November 2007 Archives
November 30, 2007
Today I find myself listening to quite a lot of Radio 4, though that still doesn't quite explain why I currently have Feedback on. Nevertheless, one piece of interest: the Performers' Rights Society have gone beyond the Kwik-Fit case (I can't find out what happened there – it may still be going through the Scottish courts?), and are cold-calling businesses around the country and informing them they need a public performance license for letting radios play in the workplace.
Some of those contacted have been in touch with Feedback to find out what gives; Feedback asked the PRS to explain their position, but they sent a somewhat flannelly statement instead, that sounded remarkably like this (undated) press release.
Interesting situation. From my reading of the PRS tarif (linked from here), the minimum fee for playing a radio eight hours a day, 355 days of the year, for a small business (fewer than 25 people) would be just shy of four hundred quid. Ouch.
This comes down to one's interpretation of the phrase 'public performance', and the PRS are being clear that they include anyone listening to music outwith the home or personal environment. At least one intellectual property lawyer disagrees, but if you follow the PRS interpretation, I'd best be careful listening to Feedback in my home office, lest I accidentally catch a snippet of the Archer's theme tune afterwards.
Also of note: the PRS doesn't have authority to collect royalties on all music, only on that originated by its members. I had the 'pleasure' of talking to the PRS the other week, and they were very clear about this… but only after I'd specifically asked.
Anyway: the music on SciCast films is entirely outwith their remit. Whatever its source, it's published under a Creative Commons license and you're free to play it to as many people as you like, so long as you're not directly making money out of doing so. The PRS have no claim over our work there.
November 29, 2007
I managed to spell 'haemorrhaging' without recourse to right-clicking the red wavy underline.
Oh, and Paul – yes, this font is Trebuchet MS. You geek. Sadly, you're quite, quite wrong, and it is in fact a dreadful body font. So there.
November 27, 2007
November 26, 2007
Looks like Discovery US has a series coming up in which a team of engineers (/designers/etc) build ridiculously complex machines to do something trivially simple. That is, a 'Rube Goldberg' machine, or – as we say in the UK – a 'Heath Robinson' machine.
It's been done before, of course. Notably by Fischli and Weiss in 'The Way Things Go,' but also as a TV gameshow, most recently in BBC4's Simply Complicated. That show suffered the classic problem of these 'chain reaction' machines: unless they're incredibly carefully-designed, they're impossible to catch on camera, and the viewer is left baffled rather than inspired.
I banged on about this a year ago in relation to the 'Diet Coke & Mentos Experiment II' film, and for my money the best video realisation of the concept still lies not with the Honda advert, seminal as it was, but with the Japanese children's show Pitagora Suichi, clips of which you'll find here. Over the years their team has clearly got it down to a fine art.
It sounds like the Discovery series is going about things the right way, at least, in that there's no hint of a competition – rather, the team they're casting sounds more like 'resident engineers.' I hope that's the case, because if it is, they might have a fighting chance of getting the shots they're after. But they're still facing a very steep learning curve, particularly if they're using engineers who look good on camera, but have no experience of working with the things.
If I was at the World Congress of Science Producers in New York this week, I'd be asking Discovery myself.
[via Boing Boing]
Peter Fincham (ex- Controller of BBC1) asks his (former) peers, via the Guardian, what television is for. Which is what Paxman asked in his MacTaggart lecture at Edinburgh this year. The replies make for depressing reading.
Not because the respondents are wrong, nor thoughtless. But rather because their replies are careful, considered, enthusiastic, and positive. They say exactly what one would want them to say; that television is there to entertain us, yes, but also to challenge, inspire, fascinate, surprise, and so on.
We also know that commissioning editors talk the same language – they actively seek the challenging, the offbeat, the radical.
So… where does it all go wrong? How can these thoughtful and capable people end up producing the schedules we see, and the programmes we moan about not wanting to watch?
The answer, of course, is that it's often not the programme-makers that pick the dross, it's The System. And I mean that not in a buck-passing way, but in a really big way.
The System of TV goes like this: Thou Shalt Make Money (commercial channels), or else Thou Shalt Make Relevant Programmes (public service). In both cases, The System grades the results by means of ratings. That is, the only measure of success is sheer bulk of audience.
Commissioners can rail against this all they want, but if they don't deliver ratings winners, they're out. Such is the reality of a mass audience medium; the mass audience is what matters, and thus we – the mass audience – are collectively to blame for all the ills of The System.
If we didn't watch the dross we subsequently complain about, it wouldn't get made. It really is that simple.
There are, as I see it, only two solutions to the problem of The System:
- Switch off. Simply don't watch the stuff you don't like. The System will notice in the end, if you hold your nerve and enough people do it.
- Find a different way of measuring impact.
I'm slightly surprised that, for all the interactive TV escapades of the last ten years, I've never seen a channel-wide 'please rate the programme you just watched' feature. And let's not even get started on, say, having the red button text your mates to let them know what you're watching.
Can TV learn from Digg and Twitter? Hell, yes. Moreover, it has to learn, and fast, or the people who know how to game The System will take over from Fincham's respondents, the ones who know how to make the TV we actually want.
Personally, I fear it's already too late.
Why does Quick Look not work in file open/save dialogs?
November 25, 2007
Last week I was mostly:
- Working out how to introduce scientists to the concept of narrative, without them running a mile, and:
- Building a little blog in Movable Type.
In the course of the latter, I posted here a few times and also left some comments and queries on the Movable Type forums. They're basically deserted, to the extent that I've had a post brewing titled 'Where are all the Movable Type users?' Seriously – where are they? Apart from people building entire newspaper sites in MT, it's rather hard to find anyone talking about it. Which is… worrying.
So anyway, I posted about stuff here, and since I accidentally deleted the comments sidebar widget the other day you probably don't know that people showed up and told me helpful things. People like Byrne Reese and Tim Appnel, respectively Product Manager for Movable Type and MT community developer/documenter. Rrrrright. OK. Then, off the back of that, I had a couple of emails asking me for help and advice on MT, since I apparently know what I'm talking about. Uhh… I'm sorry, what?
In the back of my mind through all this has been what I might do with The Daily Grind here. And what I might do, currently, goes like this:
- Reimplement the MT default templates using the Blueprint-CSS grid framework.
- Apply some of the stuff from here. In particular, some of this stuff I tried to do in the old Daily Grind typography, but manifestly failed, perhaps because browsers didn't implement the crucial bits at the time. The sibling selector stuff is very close to magic, if you ask me. Which perhaps reveals how little I truly know.
- Sprinkle comments through the template code and CSS so people can actually hack on this.
- Build the new Daily Grind off that basis.
Trouble is, if I do all this I'm rather concerned I might have a useful little open source project on my hands. And I'm really not ready for CVS/Subversion/Git/Google Code/etc. Dang.
Perhaps I should explore Habari instead…
November 24, 2007
It's a horrid, foul, freezing, rainy day in Glasgow; I'm vision-mixing a lecture I must have seen five times now; and yes, I know there's more than one thing screwy with my RSS.
That is all.
November 23, 2007
Blimey! Google might not know about it (not that I could find, anyway), but Microsoft have an inspector add-on for IE7. I'm using it now in an attempt to work out why the &*%*&£ IE is barfing on some sub-pages but not others, and why it's ignoring .asset-heading a:visited when Safari and Firefox are both doing what they're told.
[update: of course, the inspector is telling me that a specific element is set to display as white, with no text decoration. When it's actually showing as grey and underlined. Huh]
After a year of talking about talking, on Wednesday I talked at Strathclyde Uni under the title 'Science on Screen.' There was some confusion about the audience: I was expecting about 40 who'd previously done a science communication module, but thanks to a bit of a mix-up it seems basically nobody received the notice, so I ended up with about eight random post-docs.
Hmm. 'Less of a lecture and more a fireside chat, then,' I thought, as I frantically deleted slides.
So I didn't get to pinch Christopher Booker's genius comparison of the opening of Gilgamesh with Dr. No, and I didn't get to use that as a lead-in to discuss the philosophy of science in the context of narrative theory (in ten minutes). Which is a shame, because now that I've done the rest of it, I think it might actually work. When I was writing the talk it felt like a ridiculous exaggeration of how media professionals think – but actually, I think it's the stuff we pick up as we go along, and hence take for granted without even noticing.
Dropping it on post-grads would have been fun. I did retain a bit describing the five-act structure and Robert McKee, and hence ad-libbed my way through an example of why all Horizons are basically the same. Which got a gratifying number of laughs as I did it, and a couple of 'woah!'s. Which was nice.
My developing thesis goes something like this:
- There are lots of science engagement projects out there, but too many of them are unsophisticated, ignore best practice, and suffer from low impact.
- This is partly because working scientists don't realise 'science communication' is a discipline in its own right, with Stuff to Learn. And when they see it, they don't recognise it, because science communicators often aren't very good at being clear about what they do either.
- Dropping a mad lump of communications theory on scientists can actually work, in that it jolts them out of assuming it's all straightforward – hence my slide on narrative theory, and trying to frame that in terms that make sense to scientists.
- If done right, I think this may be a way of explaining to scientists what media people mean when we ask 'Yes, but what's the story?' – which in turn I think leads to better, more engaging, engagement projects.
- There's a convenient model for 'proper' storytelling in science already – the lecture demo. We all recognise them when we see them, and analysing them as five-act stories (yes, really) helps explain why some are more satisfying than others.
- Thus, when it comes to short web films, science is in a really strong position, because we already have this vast catalogue of suitable material. I can't think of another subject that does, actually.
- Hence: SciCast. Hurrah.
In most circumstances it won't be appropriate to cover this stuff, which is a shame, because it's fun but also feels like it's actually useful. Which I wasn't really expecting when I started down this route, on Tuesday. Somewhere since then I must have had a turning point.
November 20, 2007
Oh dear. Child support records bunged on disc and stuck in the internal post from HM. Revenue & Customs to the National Audit Office. They didn't arrive, and now the bank details, National Insurance numbers, names, addresses, and dates of birth of basically everyone in the UK with a child under 16 ... are out in the open. Somewhere.
This in the same week that a Colossus has been working again. Ironic that we seem to know less about cryptographic data security now than we did sixty years ago.
We've just had a Treasury Secretary on the radio defending the forthcoming ID card concept as being a wholly different animal, since it'd be a new system, and not an old one like the Child Support set-up. While there's some merit in that argument, what seems fishy is that this feels like a systems design issue, not an IT issue at all.
Records are (apparently) sent to the NAO unencrypted? Does the NAO really need all those bits of information, or would a partial set reduce the data exposure? How could 'junior officials' be in a position to 'ignore security procedures'? Is plain-text data export just something that's viewed as routine?
And no, I'm not a data security expert. On the other hand, I did once build an end-to-end encrypted data collection website, and I'm not a complete twit on this stuff. Witness my decision to build that system myself, because the web security 'experts' I consulted were uniformly clueless. Ah. Bingo.
Riffing off that previous post — if Mac software developers were bands, who would they be?
(My, I’m being geeky at the moment. Not, it seems, geeky enough to sort my RSS feed, however. Kevin tells me it’s showing raw Markdown. Oof, nasty. I’ll see what I can do…)
Everyone’s ex-favourite Mac developers The Omni Group (we all still like Omni, but we’re really digging Panic at the moment and we’d probably groove along to MacRabbit too if only they’d release the b-side to their stonking debut single CSSEdit) have released a public beta of their task management app, OmniFocus.
This is the app famously described by Chairman Gruber as ‘OmniVapor,’, and I’m entertained to see that these final-stage test builds are termed ‘Vaportrail’ releases. Nice.
I’ve spent basically two days now hacking on Movable Type templates and stylesheets. Not here, sadly — The Daily Grind still looks rubbish — but over at another site that might go public later in the week.
Contrary to expectations, perhaps, it’s been a pleasant enough experience. The new templating system in MT4 takes a little while to get one’s head around, but if anything it’s quicker to make sweeping changes now than it used to be. There’s a learning curve, sure, but it’s nowhere near as steep as I’d expected.
If anything, I’ve found it more difficult to get my head around the support networks than the templates. There seem to be about four different forums and a scatter of mailing lists, and I’m still confused about where to start asking questions like:
- The rich text editor. That plain doesn’t work in Safari 3, right?
- Actually, does it work at all? It produces bizarre div-laden output for me (in Firefox), which fails to publish (throwing an error that’s neither specified nor logged), then dumps me back at the entry with any graphics elements duplicated at the end of the post. Rinse, repeat. Thank heavens for Markdown.
- That might be a conflict with FastCGI. Testing needed at this end.
- The default stylesheets are OK, but there’s not enough layout variation to learn much from them. Things as simple as ‘changing the heading bar height’ require work to discover. I was actually gunning for a layout with a vertical strip menu and the heading alongside, but had to give up — couldn’t make it work. This sort of thing should be in the examples. Ditto changing sidebar width, which seems to have horrid side-effects.
- Some serious thought should be given to breaking up the default templates into ‘layout’, ‘typography’, etc. Or at least documenting within the code. It’s remarkably easy to end up with CSS tag soup, and refactoring makes my head explode.
- The default templates are basically widgetless, with widget code embedded directly. I’m sure there were discussions about making a clean break, but… I’d have voted in favour. Anything to keep the column modules shorter - they’re terrifying when you first open them.
- The default stylesheet comments listings: are they, you know, finished? The line spacing looks plain awful.
- You need Template Installer. You could really use Template Exporter, but can’t quite see yourself paying $97 for something that ruddy well should be in the app in the first place (sorry, Mark). You really really really need Template Shelf. You’ll wish the Movable Type TextMate bundle handled the new namespace tag format.
- CSSEdit is one of the most amazing applications I think I’ve ever used. Absolute genius. The only thing it lacks is showing you the computed style attributes for a selected element — but you can get that from the inspector in Safari and work back.
The first thing I did, by the way, was indent a bunch of the template code — Header, Footer, 3-Column Layout. Then I went through and commented each /div so I could tell just what it was closing. Finally, I added module start/end comments. The result is that I can look through generated output and work out which module threw that ^&£^£ tag in that’s screwing everything up.
Since I’m evidently incoherent with fatigue I might as well continue: How come there are basically no third-party MT4 styles? Isn’t that a bit odd? Or are there hundreds, all hiding from me somewhere?
Right, to bed with me. Good night, world.
November 19, 2007
Nice analysis (in cartoon panel form) of the various candidate logos for the 2008 Presidential election. (via Chairman Gruber).
I have to ask: at what point do Americans get tired of red, white, and blue? I count three deviations in that slideshow, only two of which are for the current election. And one of those leavening colours? Beige.
Sheesh. By the end of the election, America will be so saturated with red, white and blue that the population will be suffering retinal pigment loss, and they’ll only be able to see green things.
Wait — that’s good, right?
“Mabel, what are these things?”
“I think they might be trees, Norman.”
Flossie sent me an electronic love spoon from an exhibit in St. Fagans National History Museum; an email with a link to a web page bearing a graphic of said personalised spoon.
My Mac marked the notification email as spam, and I promptly deleted it.
And they say romance is dead.
[you can access the love spoon app online. I’m particularly fond of the meaning of a horse emblem. Just be sure to call your beloved and tell them to check their filters.]
November 18, 2007
NewTeeVee has an excellent post (and equally good comments) on the relative lack of public interest material in the online video world:
“Hopefully there’s [a way of supporting] the more provocative, less commercial creators of today before they become footnotes in nostalgic cultural histories tomorrow.”
Ouch. Worth a read.
(Somewhat embarrassing for me that my own comments were held in moderation for a day, while waiting for the SciCast server to do whatever it does that causes it to recover from one of its periodic outages. It was patchily down for more than 24 hours there. Oof.)
November 17, 2007
Wondering about the whole US screenwriters’ strike? Yeah, me either, really, so here’s John August’s lengthy but (natch) well-written account of the situation.
I’ve a lot of sympathy for them, to be honest. The concept is sound, even though I don’t get residuals for any of the stuff I’ve done (I’m not a drama writer, so what I’ve done has been on a buy-out basis; Producers don’t get residuals here either, mind. Directors sometimes do, but not Producers).
Forget DVD sales, too — the alarming issue is that writers aren’t getting paid for internet sales. At first glance this appears entirely indefensible, especially in the light of the $1bn Viacom suit against YouTube. If online copyright infringement is worth that much in damages, surely the material being online must be worth something in the first place. So… why don’t the writers get a cut of that, in the same way they do in other media? Run that by me again?
Or… just watch this ‘Not The Daily Show’ clip from some of the writers of… uh… The Daily Show.
Yes, again. Interesting read, though.
And as ever the comments are full of people saying — to paraphrase — ‘speed doesn’t kill, bad driving kills.’ No, you muppets, what kills is hitting people with a car.
The situation strikes me as the British equivalent of the American ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ debate, which is a bizarre justification for a gun lobby. Sure, the NRA’s right in a linguistic sense, but mass ownership of firearms certainly makes it more likely that I’ll get shot in the head.
I used to buy car magazines; I was wildly excited about my Mini Cooper. Two things have more-or-less seen off my interest in cars: my desire not to be aligned with the nonsense spouted by the road lobby, and Mercedes, who naffed up the Smart Roadster so badly I doubt I’ll ever forgive them.
Damn, that could have been a great car.
Seeing if xmlrpc posting is still running in this brave new FastCGI world.
[update: oooh, blimey, that worked. For those following along at home, the relevant .htaccess incantation in my /mt directory is now:
#AddHandler cgi-script .cgi AddHandler fastcgi-script .cgi <FilesMatch "^mt-xmlrpc\.cgi$"> SetHandler cgi-script </FilesMatch>`
All this on Dreamhost, by the way. ]
[update 2: reverted to:
#AddHandler cgi-script .cgi AddHandler fastcgi-script .cgi <FilesMatch "^mt-(add-notify|atom|check|config|feed|testbg|upgrade|wizard|xmlrpc)\.cgi$"> SetHandler cgi-script </FilesMatch>
…as per these notes. Looks like everything’s working again. Switching the comment state of each line reverts back to plain old cgi, so we’ll see how it goes.]
[update 3: be sure to:
…whenever you diddle with plugins, to restart the app in FastCGI. I keep forgetting, and MT gets stuck at upgrade checks.]
At least, I think I’m running MT under FastCGI. I’ve previously had problems with client posting, but we’ll see if that’s still the case with the .htaccess file I’m now using.
Frustratingly, MT’s docs system is telling me I’m not signed in… but only when I submit a comment. Up to that point, it’s telling me I am signed in, and is refusing to sign me out.
So… let’s see if the Trackback ping from this post gets picked up. Otherwise, it’s down to Google to link this stuff together.
… the need to buffer the video before it starts playing will change the experience. Hence the experiment, rather than just a rapid rollout of this technology. On stage, he said the current resolution of YouTube videos has been “good enough” for the site until now.
I can only assume — or rather, hope — Chen is talking about genuinely high-quality video. Like ‘high def’ high quality. Because the issue with YouTube quality (apart from often shitty source material, which isn’t their problem) is that they’re using the video codec in Flash 5. This makes sense, because it means they can run ffmpeg on their server farm to transcode uploads, but there is a cost: Flash 5 video sucks.
The codec is Sorenson Spark, which is a close cousin of H.263 and H.264 but is visibly lacking compared to more modern implementations of the latter. Lacking, that is, at the same bitrates. There’s no shame in this, since Spark was designed years ago, for systems with far less compute power than can now be thrown at the challenge. But current H.264 implementations will deliver better quality and/or a larger frame and/or higher frame rate for the same compressed file size. And you tend to maintain audio sync, which is a particular weakness of Spark in Flash.
Higher-quality video needn’t mean lengthier buffer times. So… what was Chen talking about, again?
[Update: slightly more plausible report in the NewTeeVee Live official transcript. Still doesn’t make complete sense, though — Spark is old and shitty, they’re already doing better H.264 for iPhone and Apple TV… so… huh?]
November 16, 2007
Oooh. Forget the EX1 (archive to BluRay XDCAM discs? I don’t think so) — this is the new hot game in town. Sony’s Z1-replacement Z7, incorporating an interchangeable lens, HDV tape recording, and simultaneous recording to Compact Flash. Yes, Compact Flash. Oh, and it does 1080p, too.
Sounds darn-near perfect, if you ask me. I wonder what the low light performance is like?
Coming February 2008, for more money than I’ve got. Blast!
Here’s a charmingly daft film made by my chum Andy Prendergast, of his father. Terry died shortly after filming, and ended up being sent off in a coffin decorated to look like his Hurricane. Yes, you read that correctly.
YouTube is already serving H.264 to iPhones and Apple TV; Adobe is rolling H.264 support into the next version of Flash; both high-def DVD standards can use H.264; and now DivX has bought MainConcept, an H.264 codec developer.
- Can we now stop with the ‘DivX is just as good’ arguments?
- Microsoft are the only vendor not doing H.264 (RealPlayer will handle it, if anyone still cares)
Give it another year, and the main delivery method for video will be H.264.
Oh, happy, happy day.
November 14, 2007
Handy list here. Particularly handy if you’re a Mac user, and you’re marveling at — and occasionally confused and frustrated by — Leopard’s continued reticence to believe English spellings in the English language.
‘Sceptic.’ For example.
Interesting article from Richard Black at BBC News Online, regarding his attempt to collect evidence for bias amongst climate change researchers.
Short version: he didn’t find any.
Longer version: spelled out rather interestingly, and in the BBC’s bafflingly-patronising ‘one sentence per paragraph’ standard style.
Worth a read, anyway.
I’m happy, for I have bought drugs. Hard-core solvent-dispersed rapid-action long-lasting… nah, I’m not going to keep this up.
I have Lemsip and Strepsils. And a big box of tissues that have this slightly weird waxy balm thing going on that I’m not entirely sure I like.
My friend George is in the market for a new mobile phone. In the UK — where in theory we’ve had half-decent mobile phones for ten years — the iPhone isn’t as obvious a solution as in the US. There isn’t a deal-breaker as such, even the contract price being competitive if you’re buying unlimited data elsewhere. But the combination of lack of MMS support, lack of 3G, and dodgy camera start to add up; plus there’s the huge barrier of having to move to O2, the sole provider.
I don’t personally know any O2 customer who isn’t an ex-O2 customer, having had one nightmare or another. When I was with them I had horrid problems extracting itemised billing, having to suffer interminable calls with surly support staff for the first six months. Then I had a bit of a row with them when they called to offer an upgrade and demanded to know my account password. “Er, no, you called me. How do I know who you are?”
This discussion escalated a couple of levels up the customer support chain, the upshot of which was twofold: firstly, I became convinced that even relatively senior support staff at O2 had been given entirely erroneous briefing on data security and systems integrity. And secondly, they cut off my phone service as a result of my being ‘an unverified customer.’
Back to Orange for me. But I digress. George would drop for an iPhone on Vodaphone in a heartbeat. But he can’t get that. How about an N95 8Gb? My notes on that:
That would (presumably?) solve the memory problems I have with the original (it has more operating RAM too, I think?). My real concerns with the thing are the Series 60 UI, appalling quality of apps, interface inconsistencies, the slider being very loose, the battery life sucking rocks, system instability while on phone calls, camera startup times and white balance issues, nonfunctional state of software update, web browser failing mysteriously, unusably slow GPS, navigation app of indeterminate pricing, and clunky SMS app.
Apart from those things being dreadful, it’s merely poor.
I’ve been actively trying to drop mine off a kite in the hopes of blagging a K850 replacement. No joy yet.
November 13, 2007
Blogger and SF author John Scalzi reports on the new $27m Creation Museum near Cincinnati airport. Be warned that this is long, pulls no punches, and is ... er ... mind-blowing. Captioned photostream starts here.; for a taste, an example sign reads:
"Is there any other evidence of 'Dinosaurs' living after the Flood?
Dragons may have been dinosaurs. Dragon legends exist all over the world, depicting creatures that lived with humans. The country of Wales has a dragon on its flag as its national emblem. Many of the dragon descriptions, carvings, and paintings fit with our understanding of dinosaurs."
Just... amazing. Quite amazing.
Multicamera shoots. Oh hell, multicamera shoots.
SciCast has a modest little collection of cameras, bought on the cheap from production chums in Scotland upgrading to better gear. So despite being old, our cameras are a distinct step up from even the latest domestic kit.
Trouble is, they're also something of a hodge-podge. While three of them are identical Sony PD100s, each has different capabilities depending on which buttons have failed, are flaky, or have plain fallen off. They all, however, shoot DVCAM, a curious pseudo-pro Sony-only format that puts more-or-less standard DV format onto standard DV tapes... 30% faster than normal. Thus, one-hour tapes last 40 minutes.
This makes multicamera work interesting, because my master audio camera (a PD150) will shoot for an hour, and I usually clamp my old domestic camera somewhere for a funky wide-angle shot. That's an hour runtime too.
Setting up four cameras on my own is a pretty full-on job, but actually shooting isn't too bad. A couple of cameras will, of necessity, be lock-offs, and I'll usually accost someone to run a PD100 as a loose mid-shot camera. They never resist the temptation to zoom in on detail, however much I admonish them to let me cover that, but I've mostly managed to pick people with enough visual sense to get the job done.
The problems come in post-production, when I have to resync the multiple cameras into a stacked multicam sequence in Final Cut. Get it right, and vision mixing is trivially simple. The challenge, of course, is finding adequate sync points.
In principle, all you need to do is get all the cameras running, line them all up on somebody's hands, and -- in a quiet room -- have them clap those hands together, flat. That gives a nice sharp visual and audio signal. Do that after every tape change and resync becomes trivial.
The trouble is, nobody understands what the hell you're tryng to do. Hence, they do it wrong: there's too much background noise, or the clap is out of frame, or it's too soft to hear, or there are multiple claps. And you can *never* get people to do another clap after you change tapes -- they've already clapped for you, what are you playing at?
The solution is, I think, trivial: I need to buy a clapperboard.
Everyone understands clapperboards. They're those things they use in the movies, they're dead professional, and ooh look, we must be serious, we have a clapperboard. Never mind what it's for, feel the production values.
The irony is that in a dozen or more years of broadcast TV, I've used a clapperboard on precisely one project (a multicamera location drama with independent audio and flaky timecode sync). On that occasion we had to repatriate Scottish TV's only remaining clapperboard from the managing director's mantlepiece -- it hadn't been used for that long.
But away from a world of kit that genuinely works, and without enough people to operate it properly anyway, importing a little bit of professional mystique could be just the ticket.
If only clapperboards weren't so damned expensive...
I don't have many, to be honest. Which isn't to say it's all sweetness and light -- neither of my systems updated entirely smoothly, thanks mostly to errant video codecs (I'm looking at you, DivX), old Wacom drivers, or some other voodoo. But in general the fit and finish of Leopard is terrific. While you hear plenty of gripes around the web, my impression is that it's an extremely solid point-oh release.
That said, here are my niggles:
- Spaces is mostly terrific, but frequent switching between Spaces induces motion sickness in me. I wouldn't mind a choice of transition in there -- personally I'd pick a dissolve/slide over a slide, to maintain a hint of spatial relation without actually making me ill.
- My Spaces issue is exacerbated by what appears to be a bug; some application window updates will pull that application's Space foreground. That can just stuff right off -- release notes for the latest OmniOutliner suggest that it's Apple's bug, and it'll hopefully go in 10.5.1.
- Say I have Finder windows in Space 1 and different Finder windows in Space 2. I'm working in Final Cut in Space 2, and I tab out of it to the Finder. Where do I most likely want to go? The Finder windows in Space 2, obviously. So... why does Spaces throw me back to Space 1? The practical upshot of this is that one has to assign Finder to all spaces, so its windows travel with it -- which limits the utility of Spaces, for me.
- Speaking of Finder windows: this new-fangled idea that new windows open in whatever view style the most recent previous window you opened was set to... that's awful. If I set a Folder to Icon view, I want it to open to Icon view next time, and I don't want to have to set that via a fiddly view preference thing. Reports suggest this behaviour was filed as a Bug with Apple, only to be closed as 'expected behaviour.' Not here it isn't, mush. Put it back how it was. Now! QuickLook may rock way more than anyone expected, but having to operate the Finder with one hand hovering over command+1/2/3/4 is just shitty.
- You know, I actually don't mind the new Dock that much, despite the widespread grousing. Same goes for the translucent menu bar, though that's partly because I have a grey texture desktop picture, so I don't really notice the change.
- Dock Stacks using composite icons needs to be a per-Stack preference. It's plain silly for Applications and Documents folders. The trick here, incidentally, is to put an alias to the folder inside itself, and rename it '!Icon' so it sorts first alphabetically. Then the Stack icon looks like the folder. Stupid work-around, though.
- More on Stacks: command+clicking the Stack should open it in Finder, not reveal it in its enclosing folder. This was the old behaviour for folders in the Dock, and it saves a fiddly click if you really do want to open your Applications folder (which most of the time is what you want to do. My Applications Stack goes as far as Skype, thus missing Soundtrack, TextMate, Transmit and VLC. Each of which I use daily.)
- Spotlight can search file names! Oh, happy day!
- Sorry, this is a gripes list. I forgot.
Finally, I can forgive everything for the option to use an iPhoto album as a screensaver in 'Matrix' mode. That. Utterly. Rocks. Do make sure it's running slowly, though, or you really will make yourself ill.
Conclusion: Leopard continues its wobbly march towards desktop nirvana. While I value Apple's doubtless-painful decisions leading to the omission of preferences for most things, sometimes it's possible to simplify too far. Overall there's progress, and I'm not going back to Tiger... but damn, the Spaces and Finder view things hack me off.
...and then we see things like Google's video showing off their Android mobile phone platform, and we realise that there is a future for factual video specialists.
Sorry Sergey, but just because the platform's called 'Android,' you don't have to sound like one.
Also: what's with the whacko camera moves, weird demo actions, invisible zoom affordance, lagging scrolling, ... and don't get me started on 'Welcome back.' Gaaaah!
November 12, 2007
I need to write more. I like writing, but I've not done much since Scope and can feel myself getting more workmanlike. The key is probably this blog -- I need to get back into the habit of posting. The trouble is, I just don't like it very much right now.
I need to spend some quality time with Movable Type 4, getting this site design (and crucially the typography) to the stage where it's sufficiently pretty that I want to write text to show it off. Things like the old swash-italic drop caps used to spur me to pick opening words I knew looked sensational -- notably not 'I,' which looked rubbish. And I need to re-impose Markdown formatting, because practically everything I type these days is Markdown.
I also need to fix the comment system. It's working right now, but people seem scared off by the new default 'isn't actually a user registration scheme, but sure looks like one' behaviour. Plus, published comments look like crap.
Finally, I'm taking more pictures with my N95 (it's a rubbish phone, so I might as well use it as a camera), but uploading pictures is still more hassle than I'd like. I need to sort that -- and ideally get to the stage where I can moblog properly.
Oh, and it pisses me off that my Facebook status lines are trapped within Facebook, so I might start doing Twitter -> (Facebook & blog).
Time to sweep everything away and start over, I think.
November 9, 2007
November 8, 2007
For the longest time, I desperately wanted to see a total solar eclipse. Eventually I did, albeit for a scant seven seconds -- and in those seconds I came to realise that sometime, one day, I will chase after another eclipse in hope of a better view.
I'd like to see Cherenkov Radiation. Just because it exists.
And -- perversely? -- I'd like to see a nuclear bomb explosion.
A bit tricky, that last one. Perhaps I'll have to settle for these astonishing pictures.
November 7, 2007
Matt Gemmell says:
"Leopard isn’t about the Mac desktop; it’s about the Mac platform."
...which sounds about right. For evidence, consider Core Animation, which allows developers to build fluid interfaces and data views. Which sounds dull, right?
Well, yes. But then you see things like this, and realise that maybe -- just maybe -- the world might be a little more pleasing in a few months' time.
One of the aspects of SciCast that's been done right is the website design -- partly because it's not as simple as 'just a website design.' Rather, there's an entire brand image going on, with the website merely one expression of it. That's why the posters we've had done look so fab -- the artwork was designed from the start to work in that sort of way. It's also why people are willing to give the website a try: it's a very basic site, technically, but the design expresses a care and professionalism that screams 'we're not wasting your time!'
Huge respect, then, to the designers on the project, Tijuana in Bristol. We didn't ask them for any of this, they just did it anyway. Lovely chaps, and chipping in solutions to problems we didn't know we had -- exactly the sort of people I enjoy working with.
And hey, they've done stuff with Banksy.
It's all very well having a shiny new FireWire 800 RAID drive, but moving 740Gb of video onto it is still going to take... the rest of the day.
Good job I still have 30 tapes to log and label, then.
November 6, 2007
I've spent a modestly ridiculous amount of time fretting about updating my main editing machine (the new MacBook Pro) to Leopard, browsing around the various forums. Reading through the thread at 2-pop, it sounds like while there are some issues, they're relatively minor.
At least, they're minor if you don't have hardware cards (which will often need updated drivers), and if you're not reliant on plug-ins.
So... oh, monkeys, I think I'm about to update my MacBook Pro. And, most likely, buy yet another new hard drive so I can back up properly. Yay Time Machine.
November 2, 2007
On Wednesday I delivered the last of the SciCast seminars (it went well, thanks), then high-tailed it back to Cardiff. Yesterday was spent recuperating (and helping fix taps... long story), and today... today I'm still pooped.
I've a mountain of stuff to do, and I should probably be dashing into the university to film some oddball stuff with the Science Made Simple crew, but I'm still pretty wrecked.
And meanwhile, I really really want to install Leopard, only there are a bunch of conflicts with Final Cut Studio and I'm entirely reliant on that at the moment, so I can't. Harrumph.
Back to Glasgow tomorrow; back in the office -- and hence blogging more regularly -- on Monday, I guess. Bleurgh.