September 2009 Archives
September 28, 2009
It’s a couple of years since I was last in Ireland, and that a fleeting visit for the Scope wrap party, driving down from the North where I’d been giving SciCast workshops. This weekend, I flew into Dublin, was whisked to Waterford in the South-East, gave a couple of talks/workshops for the Institute of Physics, and was returned to Dublin.
Odd, the things one notices.
I’ve completely lost my muscle memory for Euro coins and notes. I have to peer at the loose change, reading each coin to decipher its value. Ridiculous.
Dublin Airport’s new terminal is impressive, though the walk from it to arrivals seems to be deliberately three times as long as necessary. I’ve never understood how it came to be that when one flies, one spends more time walking than flying.
On the drive back from Waterford, we passed two beautifully-preserved ruined abbeys, and a traction engine rally. The latter all steam and smoke and clanking metal, about to head off up the main road. I’d have liked to see them move, but getting stuck behind them as traffic would have delighted me less at the time.
Tourist offices should provide a service thus: you pay a modest fee to be followed by one of their staff, who poses as a more amateur tourist than you are. At some juncture they contrive to approach you and ask for directions to somewhere they’re absolutely certain you’ve been. Being able to give directions in a foreign city is a real buzz. Perhaps that’s just me?
Gruel on Dame street is still fabulous. Not as good value as it was, thanks to the now-crippling exchange rate (£:€ is basically parity, ±10%). I had a salad of feta, fine beans and roasted squash that was outrageously good, followed by terrific grilled mackerel with a new potato and broad bean salad. Simple, perfectly prepared, jaunty service — superb.
Lisbon vote, round two: from every lamp-post has sprouted an inelegant spray of billboards. ‘NO to European militarisation’ / ’ YES to jobs’ / ‘Irish Democracy, 1945-2009? Vote NO’ / ‘I’ve decided: We belong: vote YES’. The impression I get is that (a.) it’s been a nasty, nasty campaign, but (b.) it’ll go through comfortably. We’ll see.
Ireland is still deliriously, happily, indulgently shabby chic. Nobody shows up on time, nothing quite works correctly, hotels are a little flabby around the edges, and nobody would have it any other way. Me included.
I love this place. To me, it’s like somebody made an independent state out of Yorkshire. In an odd way, I feel at home here.
September 23, 2009
Last week, the International Space Station made some terrific passes over the UK. I took this on Tuesday from the beach at the end of our street - it’s a terrible photo of an amazing sight.
A couple of nights later, in Cardiff Bay, I skipped away from the table of the café I was sitting outside, to catch another glimpse. The waitress thought I was a bit weird, but reckoned my excuse was sufficiently implausible that it had to be true.
The Cardiff pass was even brighter, and directly overhead. I stood with my friend Wendy and her son Oakley, the three of us gaping in astonishment (well, two in astonishment, one drooling gently). A passer-by back-tracked to ask us, “What is that? You look like you were expecting it.”
We showed him the print-out from Heavens Above that we had, and explained that it was about the brightest pass of anything manmade that’s likely to happen all year. He was as giddy as us about it.
There are people in that little dot of light, whizzing around the planet. Crazy.
September 22, 2009
The BBC’s iPlayer system manages to deliver remarkably high-quality video over the web, but it’s not flawless. Most of the problems I’ve seen, like this one, seem to revolve around interlaced video. Specifically, the way it’s deinterlaced.
This is a straightforward transcoding goof — the fields should have been deinterlaced to one set of frames, not… er… four — but I’ve also seen some pretty ghastly field inversion issues — where successive frames on iPlayer have ping-ponged back-and-forth, so that fast pans and tilts have stuttered terribly. Most notably, the high-res iPlayer version of one of Stephen Fry’s Last Chance to See programmes was unwatchable. Not merely ‘broadcast-wonk-turning-his-nose-up’ unwatchable, but ‘oh-hell-I-feel-ill’ unwatchable.
It’s not quite clear to me how this could be happening, in that you’d think the digital masters they’re working from would be in one of a small number of tightly-defined formats. Certainly, BBC technical review is extremely strict, as anyone who’s had a Kafkaesque argument with that department will confirm.
Also, it seems that there’s not much quality control on the finished transcode — or at least, not by anyone who recognises field issues when they see them. The Last Chance to See clip was fixed after a few days, but the programme of Bang Goes The Theory from which this frame is taken is still live, two months later (still is from around timecode 27.43).
Much as I hate to sound like Disgusted of Tynemouth, this is the sort of thing the BBC should get right, every time. They should be humbling the rest of us with their sheer technical prowess.
As it stands, oiks like me shoot everything we intend for the web with progressive frames and proper square pixels, edit and deliver via formats that retains those properties (ProRes and H.264, in my case), and thus never see any problems. It’s the national broadcaster who get tripped up by the details.