited theoretical frameworks for invisibility, a little while back. Curiously, of the four research groups who've suggested approaches for this, three are in Britain. Which leads to the inescapable conclusion:
Our aliens are better than your aliens.
- That'd make a great T-shirt, &
- As a phrase, it doesn't appear in Google.
[update: "Their aliens are better than our aliens" doesn't appear either. Astounding.]
[update 2: this post took less than 10 minutes to show up in Google. Searches for these phrases are no longer empty. Impressive.]
[update 3: Dang. There's one existing Google hit for the phrase "Our aliens are better than their aliens", to a mailing-list archive post from 1999, that appears to be a Google ad honeypot.]
[update 4: "My aliens are better than your aliens": no Google hits.]
This is interesting: tomorrow (er... today -- Tuesday) Apple have a press do for 'Macintosh-related announcements.' Right now, both the US and UK online stores are quoting delivery times as follows:
- Mac mini: 24 hours
- iMac: 24 hours
- Mac Pro: 24 hours
- MacBook: 24 hours
- MacBook Pro: 7-10 working days (15")
- MacBook Pro: 24 hours
Now, normally one can guess which models are likely to be replaced through the lead times. Anything around a week or so, and it's a newbie nestling in the box when you finally receive it.
In this case, however, the MacBook Pro has been tweaked only a couple of months ago. The case didn't change, but everything else did, and while this wouldn't be the first time Cupertino has given a model such a short shelf-life there's not much new one can see being done. Slimmer case? HD disc burner? 4-core CPUs? Really? 
Every other Mac, however, has been on the market long enough to be refreshed tomorrow.
Upshot: we know jack all.
 If you like this kind of thing.
 You'd be right to assume I'm hoping this is prophetically bad.
August 6, 2007
August 5, 2007
Amongst the 140+ items of junk mail I've received in the last 24 hours (a marked reduction on recent history -- catch-alls really are bad news, in case there was any doubt), the very latest bears the line:
Subject: Rascally freight train
I rather like the idea of a freight train that's a bit of a lad. A little bit whoa, a little bit wahey. Sneaking up on sidings and cheekily dumping 400 tonnes of aggregate on them, or progressing insouciantly slowly up a gradient with a train full of commuters champing at the bit behind it.
The junk mail is, of course, something to do with enlarging one's penis. But at least the random generator threw up a pleasing subject line for once.
Aha! Emailing a chum, I've found a new, stark way of describing SciCast. I think this may be the new elevator pitch:
Five years ago, the UK spent about £1m a year on science video aimed primarily at children. The bulk of that money was spent by me, on two television series, The Big Bang, and How2. They were good shows; lots of people watched them; they came back year after year. However:
Today, we spend -- nothing at all.
I think we can achieve similar impact for about 10% of the spend initially, rising to 20% through a five-year expansion plan. That plan is called 'SciCast.'
The big issue is: that original million quid came from ITV, who were essentially forced into spending it by the government (public service TV, blah blah). So nobody else has ever had to face up to whose responsibility it might be to do this.
My generation talks about Johnny Ball and his shows. The generation of ten years ago won't talk about my shows in quite the same way -- we didn't have a 'face', and what we were doing wasn't as radical a departure -- but they'll still talk about the shows I made.
What will the current generation of kids talk about?
That's what SciCast is for.
I like Howtoons, despite the name being perilously similar to a series I loved even more. I like their artwork style. Things I like less:
- What can I do with their downloads? Duplicate and hand them out in a school workshop? Come on gang, CC licenses, please!
- There's even more work in doing this than there is in making video. At this rate, they'll be retreading very familiar ground for months to come. What's the plan to avoid that?
Update: poking around the site more, the nearest they come to a copyright page is this, which asserts (by omission) all rights reserved. Merde. But that makes sense when they're apparently preparing a book.
Ah, well. It's another children's cartoon science book. An unusually thoughtful and pretty one, but a book nonetheless.
August 4, 2007
Great new video from Junior Senior, using quick cuts of clips sent to them by fans. Like the reverse of a YouTube lip-sync video; very clever, and saccharine fun.
Chatting with The Gupta, we had a genius idea. Remember those dancing prisoners in the Philippines?
Superbowl halftime show.
Watching Merlin Mann's 'Inbox Zero' Google TechTalk, it occurs to me that I've forgotten to post sage advice here. Speaking as someone who's video recorded his fair share of conference presentations involving PowerPoint or Keynote slideshows, I have a recommendation for speakers:
Please please please use a light-text-on-dark-background theme for your presentation. It makes camera exposures so much easier, and completely eliminates the pathological case where the slides are burned out and the speaker is still invisibly dark.
There's a good reason the giant screen at Steve Jobs keynotes is predominantly black; if it wasn't, we wouldn't be able to see him on camera. I think this is one of the reasons the director of Mann's talk sits on the slides so much.
Thank you. That is all. Now I'm going back to finding out how to wrangle my email deluge.
 Hnngh? The 'official' OpenTech recordings page doesn't (and as far as I can tell never did) link the videos. Oh, that's just peachy. Note to self: sort out a proper links page for this stuff.
August 3, 2007
Bowers & Wilkins have launched a new 600 series of hifi speakers. I was always rather a fan of the 601; audiophile chum Matt rated the 603/4 floorstanders very highly too. With this new range, one suspects the older stuff is being flogged off by dealers.
I shall have to console myself with the idea that what I should really do is move the my old gear into the office, and do something new and surround-soundy in the lounge. Which, of course, is a sufficiently significant process to require further consideration.
Nothing to do with feeling skint. Oh, no.
[Since comments are still down, here's a pre-emptive one from Patrick: "I've got a pair of those!" Thanks, Patrick.]