August 2008 Archives
August 31, 2008
Earlier in the year I finally succumbed and bought my first non-phone digital camera. Yes, you read that right. It’s a Nikon D40, the cheapest digital SLR I could find that takes a goodly range of lenses.
I don’t care that it’s ‘only’ six megapixels, nor that it’s a ‘beginner-level’ camera; I wanted to see if I still enjoyed taking pictures, whether I took better pictures with a reasonable camera, and get some idea of what sort of lenses I might want.
So at the time, I couldn’t justify spending a chunk more change on a D80, because I had a sneaking suspicion that what I really wanted was a D200/D300. And that was more money then I was going to cough up.
Now, the handling of an SLR for video would be… er… awful, mostly. It’s built to be held to your face, not moved smoothly at waist or chest level. There’s no microphone jack. It saves motion-JPEG — what is this, the 90s? — and tops out at five minutes’ recording, presumably for buffer reasons but there may also be sensor heat dissipation concerns.
But you do get interchangeable lenses, honest-to-goodness depth of field to play with, and low-light sensitivity. It’s an appealing tool. For limited circumstances, perhaps, but still appealing. Very appealing.
So here’s my thoughts: Suppose —
- The D90 sells big, in part because of the video feature.
- Next year’s ‘$3,000’ RED Scarlet turns out to be a humdinger of a camera that people actually want (as opposed to a terrific technical package that’s a pain to use in practice, because post-producing the material it produces is a way way way high-end problem, ahem).
- Next month’s Panasonic HMC150/151 really is high-end web video’s equivalent of the game-changing Sony PD150
…then you have to wonder what Canon’s plans are.
They’ve been very quiet this year, offering relatively minor updates to the XL-H1 but not touching the XG-A1. Sony have done exciting things with cheaper XDCAM units and the Z7, Panasonic are going doo-lally over their AVCIntra and P2, and even Nikon have pulled this D90 trick.
Canon, meanwhile, build class-leading high-end consumer cameras in the £600 bracket, and… HDV stuff. Old HDV stuff.
My speculation is that they’re integrating their next-generation still and video camera technologies. Which could, potentially, rock, to the extent of them cleaning up. Who else knows as much about both stills and video as Canon?
Sony’s Alpha dSLRs are, by repute, really quite good, but they’re not Canon or Nikon. Could Nikon make a professional video camera? Really? Could they partner with Panasonic somehow? JVC?
I wonder if Nikon, RED, and Panasonic might demonstrate that a market exists, only for Canon to swoop in at CES or NAB next year with something really quite spectacular.
Damn. And there was me planning to buy an HMC151 this year, too. Maybe, like the D40, I’ll ‘make do’ with something cheaper until it’s clearer which way the wind is blowing.
August 28, 2008
No, not the Mike Figgis film (though I do have one of the circular ‘Fig Rig’ camera grips that came out of that; very useful with wobbly teenagers and utterly loved by wheelchair users).
There’s a new iPhone app in the Store that does timecode calculations. And, yes, you can pick between 24/25/30/29.97/59.94 non-drop-frame/blah blah blah.
August 26, 2008
August 25, 2008
The modest amount of philosophy I studied came right at the end of my degree. On a practical day-to-day level, it was probably the single most useful thing I did throughout my entire education, and I’ve often wondered why I wasn’t exposed to it earlier on in the process. Say, for example, as a core subject in school.
(This seems to be a common theme for me. Perhaps once practical science is sorted — via SciCast’s successor, obviously — I’ll get on to sorting out broader ‘teaching people how to think’ stuff. Ahem.)
Dopplr knows about many places, all over the world. So many, in fact, that it’s a little hazy about some of the details. And it’s very rough indeed when it comes to local customs, it seems:
Close enough. Ahem.
Mondrianum: a Mac OS colour picker pane that talks to Adobe Kuler. Joy.
August 24, 2008
Chris Hoy wearing three gold medals and a suit, riding a Brompton folding bike, accompanying the double-decker bus into the Bird’s Nest stadium.
[update: Annie Mole has a screen grab at Flickr]
They’ve actually done it: shut the M1 and duffed in the twin cooling towers near Sheffield.
It’s maybe ten years since I found myself talking to the guy who had the contract to bring them down. They had a workable plan, but it involved closing the M1. Blowing them up without closing the motorway would have been nuts, since the towers were right next to the flyover near Meadowhall and Rotherham; closing the road wasn’t on the cards; stalemate.
Apparently, a decade on the towers were in poor enough condition that leaving them up was no longer an option, so the road was duly closed in the small hours of this morning, and down they came.
They were a fine landmark. Now we’ll only have the merrily-decorated cranes in the yard on the other side of the road to look at.
August 22, 2008
Genius. Utter genius. Via Team Gupta, who ponders re-enacting this at a real party… after the drink has been flowing. Evil man.
[edit: changed the embed to the earliest posting I could find on YouTube. The original source is the Marie Curie Actions ‘Teens’ site, which appears to follow standard EU practice of there being an inverse releationship between the funding level of a project and the quality of the web design.]
August 20, 2008
August 19, 2008
After the use-video-for-geometry-and-stills-for-high-res-texture-maps tech demo, here’s another gob-smacking bit of video frighteningness:
Blimey. Using multi-point motion-tracking to unwrap a texture map, which you can then modify before re-applying to the source image.
Back in the mists of 2006, I blogged about how one outcome of increasing use of high-definition video might be greater demand for post-production rotoscoping techniques to smooth out actors’ wrinkles. Looks like I might have been right.
I’m following the BBC’s excellent Olympic live-update page, which combines a video stream with irreverent text updates from a relay team of BBC staffers. One of the things that keeps cropping up is viewers complaining about the use of the word ‘medal’ as a verb.
Look, folks: if you’re going to get all nit-picky about grammar, make sure you check your facts. The OED isn’t free, of course, and the edition I have to hand is one of the crappy one. But pick any other online dictionary and you’ll find that ‘medal’ can be a verb. Here’s the American Heritage Dictionary on my Mac, for example:
medal | ˈmedl |
a metal disk with an inscription or design, made to commemorate an event or awarded as a distinction to someone such as a soldier, athlete, or scholar.
verb ( medaled | ˈmɛdld |, medaling | ˈmɛdlɪŋ |; also chiefly Brit. medalled, medalling) [ intrans. ]
earn a medal, esp. in an athletic contest : Norwegian athletes medaled in 12 of the 14 events
Yes, I was surprised too. But it’s not bad English just because we haven’t had the chance to use it very often.
August 18, 2008
Broad beans rock.
These aren’t the broad beans I’m eating tonight. These are broad beans from two years ago. They wouldn’t be as nice as the ones I’m about to scoff. Not by now. Though they were nice at the time.
I’m sorry. I may have become monosyllabic. I’m salivating at the thought of broad beans. They have a strange effect on me.
August 16, 2008
Michael Johnson’s reaction was almost — almost — better than Usain Bolt’s spectacular 100 metre victory. Watch at the BBC’s site.
August 15, 2008
Paper and demonstrations of some gob-smacking video enhancement demonstrations. The basic model is to use video to capture geometry and dynamic lighting detail, but high-resolution stills to provide the texture mapping.
Utterly, utterly amazing. Also scary, in a ‘pictures lying to me’ sort of way. Well worth a look.
(via Chairman Gruber)
August 14, 2008
Mangyongdae School children's palace - North Korea, originally uploaded by Eric Lafforgue.
Amazing Flickr photoset from photographer Eric Lafforgue, from a holiday in North Korea in April this year.
Photosynth was cool. As is this update, but two things bug me.
Firstly, the breathlessly monotone narration. But hey, the guy isn’t paid to be a presenter.
No, what really gets me is the flickering. Even with colour compensation (which is very neatly done, incidentally), the edge flickering makes my eyes go funny. Perhaps it’s not as bad if you’re using the software rather watching dodgy YouTube video of it, but still… bleurgh. I think I may have to have a lie down.
“A-level pass rate and A grades up” says the BBC, noting:
“Among the subjects showing increases were the sciences with entries for chemistry up 3.5%, biology up 2.7% and physics up 2.3%.”
But hang on. The Joint Council for Qualification’s bizarrely-90s website (it has an entry tunnel?! Is this a reflection on the falling take-up of ICT courses?) links to this PDF, the press release. Which notes:
“With a record 827,737 grades published for A-level this year (805,657 in 2007) … “
That’s a 2.7% increase in entries. So… are science entries actually up proportionately, or up overall, or …. what?
Sure enough, the Telegraph’s full tabulation of the data — which, incidentally, I can’t find at the JCQ’s site — reveals that science entries are fairly precisely static as a proportion of the total. They’re up, but only by about the same degree that entries are anyway.
This is a marked improvement over declining numbers, which we’ve seen through recent years. But it’s not really the increase in take-up we’re working towards.
However pointless skills like this might be, I can’t help admiring them.
August 11, 2008
Stuck at your desk? Despite having a TV monitor on mine, I’m still watching the olympics on the BBC’s aggregator page. The video is higher-quality than I get through my aerial, plus it’s widescreen… and the automatic-updating text feed thingy is pretty cool.
August 7, 2008
Forget whatever Alicia Keys and Mick Hucknell (or whoever) are doing, this rocks.
[oooooh, OK. It’s by Adam & Joe. That explains why it rocks.]
August 6, 2008
There’s something particularly pleasing about ernest and thoughtful journalists working for august and respectable global news organisations… making complete prats of themselves.
“The Thirties dreamed white marble and slipstream chrome, immortal crystal and burnished bronze, but the rockets on the covers of the Gernsback pulps had fallen on London in the dead of night, screaming.”
“You saw a semiotic ghost. All these contactée stories, for instance, are framed in a kind of sci-fi imagery that permeates our culture. I could buy aliens, but not aliens that look like Fifties’ comic art. They’re semiotic phantoms, bits of deep cultural imagery that have split off and taken on a life of their own”
An artblog of conceptual spaceships and experimental aircraft, updated more-or-less weekly. I used to love this sort of stuff when I was a kid, and it still makes me smile.
What was the name of that short story where the protagonist is driving through the high desert in the Western US, and keeps catching glimpses of the shiny aluminium/befinned/Flash Gordon-esque future we were promised in the 1950s? It might have been in the Mirrorshades collection.
Years back, I missed the very first Café Scientifique held in the UK, despite working across the road from the venue. Ironically, I missed it because I was working for the organiser, and he’d sent me away to shoot some interview or other.
I didn’t miss Glasgow’s Science Café on Monday evening, however. This was lucky, because I was the speaker.
Surprisingly, I found myself a tad nervous, but it seemed to go well enough. I was talking about the past and present of science television for children, which of course leads us to the point where there isn’t any. Pleasingly, there was a rather positive reaction to the reveal moment of “…this has never been about the television, it’s always been about inspiring children with science. If television is no longer a means to that end, let’s find a better way of doing it.”
The discussion was interesting, and useful. There’s usually somebody who’s a bit grumpy about ‘entertainment’, and wonders whether there’s really any science involved in SciCast. This is tricky, because I pretty much have to confess that they’re right to be concerned. However, I can’t address everything at once, and monitoring factual content is something that I’ve simply had to punt into next year (or so). Happily, Glasgow’s curmudgeon turned out to be thoroughly charming, and indeed pragmatic. Rather more concerned than curmudgeonly, in fact — but isn’t ‘curmudgeon’ a lovely word? Anyway…
Heaven knows what the audience got out of it, but the evening was extremely useful for me. One of these days I’m going to have to pitch SciCast seriously, and it’s good to practice articulating the arguments.
Plus, it was gratifying to meet a couple of kids who are watching The Big Bang in repeats on CITV, and loving it. Yay!
August 4, 2008
August 1, 2008
For years, I bought Rexel Cumberland Derwent Graphics, made at my favourite pencil factory in Keswick. Yes, I had a favourite pencil factory — mostly because of this one glorious range. The graphite was smooth, silky, and a pleasing mid-slate colour, but I liked them not so much for their writing action as for their feel in my hand.
See, Derwent Graphics weren’t just smooth and black — they were really really black. Matte black. One didn’t merely pick them up: one’s hands were caressed by them. The sensuous body, the jaunty gloss orange ring, the contrast with the squeaky gloss black heel of the pencil…
They were glorious pencils. Glamorous pencils. Dangerously sexy pencils. Pencils for people who adored pencils. Pencils for people who were, perhaps, vaguely fetishistic about pencils. We didn’t quite meet on furtive street corners and obsess over a 6H, but just like Moleskine aficionados or Crumpler fans, we acknowledged each other with a knowing nod when, by chance, we happened across a fellow devotee.
We loved our Derwent Graphics.
So they changed them.
As of a few years back, the modern Derwent Graphic is no longer matter black, but rather bears a uniformly gloss finish. The whole point of the pencil — its feel in the hand — is destroyed.
So, I complained. At the factory. I walked into the shop and asked if they had any of the old ones left over. It turned out they’d been dealing beneath the counter (literally), to people like me. Tragically, they’d run out of even this illicit stock, and search parties of sales assistants and even middle management could turn up no more. “We know,” they said, sadly, “They were lovely pencils to hold.”
For the last three years I’ve been nursing my dwindling supplies, eeking them out, my heart heavy as every turn of the sharpener sloughed off another fraction of my future graphitic pleasure.
Fine pencils. Good leads. Good weight. And… and… and… matte black. With a cheeky glossy ring and a stub-end in glossy black; the former white rather than orange and the latter a hair too short, but no matter:
The world once again has matte black pencils.
Oh, happy day.