September, 2009

Aerial Photography: An Experiment

They say that if you don’t experiment, you won’t succeed. So let’s call yesterday an experiment shall we?
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About a year ago, Photojojo – a great photography website – sent out a link to a balloon photography experiment carried out by a guy named David Trawin.
He basically attached helium balloons to a cradle that contained a digital camera. He then floated the camera upwards, retaining it with a kite string, and took some fantastic aerial photos of New York.
Photojojo republished Trawin’s instructions including a PDF of the cradle plans.
I’d been meaning to try this out for ages. And yesterday I did.
The first problem is finding a camera capable of taking lots of pictures remotely. Most cameras have some kind of timer feature, but it’s usually a single shot with a 2 second, 10 second and perhaps 30 second timer delay. If you’re lucky there might be a burst function that will take a couple of photos on the delay – useful for group shots. But taking more than a couple is difficult.
My recently purchased Canon G10 does do this (it was an insurance replacement for a stolen G7 – or otherwise I might well have waited for the G11), but it’s a bit expensive for something as precarious as this, and in any case it weighs a lot.
Examining lots of camera manuals on manufacturers’ websites revealed that pretty much none of the cheaper current cameras do this. Indeed only Ricoh seems to offer this functionality, but it’s hardly a bargain basement brand.
So my other option was to use CHDK on a second-hand Canon camera. If you’ve never used it, CHDK is a wonderful thing. It allows you to do all sorts of things with your Canon camera that Canon never originally offered, not least of which is the ability to take RAW photos on devices originally only designed to take JPGs!
But crucially, CHDK lets you run scripts, and in particular this script – an intervalometer. Once installed and running, I was able to force my camera to take a new photo every five seconds – perfect for something like this.
I needed a camera, and a visit to my local Cex saw me pick up a Canon A470 for £38. Ebay would have probably been cheaper, but I needed something in a hurry. A couple of lithium AA batteries and a 2GB SD card and I was ready.
I built the cradle using foamboard, balloons, some rubber bands to keep it attached, got a couple of lengths of kite string (one for attaching balloons to the cradle, and one for to control the whole device) and some helium. If I learnt one thing from this whole experiment, you’re much better off buying helium online than Clinton Cards.
Yesterday was Absolute Radio’s first birthday, and I was hoping to use some leftover helium from a celebratory balloons. I was planning to get photos of everyone at work at our staff party – so this wasn’t going to be out and out theft. But in the event, all the helium was used up for other balloons, and by yesterday morning, many of those balloons were a bit drab. By lunchtime, it was clear that I couldn’t “repurpose” those balloons.
So yesterday lunchtime my friend Emily and I filled lots of balloons and attached them to the cradle. We weren’t sure how many we’d need. I’d thought maybe a dozen, but in the end I used the entire cylinder which claimed to fill between 24 and 32 balloons depending on size. We’d got to about 28 balloons, and it still wasn’t quite taking off. This was very annoying. So near and yet so far.
So out to a nearby card shop where I bought four red foil balloons. Walking through Soho it looked as though I was about to propose to a girlfrend or something. We attached these additional balloons and it still wasn’t quite enough. Curses!
I thought we should probably go for it anyway, since a bit of wind would give them some lift. In retrospect, I think that fewer big balloons is better than lots of smaller ones. They all add weight and each additional balloon probably only added a cumulative bit of lift. Next time, I’ll get a weather balloon or something similar. A large number of balloons is also somewhat unweildy. Getting into lifts with them was interesting.
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We went out into Golden Square to give it a go, and you can see some of the results below. It didn’t go all that high. The wind carried the balloon a little bit, but buildings and trees were getting in the way a bit. Emily took some photos of the attempts.
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Never mind. Our staff party was to kick off in the roof bar of the Sanctum Hotel – perfect for a launch.
This is where things started to go wrong. It was certainly windy at the top which would help, but I was concerned that the hook that attached my control kite string to the cradle wouldn’t be sufficient. So I tied the string to it. In retrospect I discover that I wouldn’t get a badge from the Scouts with my knot tying ability.
Suddenly a gust of wind passed through and the balloons were off! Unfortuntely, my guide string wasn’t. The balloons and my camera had floated over the side of the hotel and beyond.
Balloons Float Off With My Camera
It was probably as well that the balloons didn’t quite give the camera enough lift. But they were still rising along the side of an adjacent building. After a little aimless floating, and much panic for me, the balloons got twisted around a fence on the rooftop of the building.
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Great! Now all I had to was find the building (it can be very disorinetating on the roofs of strange buildings), get access to their roof and retrieve the camera.
Many of my colleagues from work were finding this all highly amusing and asking me if I wasn’t mad sending my digital camera skywards. I pointed out that I’d always known that losing the camera was a possibility, and that I’d bought it cheaply for that express purpose. They were also a lot more worried than I was that the camera would slip out of the cradle. But I knew that the combination of rubber bands and cradle should stop the camera slipping to an ignominious death.
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I quickly worked out which building it had got stuck on and hastened around to the front entrance of what turned out to be Sony Music (and Pictures). One of the more unusual conversations I’ve ever had at a reception desk then followed as I explained to the security guard on reception that I’d like to collect the camera and balloons that were currently entangled on Sony Records’ roof. A 21st century “Can I have my ball back” conversation!
Unsurprisingly he found this amusing. But his colleague knew what I’d been up to and had seen me in Golden Square a little earlier – well it’s hard to miss a man with about 30 balloons in his hand.
Heroically he left me in reception and went up to his roof. Minutes ticked by, and he returned with not only the camera, but the vast majority of the balloons!
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One was burst, and I was told he’d released a couple more has he untangled them. I thanked him, and as I was passing back outside a couple of ladies who worked at Sony asked me about them and what I was going to do with them. I’d decided that I’d had enough balloon fun for one day, and ended up giving them the balloons as they said they were organising a party (I later spied the balloons in an office inside the Sony building).
And so here endeth the experiement. Not wholly successful, but not unsuccessful either. I didn’t get the glorious London aerial photos I’d hoped for. But I’d got the camera back and it had floated – a bit.
There will be a next time, but it’ll involve a larger balloon and more (hopefully cheaper) helium. And I’ll do it somwhere in the wide open outdoors.
And beyond that, there’s an even madder idea – but I won’t get into that until plans develop…

Lazy TV Journalism

Tonight, [channel] Five shows the first episode of what we’re told is the hot new US series of the Autumn – FlashForward.
But their advertising campaign is a bit odd: “From the US network that brought you Lost…” run the trails. That’s true – they both air on ABC in the US.
But that’s really incidental to the series. They don’t share producers or production teams – there may well be crew members who’ve worked on both, but that’s neither here nor there. The two have nothing in common aside from being commissioned by the same network.
It’s a bit like saying “Spooks… from the network that brought you The Weakest Link!”
I was thinking some more about this when I read something in the Guardian Guide previewing the fact that True Blood finally debuts on “terrestrial” television next week, when Channel 4 starts airing it after an initial run on FX (and well aftter the second series has finished in the US).
Because True Blood comes from HBO, and HBO commissioned The Wire, it has to be mentioned in the copy.
That’s really not relevant. Yes, we know we get “edgy” fare from HBO, but then this is the channel that also shows “documentaries” including “Co-ed Confidential”, “Real Sex”, “Pornucopia” and “Cathouse” amongst others. Strange that they never get a mention!
Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago, the excellent French thriller serial Spiral returned to BBC Four – indeed BBC Four now gets a production credit! But of course, it has to be referred to as “the French Wire“.
It’s nothing like The Wire.
It’s an excellent series in its own right, set amid the various strands of the French judiciary system as well as petty criminals, drug dealers, and goodness knows who else.
When Spiral first came out, the comparison was made with CSI because it was beautifully shot, and there were scenes of forensics. But again, the comparison was a misnomer. And of course, even though this was only 2006, and The Wire started airing in 2002, nobody in the UK had heard of that series then.
Private Eye has a regular feature in which something is referred to as “the new black.” Perhaps this needs replacing with a comparison with The Wire?
Doc Martin – Cornwall’s answer to The Wire
Dragons’ Den On Tour – Duncan Bannatyne is Dragons’ Den’s equivalent of The Wire’s McNulty
Derren Brown – Magic’s equivalent of The Wire

Etc. Ad nauseum.
OK – so I made those up, but you understand my point!
I realise that we need cultural touchpoints, but you’re not a script-writer having to make an elevator pitch to someone in a Hollywood elevator: “It’s a cross between Speed and Pretty Woman set on a space station!”
There are other reference points out there.

The iPhone on Orange

There’s much excitement today as Orange announces – two years after the phone’s first launch – that it has secured the iPhone on its network. They’ve set up a pre-order system and everything.
As Rory-Cellan Jones says in his good piece over at the BBC: new phone launches on a network – so what?
I find the whole idea of networks exlusively carrying specific models of phones thoroughly bizarre. Realistically, Apple has deprived itself of customers over the last two years by cutting off potential customers of the UK’s other four major networks. Of course, O2 paid some kind of premium for the right to have that exclusivity and the sums may well have added up for Apple.
Apple is believed to charge O2 significant amounts for the iPhone, and the cheapest contract for a consumer is about £30 for a paltry 75 minutes of talktime a month (a similarly priced plan for another phone might get you more like 400 minutes a month).
Contract lengths have slowly been creeping up from first 12, then 18, and now often 24 months.
Orange will clearly sell a lot of iPhones. They’ll also retain customers who might have otherwise jumped ship. They’ll also please some customers who – like me – refuse to change operators for a particular model of mobile phone. (Not that I’m saying I’ll get an iPhone. There are some very interesting forthcoming Nokia and Android phones that will vie for my attention).
But the real fanboys have all got an iPhone having jumped networks if need be months or years ago.
Which makes it all the more surprising that Palm has done an exclusive deal with O2 for the forthcoming Pre. I questioned this before, when it was announced, and now I question it even more.
The iPhone has surely mopped up all the interest from the gadget obsessed and “cool kids”. Are there really that many people with O2 who’ve been after a state of the art smartphone, and decided against the iPhone, instead waiting for something else to come along? Nor, surely, are there loads of people on other networks who’ve been waiting for this opportunity to jump over to O2.
Having a hot exclusive phone on your network seems to be a better deal for O2 who obviously knew they were losing iPhone exclusivity, than for Palm, who surely want to sell lots of phones.
In light of today’s developments, surely Palm would have been better off doing a deal with Vodafone? A big network with lots of marketing weight that they could put behind it.
Anyway, let’s see how Orange’s tariffs compare with O2’s. And will they do a similar deal to Apple with regards to WiFi networks?

Stephen Fry on DAB in Just A Minute

The BBC has launched a series of neat animations promoting Just A Minute.
It’s curious, though, that they chose this particular excerpt from Stephen Fry on DAB…

Nicely done, nonetheless.
(Actually, we do need to face up to reception issues, and improve coverage strength so that these issues go away).
As ever, these are my views, and don’t reflect those of my employer.

Pure Sensia

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Today I went along to the launch of a very interesting new radio, the Pure Sensia.
It’s a DAB radio, FM radio, internet radio and media player rolled into one. But it also, interestingly allows you to use apps. And as we all know, there’s nothing more exciting than apps in 2009.
I’ve got to say, it is a very smart looking radio, with a very nice touch screen interface. It’s WiFi, so you hook it up to your network and away you go. Various radio companies, yes including Absolute Radio (as you can see in the picture above), have created slideshow elements that are delivered via the internet and can be synced up to whatever the station is playing at the time. So above you can see Christian O’Connell, but it changes to other station promotions, or pieces of information as the station likes.
The internet connectivity of the radio also means that you see station logos when choosing a radio station.
A lot of the internet connectivity is similar to what Pure has put in its Flow and subsequent radios. I’ve not played around with one of these, but they do seem to be the best on the market (sadly, when I upped the security on my own WiFi network to WPA2 my Bush radio stopped talking to my network).
But the apps ability is probably the most exciting. We saw an early version of the firmware with two apps currently working – a Twitter app and a weather app. Both of these were also early versions with no real ability to update your Twitter feed via the device. But it seemed to work well. The weather app looked good and will in due course have five day forecasts built in.
Forthcoming apps include news, Picasa and Facebook. At some point next year, Pure will release an SDK for other developers to build apps. Apps are actually hosted on Pure’s Lounge website and it’s not yet clear what they’ll do about approving apps or hosting.
The radio can be angled so that the screen points in the right direction for your viewing position, and a really interesting idea is the inclusion of a tripod mount in the base. I was told that this was for wall mounting. Pure doesn’t make a wall mount but a standard connector like a tripod screw means that either consumers can make one themselves, or third party manufacturers can.
Overall an impressive device. The cost, at £250 isn’t cheap, but could probably be worse. This is never going to be mass market, but once the technology has matured, hopefully cheaper devices will follow. The radio pumps out some pretty decent sound which is also quite important.
Will I get one? Well I’m not sure. The design is nice, although I’d avoid the yellow one if I was you. But it is quite expensive as I say.
If they’d also built recording to SD card (or hard disk) functionality into it, then I’d be queuing up now to buy one when they come out in October, but sadly nobody seems willing to make the one device that I really really want.
But it’s pretty good nonetheless.
As ever, these opinions are my personal ones, even though I was probably really only invited to the launch because my employer is supporting this device very heavily.

Two Unmissable Things

Here are two separate programmes that you simply must watch and listen to… for entirely different reasons.
First off, there’s my current favourite radio feature on any programme anywhere at the moment. Yes, it’s an Absolute Radio show and I work there, and yes, I know all the people who make it. But honestly irrespective of all that, it’s just thoroughly brilliant.
Over the last few week’s there’s been new feature on the Geoff Hometime Show: Annabel v The Internet.
Each week Geoff sets the “technophobic” Annabel Port a challenge to see if she can do something we now take for granted by using the internet. She can’t use the internet to help her succeed in her tasks. Instead of just looking up the answers online, or emailing folk, it’s all down to visiting places and ringing people up.
Geoff sets the challenge on Monday, and then she reports back over the following three evenings with points either being awarded to Annabel if she’s doing well, or the internet if she fails.
It’s brilliant!
So far, Twitter, Skateboarding Dogs, Wikipedia, Friends Reunited, MySpace, Ebay, IMDB and, this week, World of Warcraft have been topics.
But last week Annabel had to replicate sites like Holy Moly and Popbitch. She had to come up with some celebrity gossip and let us know who’s been seen where. Listen to the whole week, but if you listen to nothing else, you absolutely must listen to last Wednesday’s edition when Annabel goes to, amongst other places, The Ivy.
Go and listen now.
I’ll wait.
Click here and navigate to Wednesday 9 September.
Just terrific radio.
Now here’s something else, also from last week, and also unmissable. But for entirely different reasons. Thanks to Emily for pointing me in the right direction, otherwise I’d have certainly missed Channel 4’s 3 Minute Wonders from last week.
If you’ve never seen them, these are quirky little themed films made by all sorts of people that fill that bit between the Channel 4 News, and the time you turn over from Channel 4 before some property porn programme comes on.
Last week, featured a “magazine” called Super Super. Now I say “magazine”, but it’s not something you’ll find in your local WH Smith. Indeed, I’ve been keeping an eye out for it all over the place following this series of programmes because I’m fascinated by it. And curiously, if you visit their website (sponsored unendingly by Adidas) there simply doesn’t seem to be any way to subscribe to the magazine. Nor, in fact, does there seem to be any mention that there is a magazine. Now call me old-fashioned, but wouldn’t it be a smart idea to let web-visitors, you know, buy your product. Indeed, from what I know about the magazine business, subscribers are vital because they’re guaranteed revenue when news-stand sales can stand or fall on lots of things. I assume that there really is a magazine…
Four films aired: SuperStyle, SuperPeople, SuperMusic, and SuperSlinky.
I urge you to watch them all. Here they are!
SuperStyle

“The magazine’s founders, Super Steve and Namalee have been hailed as cultural revolutionaries.”
Who by? Their mate who made this film?
“They’ve inspired a whole generation with their magazines super-relentless optimism.”
A whole generation? Like Pepsi? Who are these people?
Super Steve (always shot in black and white): “The world looks a lot more super now than it ever did before.”
Namalee: “Do you think that people are going to start dressing more like cartoon comic book heroes in the future?”
SuperPeople

“Most of the contributors for SuperSuper are doing things themselves. They’re part of the world.”
Phew – at least they’re not imaginary.
“I think I’ve found the reason why there’s loads of flies in the room. I put these rotten apples into my plant pot cos I thought it might give it some nutrients…”
SuperMusic

All I can say about this is that you have to listen to Namalee’s song. Has anyone signed her yet?
SuperSlinky

“Slinky” seems to spend his time in Argyle Street annoying people with a loudhailer, although it’s all clearly faked. But that’s OK – he was set the “task” to have “a mock fight”. That’ll be worth reading about!
I’m beginning to wonder if Chris Morris hasn’t really been busily working on his film, and instead has sneakily brought back Nathan Barley without telling anyone, and has recast the whole programme.
Finally, a third thing I quite enjoyed this week (yes, I know this piece said two things): The Playwrite and the Grammarian, which appealed to me on a couple of levels. Still on the iPlayer as I write this and featuring cameos by Roger Bolton and Peter Donaldson.

Derren Brown and the Lottery “Prediction”

Look – I really shouldn’t spend much time on this as there’s been far too much time wasted on the internet with people trying to guess how he did it and what he did.
Brown told us after Wednesday’s live prediction that all would be revealed on Friday and we too would be able to predict the lottery.
First things first. Brown didn’t predict it. We didn’t see the numbers before they were revealed. I’d have been very impressed and seriously puzzled if I had seen them. But like everything else it’s a magic trick and either he’s going to let us in on the secret or not.
Penn and Teller are great at doing this. They often let you in on the secret – perhaps performing the cups and balls trick with clear plastic cups, or getting the audience to guess how they faked a truck running over Teller (sadly the linked video ends before the reveal – foam tyres and heavily weighted on the other side).
Indeed Brown himself likes to play around with the medium. In his Seance special, he pretty much explained how many “psychics” operate. He’s not a fan. Indeed, he’s reported to be conducting an online web show debunking psychics.
A year or so ago, we also had The System which I wrote about at the time. I was troubled at the time about some of the details which didn’t seem quite right. But he did explain that he’d effectively conned us and how he’d done it.
In last night’s “reveal” show, it was clear that we were going to have to wait until the end. Brown took us along a path that really just had a number of well executed tricks that had little or nothing to do with the lottery “prediction.”
Then he moved on to a nonsense about the “wisdom of crowds” – something about which we’ve heard a lot recently. But that does not mean that a group of 24 people can guess the lottery numbers? Yet, in the end, that’s what we were meant to believe. Why 24? Who knows.
The system was something to do with “automatic writing” – surely something Brown will be debunking on his psychic debunking series – and averaging everybody’s scores.
But if I get a group of people to predict a number between 1 and 49, and then I average those numbers as Brown was doing (we’re not told how he dealt with decimals – indeed we never saw any workings at all), I’m more likely than not to end up with a number somewhere in the mid-twenties. This is because if each number between 1 and 49 was equally likely to be “predicted”, then the spread of numbers will tend towards a mid-point.
Furthermore numbers at the extreme ends – 1 and 49 – will be very hard to reach. If I average 24 people’s numbers and end up with 1, then nearly everybody would have had to have chosen 1 in the first place. Given that 2 came up in Wednesday’s draw, it would require nearly everyone in the room to come “predict” 1, 2 or 3 to arrive at an average of 2.
Indeed, if 23 out of 24 people “predicted” 2, and just one person predicted a number that was 14 or greater, then the average would have been 3 or more, and the “prediction” would have failed.
23 people x 2 = 46
1 person x 14 = 14
Total = 60
60 divided by 24 people = 2.5 rounded up to 3.
Even if Brown adopts a round-down approach, it would only take one person choosing 26 or higher to skew the results so far off that 2 wouldn’t be achievable as an average.
Note: Obviously if a lot of people “counter” with a “prediction” of 1 then the maths doesn’t quite work. But you can see what I’m saying.*
Anyway, this was clearly all bunk. We still didn’t see the final numbers predicted, and Brown did the calculations himself, we were told, so there was no proof there.
At the outset, Brown claimed that there were three ways he could have done it:
1) Using numerology and studying probability etc.
2) Using the wisdom of crowds
3) Fix the machine
As the programme ended he took us through the machine fixing idea, and suggested that by getting a lottery programme insider to replace balls with differently weighted balls that would have been achievable. We’re somehow supposed to think that this is what he did. Clearly this too is a nonsense.
But there was a fourth solution that Brown avoided.
It was a camera trick pure and simple.

And you know what, I’d have been more impressed if he’d admitted as much having reasoned that predicting numbers for the lottery was impossible.
As I say, there were some decentish tricks along the way, and the heads and tails trick was good and learnable. The maths involved is not at all “deep” as Brown suggested. In fact it’s pretty trivial.
I still enjoy watching Derren Brown. His shows are great ways of showing magic off in the 21st century. And doing live stunts is always excellent.
I’m again reminded of Paul Daniels in 1987 with his Halloween stunt. His live show ended with an escape from an Iron Maiden. But it all appeared to go horribly wrong…

Indeed, as hackneyed as you might think that Daniels is, he uses many similar presentational traits, seemingly thinking of things as he goes along for example.
The programme ends with an unseen studio manager saying “Ladies and gentlemen, please leave the room in an orderly fashion” as the screen turns to black and the credits roll.
It was a Saturday night, and, as I recall, the next programme was something like Casualty. Over the end credits of that show, a BBC continuity announcer – or perhaps Daniels himself, I don’t recall accurately – assured us that what we’d seen earlier was a trick, and that Daniels wasn’t harmed.
This all caused a good bit of fun and sensation at the time, as Brown has managed over the last few days.
Let’s hope that the rest of Brown’s The Events series is a bit better.
[Update] A couple of interesting comments were published on The Guardian’s site following this.
One commenter was someone who’d been one of the ’24’ who’d been predicting the numbers.
“And the reason we didn’t get 24/25/26 for every ball: we were allowed to think of numbers below zero and over 50.”
So they were just thinking of entirely random numbers were they? It’s amazing, in that case, that the numbers fell anywhere near the numbers 1 to 49.
“This is how it worked:
The first time we got together we got one number out of six. This may have been genuine.
The second time we got three. Jiggery-pokery.
The third time we got four, plus “63” for 36 and “42” for 41. Definite monkey business. But again, very well done.
So we all knew it was built up so that we’d get 6 out of 6. We knew the Wisdom of Crowds thing was meaningless at generating numbers for a random draw.”

Nothing surprising there really. But it turns out that they weren’t even that stupid.
Another very interesting comment was this one. The commenter seems to have some very inside information. One might suppose that it’s another magician.
“You’ve only left people with one plausible explanation and regrettably one that undermines the basis of your most powerful medium. The level of proof doesn’t satisfy Wednesday night’s claim … and all we’re left with is a split screen (invisible compromise indeed). How long will it take for the press to check out your back catalogue and find at least two other effects that could be explained by the same method?”
And:

“Misdirection happens before, during and after the effect … get off the open topped bus, show us the ace up you’re sleeve and you could still make all our Christmas’ come early.”

It’s worth noting that there is supposedly another big reveal coming later in the series which, one supposes, will tie up all the “events.”
In the meantime, doing a trick and not explaining how you did it is fine. That’s what happens in most magic shows. Putting a bit of phony science is fine too, although people who know about the science will call you out. But claiming that you’ll tell everyone how you did and then patently lie about that is not clever, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Hence the yards of comments.

iPod Nano

This week saw the annual refreshing of Apple’s iPod range. As always there was lots of speculation prior to the announcement about exactly what features would be included. There was lots of talk about cameras being fitted to various models, and about the long term future of the iPod Classic – the “original” iPod (this was a concern of mine as the largest Touch at 64GB doesn’t come close to the Classic – now returning to a 160GB size. My Classic – sadly stolen last week – was nearly full. The extra 40GB is going to be essential to me).
What nobody saw coming was Apple’s inclusion of an FM radio on the Nano. Most of Apple’s competitors have long included an FM radio, and while Apple has included radios as optional extras built into their remote controls, this is the first time a radio has been natively built into the core device.
Apple being Apple, they didn’t just include a radio – there’s also some tagging technology better explained by Nick than me, and interestingly, something that hitherto has only been seen on DAB radios – live pause and rewind. The Nano buffers audio for about 20 minutes and you can go back and listen again.
What is interesting is that Apple is using RDS RadioText (as explained better by James). We nipped out to the Apple store at work yesterday to pick up a Nano, and it’s interesting to note how few stations are really using RadioText fully.
Because few radios in the UK fully use RDS – some highend car radios have it built in, although the only radio I have that has it is a Sony tuner in my hi-fi – few stations fully utilise this technology beyond what car radios manage.
A quick tune through London stations yesterday revealed that most had a static station message. At Absolute Radio, we had been simulcasting our DAB DLS text, but as a special welcome to new Nano owners we changed it to this:

It’s a shame the radio didn’t make it to the Touch and the Classic. Indeed it’s surprising that the camera didn’t make it to the Touch either. Does Steve Jobs really think it’s a gaming platform? Nokia has made that mistake with its Ngage system. But this does mean the “sexiest” iPod in the new range is actually the Nano.
But my next purchase will still be a Classic. I need that 160GB!

Lost Land of the Volcano

Last night saw the first in a new three part natural history series on BBC1 called Lost Land of the Volcano.
The series follows a team of scientists as they search a remote part of New Guinea in a search for new species. I know this, because the programme mentioned it. Quite a lot.
In fact they mentioned most of the things they told us quite a lot in the Philip Glenister voiceover.
Then there was the story-telling style. Series like Planet Earth and South Pacific in recent years have been edited to 50 minute lengths for international sales (where they’ll be shown with ads), while we’re used to seeing full hours on the BBC, so we get ten minute “diaries” stuck on the end. These can be pretty interesting, learning about the lengths that various film-makers have gone to get those amazing shots.
But in Lost Land of the Volcano, this approach has now extended into the programmes proper. We got endless aerial shots of the film-makers’ and scientists’ camp. We were repeatedly introduced to the various characters, just in case we’d forgotten who the “characters” were. Of the whole team, only one seemed to be a cameraman. Which was odd because there were often cameras on him shooting other footage. And the credits listed at least half a dozen camera crew.
Broadly, if the programme was to be believed, there seemed to be three people doing things. The scientist who searches for insects, the aforementioned cameraman, and some kind of action man who mostly appeared shirtless showing off his “ripped” torso (there’s also an attractive female bat expert to make sure all sexual preferences are covered off).
The action man headed off to climb into some caves hundreds of miles away. Every time the going gets tricky, in true primetime dumbed-down style, we cut to another “storyline”, only returning to our hero later. So we see someone else finding a possibly deadly snake in the jungle… And then we cut back to our hero on a rope swinging into the cave behind a waterfall where a cameraman already seems to be… Before cutting back to the snake which is now non-venemous… And so on.
All the while the team is finding new species. They arrive in small bags and traps – although we don’t often see how they were trapped (some vague shots of nets appeared early on). Could it offend our sensibilities? One bat was brought in injured and nursed to recovery. It didn’t injure itself in a net placed out by the programme makers who trapped it could it?
Every newly discovered species is clocked up. And at every stage we’re told that they’re discovering far more new species than they’d planned to! That’s great to know. Just to make sure, we heard it at least four times in the hour.
But then we cut back to our intrepid cavers. Are they really exploring this cave series at the same time as we’re watching events elsewhere? Or could these events have happened days or weeks apart?
I tend to believe the latter, but producers seem to believe that our short attention spans mean that we can’t cope with concentrating on one thing for more than a couple of minutes. And every time we cut back, we have to be reminded what we were watching before (if you ever watch any daytime factual programming, you’ll know what I’m talking about).
The series loves its helicopters. As well as lots of aerial jungle shots – which are impressive – we have lots of aerial shots from helicopters of other helicopters. They take off. They land. They swoop through valleys. They appear from the foliage.
And they showed us the loggers. From the narration we were led to believe that the loggers will be reaching this part of the rainforest any day now. I don’t doubt that logging is a real issue, and deforestation will cause countless species to be made extinct, mostly before we even discover them. But don’t just show us the evil loggers from menacing helicopter shots without making clear how likely they’ll be reaching the area we’re based in.
Overall, this was programme felt like a daytime programme fighting its way out of a primetime nature documentary. The thing is that the presenters are actually personable and enthusiastic. Certainly this isn’t a David Attenborough voiceover style documentary, and they don’t all need to be. But it doesn’t have to pander the kind of person who would Cash In The Attic a challenging watch.
The fact that it gained 4.1m viewers last night will probably just mean that we see more documentaries fashioned in this style and not fewer.