March 2008 Archives
March 31, 2008
“I don’t think even Google could cope with funding an open bar in Glasgow.”
— Kevin Marks.
The BBC News front page has been redesigned. I wonder if they’ll start posting stories with paragraphs of more than one sentence now, or if they’ll still write like we’re all idiots.
Hmm… actually, it’s not much of a redesign. They’ve widened the page (wait for the cries from people still running 800x600 screens… both of them), added white space, and made the banner neater. Looks nicer, though.
[update: they didn’t test the new front page on an iPhone, then?]
March 30, 2008
Great rant over at Studio Daily, about how owning a copy of Final Cut doesn’t on its own make one an editor. Duly noted, heh.
There’s a flipside to this, however: just as one sees lots of people who claim to be video editors, but who’ve no idea about the offline/online workflow, so one also sees lots of post-production facility houses who’ve no idea about the web video workflow.
Finding someone to take up the slack on SciCast is going to be extremely difficult — and not just for technical reasons. See, I also need that person to have the practical savvy to spot safety hazards, the production experience to know what can and can’t be cleared, the editorial expertise to judge helpful and problematic tweaks, and the academic knowledge to recognise content that’s plain wrong.
At the moment, it’s not clear how that generation of film-maker is going to get trained up. So, I watch Scoble’s demo of a Newtek Tricaster, and I think four things:
- “Shiny! There are times I could really really use one of those!”
- “The 80s are calling, and they’d like their tasteless DVE moves back.”
- “$8000? This is going to get killed as soon as hardware catches up.”
- “Wait — live broadcast is hard. This is going to be early-80s desktop publishing all over again.”
I think it all comes back to one problem, and one worry:
The problem — shiny new equipment and falling prices are great, but the real challenge is working out how to maintain anything like high production values, when the people using the gear haven’t experienced high-value productions.
The worry— audiences will take what they can get, and high production values will simply die. YouTube is evidence of this, though YouTube without copyright-infringing material might be evidence to the contrary.
One solution — Apple, please please please open up iTunes video in a similar way to the signed iTunes artist programme for indie music. Being able to sell videos through iTunes would be… interesting.
(for more of this sort of thinking, see Gia’s post about several things, including professional journalism and blogging.)
There are times when I wish I carried around my Newton. Mostly, when someone is showing off their button-festooned tappy-tappy crashy monstrosity of a mobile phone, I’d like to haul it out and say, ‘Oh, I can do that on this.’
Sure, the Newton’s a tad large, these days. But it’s more than a decade old.
It’s all very well crowing about embedded wiki servers and on-platform development environments, but those of us who used Newtons found out that many of these things turn out to be not very useful in the nineteen-nineties.
…and that was with a gesture interface.
OpenSocial chappie Kevin Marks is in Glasgow — or rather, he’s planning to be, via SFO➙LHR➙GLA. Since he’s flying British Airways there’s some uncertainty about the precise arrangements, particularly concerning his luggage.
We’re meeting in a Glasgow bar Monday night; come and join us, and find out what happened to his smalls. Plus, you know, other stuff. Details on Upcoming
Apologies for the currently-TBC venue: seems like a fine excuse to have a bit of an, er, bar recce, hunting down free WiFi in the Merchant City. I’m heading out just as soon as my tricorder^H^H^H^H^H iPod touch is charged.
[update: Bar 91 was nice enough but not hugely comfy; Red Lizard seems OK but was heaving with folks watching the Liverpool match — so it’s The Butterfly and The Pig. Again. Upcoming page updated.]
March 28, 2008
March 27, 2008
The Big Experiment has had decent press — not heaps, but a fair bit. This is good, if it highlights the challenges facing science education in the UK, and particularly if it entertains people a little along the way.
But I’m curious. It’s on Discovery, which last month accounted for 0.2% of viewing in homes with multi-channel TV. I don’t have access to the full data, but this show sadly isn’t in Discovery’s weekly top 10, putting its audience below 51,000 this week, and below 42,000 last week.
So it’s TV, but that doesn’t mean it’s huge. It’s down in the range where I don’t trust BARB figures on account of small sample size. Next, you have to consider that it’s on for just six weeks of the year.
Now, SciCast is hardly pushing huge page view numbers, but it’s growing nicely in the 40k page-views/month sort of bracket, and it feels like we’re just getting started. We haven’t hit all that many schools yet; we haven’t done anything with Bebo or MySpace; we don’t even have downloads, amazingly.
There’s clear growth potential, and over, say, a year, we’re already heading into the same audience reach territory as Discovery’s show. Plus, our stuff is freely available and usable by educators, families, and individuals, for the long term. Not to mention the skills value inherent in making the films yourself, which is what many of our current audience are doing.
So here’s the observation: The Big Experiment was sponsored by BT. Now, what they coughed up won’t have paid for the whole series. But I bet it would have paid for SciCast. Probably twice.
Making original content for the web is currently a precarious business. But this will, I think, change. If BT have got their money’s worth out of The Big Experiment, then our job is to demonstrate — with hard data — that we can do better than that.
Then the wheels really come off broadcast.
I don’t get Discovery UK (heck, I don’t get Five), so I only have the web video clips to go on to judge this new series: The Big Experiment.
Interesting. It’s a stunt series, essentially the same ideas as Jamie’s School Dinners, but I don’t necessarily object to that in itself. What annoys me is three-fold:
- That a populist science series is now so unusual, it deserves attention merely for existing. My, how things have changed since Don’t Ask Me.
- That it looks like it has to cheat in order to ‘compete’ with Mythbusters and Brainiac.
- If you really wanted to make a difference, and influence children’s lives, you’d make this stuff for Bebo. But of course, there’s no commercial sense in that…
Despite this series, and a new (/rebadged) children’s engineering show the BBC are making, I still think science TV is dead. We’ve lost the culture of treating these series as routine and expected (in the same way that comedy and drama and news are), and I think the funding model is broken too. Particularly now Scrapheap Challenge has gone too, I can no longer see a career path for science TV specialists except via big documentaries.
By my reckoning, science television is no longer a sustainable industry. I don’t think it has been for a few years already.
So I’m not miffed by The Big Experiment — it just makes me rather sad and wistful. Well, apart from one thing: their claim that lifting people with helium balloons has never been done before. Umm… yes, it has. There’s the (surprisingly non-apocryphal) man-in-a-lawn-chair story, then a couple of publicity stunts for a champagne company and Coca-Cola, and then an old children’s TV show did it almost ten years back.
I remember it clearly.
I was there.
There’s lots of excitement this week about Muxtape, a super-simple web app that lets you publish song playlists. But here’s the thing — the playlists actually, you know, play. They stream. Nice.
Of course, most of the music I’ve seen on there is commercial. Obviously. Which begs all sorts of questions. Here’s Ewan Spence and I discussing some of them.
Is Muxtape heading for trouble?
March 26, 2008
I can get somewhat laissez-faire about space stuff. It’s almost forty years since we went to the moon, and I’ve never been quite convinced by the utility of manned space exploration.
But every now and then something creeps up on me, building to a vertiginous moment of astonishment. These photos are the latest cause.
There are people in there. Working in space. Doing stuff.
Final Cut Studio is big. This afternoon I lugged two boxes of it back from the centre of Glasgow, having bought a second-hand copy of Studio v1 and an upgrade to v2 from the Apple Store. It’s damned heavy.
Then you realise that it ships on eight DVDs.
And then this:
Three hours of frenzied tidying-up, and:
- My office is an unholy mess.
- My desk is covered in multiple piles of paper, each effectively marked ‘urgent’. I can just about reach my keyboard, but not my mouse.
- I have a large number of cardboard boxes that need taking to the recycling centre. Of course, that’s a car journey away… and I don’t have a car. Hmm.
- Under the boxes I’ve unearthed another two substantial piles of Stuff That Needs Filing.
The only good news is that I did find the hotel receipt from January, so I can finally do that particular expenses claim.
March 23, 2008
Flossie’s taking pictures. Good ones, too — though sadly she’s only got her mobile phone, so they don’t look as crisp as one would like when you zoom in. Bah!
(I haven’t mentioned Flossie much of late. Not because anything’s amiss; more that whatever I wrote would tend to be so stomach-turningly saccharine I’d decimate whatever already-paltry readership this blog has.)
Interesting post on Slashdot this morning — yes, I know, I was surprised too — about refactoring source code using a technique borrowed from PG Wodehouse, as related by Douglas Adams. It’s less contrived than it sounds.
I love things like this. When writing (video) scripts, I usually print them out two-up, and arrange them in a big long line. With my standard script template and writing style a page is pretty reliably a minute of television, so even for the Christmas Lectures it’s not a huge stretch of paper. The resulting stretch of paper, then, isn’t just a script — it’s a timeline of the programme.
I’ll often put the paper on the floor, and grab a big thick marker pen. Standing up I can see the shape of the whole show — see how the big story moments fall, and the relative lengths of sections — but also things like how long a passage of speech is. Too big a grey blur over on the right = too much talk without a stage direction. I’d mark up my notes, and head off for the next revision.
One of the joys of making video for the web is that one can focus on crafting a few short minutes. But sometimes I miss the brain-wrenching struggle of wrestling with longer-form structures.
March 17, 2008
Sometimes, you have to wonder if the security services deliberately aim to say things that are outrageous in an attempt to provoke a response from the public. Trouble is, I’m not sure it’s working.
We were getting into this sort of territory with some of our filming at the Cambridge Science Festival on Saturday, trying to see what the public thinks about the authorities prying into their guilty hidden secrets (ie. their genetic susceptibilities). My own view remains: it’s the job of the people to watch the government, not the other way around.
Yes, there’s a price to be paid for that, but it’s better than the alternatives.
March 15, 2008
March 14, 2008
The front cover of today’s Guardian carries two lead stories. The first concerns Tony Blair leading a new international team to tackle the political challenges of global warming; the second, the row over the redrawing of the boundaries of a wine-growing area in the North-East of France.
March 11, 2008
It’s 9:30, and I’ve just sat down at my desk with a mug of tea and some toast. Time to check the various connections… OK, email… nope, nothing interesting. Blogs… oh hell, NetNewsWire is showing me 9,000 unread again, I really must prune the list, or maybe Mark All As ‘Don’t Care’ (is that ⌘⌥K? I forget). Humph. Later, maybe.
Ooh! Ooh! I know! This Twitter thing everyone else has been doing for a year or more, but I’ve only just started. Let’s check that!
So, everyone I’m following seems to have been up for hours already, making erudite comments about Lord Goldsmith and the citizenship ceremonies story, discussing the prospects of scrapping homework, offering pithy critiques of a new social networking site, and generally being offensively awake.
I didn’t realise Twitter was going to be a whole new way to feel inadequate.
March 9, 2008
You know, if I was a successful Flash game designer, I’d be learning Core Animation as fast as I could right now.
March 8, 2008
One of the curious aspects of Leopard has been the relative dearth of funky application updates following its release. It’s still quite early days, but I’m starting to wonder if OS X is now sufficiently large — in API terms — that the tiny indy developer teams who’ve served us so well these last eight years are now simply too small.
This is, perhaps, one of the attractions of the iPhone SDK. To long-term OS X hacks it’s an entirely familiar environment, but there’s less of it to wrangle with. Also, Apple is taking payment processing and distribution off their hands. And there are an awful lot of iPhones: a nice, stable, homogenous platform to code against, with tools and APIs the Mac devs know better than anyone else. Dream situation, right?
Sure. But what of the little OS X application companies? Are there enough Cocoa hackers to go around?
I worry that the iPhone application goldrush might lead to stagnation in Mac software development.
March 7, 2008
”?” asked a friend.
”!” I replied. Followed by “?”
AH, YES, GODDAMN MENUES, HIDING AWAY UP THERE, OUT OF SIGHT, WITH ALL THOSE TICKY BOXES AND STUFF
March 6, 2008
Apparently I signed up to Twitter a month ago. There’s no recollection of the event in my head, but their database assures me I did. And yes, I realise I’m late to the party, but thus far all my tweets are about making tea and it’s not clear if that’s going to change.
Anyone else I know doing the Twitter thing and worth following?
I’m a bit of a fan of No Catch fish — the Shetland-based fishery farms organically, and supplies Sainsbury and Tesco. Their products aren’t cheap, but their sea trout and especially farmed cod are terrific. And their website is hilarious.
Sadly, the company’s in administration, apparently a victim of the global credit crunch (though there are dark rumours of dotcom-style profligacy).
Fingers crossed it all works out in the end. Cod makes me happy; dwindling white fish stocks, therefore, do not.
Meanwhile, at least reading this story caused me to stumble across my new favourite website: fishupdate.com.
I always buy Christmas cards.
But I never send them.
I stare at them for a while,
thinking I might,
but then in early March I put them away on a shelf.
Where I find last year’s cards.
- Finishing off packaging up the judging process for SciCast, then… doing other stuff for SciCast. Including writing up ‘the vision,’ since it occurs to me that that’s not been packaged sensibly for more than two years now. Also cutting clipsreels of the films nominated for the different Awards categories.
- Trying to wrap up Walking With Robots. Which is largely an invoicing job. To whit:
- Invoicing. Oh joy.
- Consulting for a web video startup.
- Working with a chum (well, he’s doing most of the work, but…) on a radical icebreaker/meeting/introduction system, that’s suddenly spawning both psychology research projects and domestic grid/supercomputer problems.
- Hoping to restart my very first blog project, with some chums.
- Organising filming in schools for a video commission (fairly serious money involved, got to get my finger out on this one).
- Quoting for another video commission (urgent).
- Editing sequences for a sort-of commission from last November. Eek.
- Quoting for yet another video commission. Drat, forgot about that one.
- Thinking about what happens in Cambridge next week (film-making with geneticists).
- Contributing some spec stuff and atom templates to the Movable Type podcasting plugin effort.
- Thinking about film-making with science academics, and where that could go, and how to spend some money that’s kicking around already.
- Rebuilding several sites (including this and deletetheweb.com) in MT4.1.
- Building an example PodPress-based system for Gareth, and thinking about porting his podcast to that.
- Plotting how to set up a second editing base in Cardiff so I can spend more time there — starting to accumulate gear. This would be much easier if Apple came out with new monitors, already. Preferably before the end of the tax year.
- Trying to work out what to do about a car. I haven’t had one for a year, but I drove 3,000 miles last month. Oops.
- Writing a draft pitch for a ~£400k project that’s sort-of ‘offspring of SciCast’.
- Writing conference sessions for BIG.
- Thinking that I should really get around to joining the Institute of Physics, British Association, Royal Society of Arts, and a few others.
- Trying to plan some time away with Flossie, since we’ve barely seen each other in the last month.
- Investigating task management applications, but also taking note of how long it took to compile this list, let alone something properly GTD-like. Yikes.
- Probably a few other things I’ve forgotten.
Yikes. If you see anything in FireBox that might help — like, a freeze-dried additional Jonathan — please let me know.
March 5, 2008
Those dashing folks at MySociety have been cooking up more forehead-slap-‘why didn’t I think of that?’-inducing projects: First, WhatDoTheyKnow.com, which makes it easier for you to request information from government (Freedom of Information requests or otherwise).
Secondly, GroupsNearYou.com is a geographical database of mailing lists and social networks. Lovely idea; it’s well worth admins of such groups chucking their stuff in the database for others to find.
March 4, 2008
Websites that work only with the ‘www.’ prefix.
Come on, folks — it’s 2008! If we’re calling it via HTTP we all know it’s a frelling website we’re after, just serve up the damn page already!
[prompted by nasa.gov, which doesn’t work, though ‘www.nasa.gov’ does. Harrumph.]
March 3, 2008
Gia (also recently added to the IMDB — what the hell is going on over there?) posts a magnificent rant about vision, and passion, and ambition, and… having big ideas.
We hear a lot about ‘the vision thing’. Unfortunately, we don’t see very much of it in practice. It gets buried. Or mangled through committees. Or enacted by people who, in the end, don’t quite get it. Wrestling with realising a vision — and I’m bold enough to say publicly that aspects of SciCast are absolutely about trying to realise a vision — wrestling with that is heart-wrenching, complex, confusing, frustrating…
But also gratifying. And exciting. And intoxicating.
If we get SciCast wrong, or it screws up, or we fail to find proper funding, then hey, that’s OK. I’ll try again. Public service children’s media is too important to leave to someone else.
I tell myself this frequently. But day-to-day… it’s hard.
TED is important because it reminds us that being elitist can be a positive thing. If you dream, it’s good for the soul that things like this exist.
I have to work out how to get to TED. I’ve a sneaky idea or two — watch this space — but in the meantime, there’s BIG, in July. Not the same, and yet strangely… good for the soul.
And the title? More than ten years ago, that was. Blimey.
…and watch this:
March 1, 2008
More obscure linkbait — I’ve made it into the Internet Movie Database! Woohoo!
OK, so my entry only lists Mechannibals (shudder) and the Christmas Lectures, on both of which my credit was the thoroughly meaningless ‘Content Producer’… and I’m mysteriously the second ‘Jonathan Sanderson’ to get listed (curses!), but still…
I’m in the IMDB! Yay!
I’ve been on the road all week, hence the lack of posts. To make up for it, dear reader, here’s perhaps the most interesting book in Amazon’s catalogue.