December, 2013

Down The Line

BBC Breakfast

Since the BBC moved large parts of their new output – notably Five Live and BBC Breakfast – up to Salford, one inevitability is an increased number of “down the lines” from London.

It’s almost inevitable in the case of politicians, but other experts or guests, who cannot make it up to Salford the night before, have to be interviewed remotely from New Broadcasting House in London.

I’m not going to argue against the move. There are good reasons for it. But what I will argue is that the way these remote interviews back to London are carried out is pretty poor.

A case in point which makes most of the problems apparent was an interview with a surgeon in London discussing the awful injuries that motor racing driver Michael Schumacher has suffered while skiing with his family.

First of all, the interview, like most of these remotes, was conducted in an open environment. The interviewee seems to sit near a balcony with open access to the newsroom floor below. That’s a real working newsroom, and there’s a cacophony of sound that necessarily comes up from the floor. The problem is is that you can hear it over the microphone. It just comes over as a little disrespectful when the subject is quite serious, and the interviewee has to battle with the ambient noise.

Certainly show off the newsroom. But put some glass between the interviewee and the actual working environment.

The other problem is that to show off the newsroom to viewers, which is a floor below the interviewee, the camera is positioned very high, and contributors are expected to look up into it. This makes for an odd viewing experience. It’s as though a toddler is being interviewed. Look again at the picture above.

Can’t a level angle be used, ideally from somewhere actually on the ground floor, but maybe raised a couple of feet? I’m thinking like the old Grandstand set. Or indeed any US news channel throwing to New York/Washington/LA bureau. They could even dress the set a little to be in keeping with BBC Breakfast.

A small thing, but it’d go a long way to improving the look.

Incidentally, getting back to the title of this post, there was a lovely tribute to Felix Dexter on Radio 4 over Christmas done in the style of “Down the Line” the superb radio phone-in comedy he was part of. At time of writing, there are 13 hours left to catch this. Thoroughly recommended.

Radio Design – A Moan

I spent Christmas with my family – as many other folk do. But the room I was staying in didn’t have a radio! Now this is a calamitous state of affairs in my book. There wasn’t a spare kicking around. And while I carry a portable, it doesn’t have a speaker.

No problem – I shall just buy a cheap DAB radio and “gift it” to the room. There was a nearby Argos, so off I trotted.

Now I’d probably argue that the long-term future of radio-only devices is limited. Most of us are looking for multi-functional audio kit these days. We perhaps expect to be able to stream audio from our phones to devices via Bluetooth, and even charge them. But there’s still a call for radios. They do a job, and they [usually] do it well.

In this instance, a simple radio met the bill. Ideally something that didn’t sound terrible. But nothing pricey. I chose a Bush model from the Argos catalogue. Not a name brand like Roberts or Pure, but cheap and should do the job. It didn’t even look too bad. Note that it was £29 rather than £59 when I bought it, and it was in stock (a vital requirement).

And then I got it home and turned it on. At least I tried to turn it on. You see, none of the buttons on the front seemed to be the on/off switch. There are no buttons on the sides or the top. But around the back just beyond where the power cable goes into the radio, there’s an on/off switch.

That’s right, some complete idiot decided that perhaps the single most important switch on the whole device, should be hidden away around the back. You have to reach past the power cable, which is in line with it, to get to it.

This is a button which you need to use every time you use the radio!

You can see it at the bottom of this picture.

Bush Radio

If it hadn’t been the run-up to Christmas, I would have returned it. But I just couldn’t be bothered. It’ll hardly get used anyway. But that’s not the point. There are 11 buttons on the front of the radio (more than needed, but not necessarily well laid out), any one of which could have been used for the power button.

As others have noted, having a button which tells you the frequency of the multiplex you’re listening to is not really a consumer feature, yet we offer it – up front and central. Whereas in this instance, a power button is hidden away.

It’d be easy to blame it on engineers. But that’s unfair to engineers. This is just idiocy.

The Bush Stereo DAB Radio – definitely not recommended.

(In terms of performance, it’s fine. It quickly picked up all the expected multiplexes and services, and the sound was average which is all you’d expect at this price point. But I’ve certainly heard worse. The select button is not particularly close to the up/down buttons. But you’re not going to buying this radio anyway.)

Incidentally, Bush is not the only purveyor of bad design. When I had a moan about this radio on Google+ (I do occasionally use it), someone else replied that they weren’t happy with the confirmation required to switch off the device on the Pure Evoke Flow.

Radio Times – 26 December 2013

The worst sitcom on British television somehow managed to achieve the unthinkable yesterday, becoming the most watched programme of Christmas Day. We can but hope that once PVR and on demand is added in, something else knocks it off the top. Anything!

If you’re the sort of person who watches Mrs Brown’s Boys, then at least one of two things is true:

1. You really need my guide to what’s on this Boxing Day evening, because you have no taste.
2. You and I probably aren’t going to get on. I really wouldn’t bother sticking around here.

Anyway, if you can’t maximise the image above easily on your device, then click here for a larger version of the image.

PS Don’t leave comments telling me I’m wrong about Mrs Brown’s Boys.

I’m not.

Kite Aerial Photography #3 – Christmas Success

What better day than Christmas Day to have a third attempt at some kite aerial photography? My first couple of attempts were disappointing to say the least. I’ve found it tricky to find both a location and enough wind to get the kite up supporting the camera, but not too much wind to cause me to fear losing the kite!

But today, with the wind at around 8-10mph (I bought a cheap anemometer), the weather was perfect. And what better way to walk off a Christmas lunch than fly a kite. I was also using my Sony AS15 Action Cam for the first time. This is a model that has been superseded now, but it was cheap in one of those Amazon deals before Christmas. And because GoPros have the market to themselves, you get better specifications from other manufacturers. This model will live stream to a mobile device via WiFi – something that only the most expensive GoPros offer. Although the camera lost contact if you wound the line too far, I was able to see what the camera was seeing on my mobile phone from the ground!

The downside is that for stills, the photos the AS15 takes are quite low resolution. There are a few more here.

But here’s a short video that begins to explore what’s possible. I’ve slowed the majority of this footage down to about 40% speed (the video is 30fps but was shot at 60fps, so this should be reasonable). But it might be worth using some of the slow motion functions in future, since the wind can cause the camera to bounce around quite a lot. When I played it back on a full-size TV, some found it akin to sea-sickness!

The other issue I had to cope with was condensation in the camera’s housing. You’ll notice a slightly foggy image in some of the shots. Something to keep an eye on in future.

Anyway, I’m pleased with the progress so far. But I really must invest in some way to get the line in and out faster, since my rig requires you to manually adjust the view from the kite!

Kite Over Sheringham from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

Radio Times – Christmas Day 2013

Here’s my sort-of-annual guide to what’s on TV and radio on Christmas Day – as seen through the pages of my annotated Radio Times (as very slightly featured in #6 on this Buzzfeed list).

Click on the pictures below to go fullscreen. Flickr has changed the way they do things recently, and that’ll take you through to the site direct. If that’s still not big enough to view on your device, then click here or here for high resolution images.

UPDATE: When I went through the Radio Times I was a bit dismissive of Channel 4’s Alternative Christmas Message noting there’d been no PR this year. That’s because they only announced on Christmas Eve that they’d fit Edward Snowdon doing it. That makes it easily the most interesting programme on Christmas Day! I might have been a bit unfair on the amount of live radio in the morning too. Still – the afternoon should make up for that.

(I must admit that I both like and dislike the new Flickr way of embedding photos. On the one hand, it’s easy for viewers to see fullsize versions of photos. On the other, you quickly get sucked into my regular Flickr stream, and not my carefully chosen images as featured on this page!)