March 2009 Archives
March 28, 2009
I’m out of practice.
This afternoon, I revised the script for the SciCast Awards event on Monday. It’s a relatively simple affair, very much a case of setting up a routine and banging through it twelve times, once for each award. The routine goes:
- Introduce the award category.
- Introduce the guest who’s to present that award.
- Guest says a few words, cues a clipsreel of the nominees.
- Clipsreel plays.
- Guest opens envelope, announces winner.
- Cue their film, while they make their way to the front.
- Film finishes; hand over trophy, handshake & photos, little interview, etc.
- Reset and do it all again with the next category.
Simple. Yet I still managed to mess up stage two.
If you’re introducing someone, you want to end on a clear cue to them, and an implicit call for applause from the audience. Consider, then, the difference between:
- “…to present the award, Jem Stansfield, engineer and television presenter.”
- “…to present the award, engineer and television presenter, Jem Stansfield.”
The latter is clearly better. Every time.
I know this. I worked this sort of thing out long ago. I know about inflection, and continuation thoughts, and all that. Why, then, did I use both forms in this script?
Because I’m rusty. I haven’t written ‘proper’ scripts for a while. I haven’t had the discipline of hearing my words performed by professional presenters, of hearing them again and again and again in the edit suite. I’m going soft.
I should blog more. Hard to believe from the meandering nonsense here, but it helps me keep an edge.
Really, though, I should write a script again.
March 25, 2009
The Onion News Network is doing some excellent work — very classy production values, brilliantly tight scripts. See, for example:
- Prague’s Franz Kafka International Named World’s Most Alienating Airport
- Experts Agree Giant, Razor-Clawed Bioengineered Crabs Pose No Threat
and the seminal:
- Sony Releases New Stupid Piece of Shit That Doesn’t Fucking Work
Heaven knows how they’re paying for this stuff, but I love it.
March 24, 2009
Wait a second. What’s the message of this film, again? That Samsung TVs, right at the critical moment, make everything look unbelievably faked? Am I getting this right?
See, Sony understood the concept here; they really did bounce a huge number of balls down a street in San Francisco, and fire gallons of paint off a tower block in Glasgow. Sure, there was lots of processing on the final films, but the concept was actually carried out, and the films had verisimilitude because they looked real. They were, simply, awesome.
This, conversely, is a great idea made to look like crap. Which is not, I suspect, the take-home message Samsung wanted from this viral.
- Brilliantly-executed. It’s well-crafted to be filmed, which most of these things aren’t — they’re terrific ideas, but unfilmable. Hence, I suspect this is also:
- Inspired, or at least informed, by the Japanese show Pythagoras Switch, which has raised this sort of thing to an art form.
- Presumably a funded commercial/viral for Creme Eggs. I’m happy with that. However, it’s also:
- Utterly undermined by having a cut just before the last moment.
Gaaaaah! Nothing screams ‘Fake!’ like a cut to close-up just before the pay-off. When everything else is in (or at least looks like it’s in) one shot, it’s plain nuts.
Worth watching, but you have been warned.
One of my big regrets was not ditching a crappy job back in the late 90s and gadding off to Nevada to help out with the ThrustSSC project. While I tend towards the cynical about some aspects of the successor project Bloodhound, they’re going about demonstrating their excitement in a wholly admirable manner.
Example: this Guardian article from the engineering director. Terrific, involving, emotional writing. Great stuff.
March 10, 2009
You’d think, given the horror stories about plummeting new car sales and all the rest, now would be a good time to walk into a car dealer and say ‘I’m looking to buy a car. What have you got?’
Sadly, no. That would be neglecting to consider the standard atmosphere and approach of British car dealers, who appear universally suspicious of anyone who so much as hints towards interest in their products, rather than, say, a BMW. There’s obviously something wrong with you — you’re mad, or skint, or both — so there’s no point trying to make a rational deal. Thus, they may as well ignore you and go back to their newspapers.
Take Volkswagon, for example: after a thirty-minute wait while the assistants all moved bits of paper around, the salesman who finally looked at me noted my interest in the Scirocco, listened to my story of liking the Mégane Coupé and Volvo C30 but also being impressed by the Fiesta… and hence tried to sell me a Polo.
Yes, yes, very nice, I said, and tried to steer the conversation back towards diesel Sciroccos. Twice. Each time, the salesman moved me down the Polo range. I tried to feed him lines about depreciation, and why initial price can be less important than lifetime cost; he pitched me the Polo 1.2 E, with wind-up windows, a radio/cassette player, and floor mats (extra-cost option). I walked out before he started pointing me to high-mileage Lupos.
At the Volvo showroom my interest in the C30 eventually prompted attention, but it turned out that they can’t sell me one. The C30, it transpires, really is a concept car — pretty to look at, supposedly production-ready, but they’re not actually making them. Or at least, this particular dealer barely ever sees them.
What they do get, rarely, are base-spec ‘R-Design’ models, which are decent value but neither quick nor frugal; the diesel equivalent is both. Probably. The dealer described the oil-burner as ‘hypothetical’: he’s heard of them, but isn’t sure if they’re real or mythical. As far as I can tell, the C30 exists only to lure people like me into Volvo dealers, to give us something pretty to look at before we remember we have kids and responsibilities and really need a sensible saloon.
Except that I don’t have kids or responsibilities, and quite fancy a little 2+2 shooting brake/grand tourer. But they’re just to look at; I can’t actually buy one. Heavens, no, what gives me that idea?
Ford, meanwhile, looked reassuringly scuffed and threadbare. The manager greeted me jovially at the door, then a sneezing sales assistant walked me through the bafflingly-complex Fiesta range with sufficient vagueness I began to suspect he’d spent less time with the brochure than I had. For example: the base-spec 1.25 ‘Style’ looks like remarkably good value, but I was concerned about whether it sported the low- or high-output version of the engine. I enquired. Checks were made. I still don’t know.
The entire mid-range is unavailable for months to come, leaving just the top-of-the-range diesel, which costs a whopping 50% more than the base model. Gosh. That’s quite a lot, but run the numbers for me – what does that mean per month?
Not sure. Come back tomorrow, maybe? Perhaps Friday?
Does it have a particle filter? “What’s one of those?”
Er… p’raps not.
Renault, meanwhile, were incredibly keen to get me in a 5-door Mégane. So keen that before I’d even seen one we were £2,500 below list price. That I’m completely disinterested in a bland family car was, it seemed, irrelevant. There proceeded a bizarre little dance, in which I enquired about engines and prices of the dashing little Mégane Coupé, but could only elicit answers in reference to the five-door sister car. It’s still not clear to me if the Coupé is actually available, or merely a balsa wood mockup plonked in the showroom and painted orange to look appealing. It certainly looks a bit like a C30.
Now, doubtless I’d receive much better service if I shaved and wore a suit, rather than looking a bit scruffy. However, in a Jaguar dealer I had a delightful conversation with a middle-aged and sharply-dressed businessman. He walked in excited about what might turn out to be his first Jag. Twenty minutes later we were still playing ‘spot the salesman’, and it transpired that this was the third dealer he’d walked into, and the third where he’d encounted intangible service. He left muttering something about Lexus.
As for me: by the end of the day, I’d walked into half-a-dozen showrooms with money (metaphorically) in my pocket, and walked out of each with no enthusiasm at all for the products. Not one salesman really listened to what I wanted, nor helped me shuffle through the ranges. None could give me even rough finance examples unless we properly specced a car. Nobody offered coffee, let alone a test drive. My casual but distinct interest was turned not into a sale, but into frustration and weariness.
Car dealers of Glasgow: if you want my business, try harder.
March 9, 2009
I’ve been waiting six months for the new Mac Pros, which finally appeared last Tuesday. Today, I’ve been trying to find anyone with remaining stock of the old ones. Why buy now something I could have bought six months ago? Why not buy the latest and greatest? Well, here we go…
The centrepiece of the new model is the ‘Nehalem’ processor, a significant advance on the Core 2-based units in the old Mac Pros. It benchmarks around 50% faster, clock-for-clock, when doing video processing sorts of things. Great. That’s what I’ve been waiting for. But there’s a catch: Nehalem is expensive.
The desktop-class ‘Core i7’ chips are quite keenly-priced, but Mac Pros use server-class processors in order to sport two chips — hence eight cores rather than four. The catch is that server-class Nehalem processors seem to be vastly more expensive than the units they replace. So much more expensive, Apple has dropped the base spec to just one processor — four cores.
System price break down like this (approx., including VAT)
- 8-core, 2.8GHz, ‘old’ Mac Pro: £1,750
- 4-core, 2.66GHz, ‘new’ Mac Pro: £1,899
- 8-core, 2.2GHz, ‘new’ Mac Pro: £2,499
- 8-core, 2.66GHz, ‘new’ Mac Pro: £3,619
The 8-core, 2.2GHz machine might — just about — match the performance of the old 8x2.8 model for the sorts of things I do. For memory-intensive operations (Photoshop?) it should pull ahead, but for processor-bound operations it’s going to be close. But it costs more than 45% more than the old model. Whaaaaat?!
To really extract more performance than the old model, I’d need 8x2.66GHz, but that’s another £1,120. Double the total price, for maybe 20% more oomph? Gee, thanks, but… uhh… no.
Calling around this morning, it seems there was a rush on orders for the old models last Wednesday — lots of people in my position, waiting for the new ones, seeing them, and putting their cash into something they could have had six months ago. The only model I could get my hands on is an 8x3.2Ghz box, but at £2,699 that’s not exactly an impulse purchase.
Apart from, arguably, the period when the Mac Quadras were replaced by Power Macs back in 1994, I can’t recall a time when Mac prices have gone up, and performance-per-pound has gone down quite so dramatically. It’s particularly strange when one considers the forthcoming ‘Snow Leopard’ Mac OS X release, which was supposed to trumpet major advances in utilising multi-core architectures.
As it stands, Apple looks like it’s claiming ‘8 cores good, 4 cores better.’ Sorry, but that’s just nonsense.