July, 2004

Fancy Sports Camerawork

This week’s Broadcast magazine has a double-page spread on something very close to my heart – those fancy camera techniques that are used in sport.
Since Broadcast’s website is totally subscription only, here are their top ten:
1. Virtual Spectator – Basically all the graphics tricks used in coverage of the WRC. It all involves GPS, computer graphics and minicams.
2. Crash Recording – For use in yachting. The cameras are recording to memory all the time. Then if something exciting happens, a crewmember hits a button and everything that has just happened is committed to a more permament storage.
3. Super Slow-Mo – As used superbly by C4 in the cricket. Sky have their own version too. 2000 frames a second.
4. Hawkeye – First cricket, now tennis. Where next for the ball-tracking technology?
5. Skycam – A camera mounted high on a pair of wires. You do get some very involving views. The French Open employ one as well as the Beeb for the FA Cup Final.
6. Epsis – The tricks now widely employed in football and many other sports for projecting graphics onto the pitch while the players walk all over them.
7. Streaming – Er. This is more a delivery mechanism isn’t it? Move along please.
8. High Definition – Another delivery mechanism. Sky are looking to be first in the UK with this. But we’ll all need new TVs.
9. Post Cam – The BBC used it during the Six Nations. Strap a remote controlled camera around the foot of a rugby post just above the padding. You get close-up views without getting in the way. Limited potential in other sports though.
10. I-Ball – Still in development, but basically seems to involve putting 12 cameras inside a ball (say a football), transmitting the images back and combining them to produce a single image “ball’s eye” view, with computers doing the hard work since balls spin a lot etc.

IOC Corruption “Shock”

Looking forward to this Panorama, whenever it gets broadcast. No real surprises that votes can effectively be bought – the whole regime stinks in my opinion.
This being an Olympic year, Andrew Jennings normally has another book out on this subject. It doesn’t seem to be the case this time around sadly.
It’s always seemed to me that while becoming a dictator of a country is quite hard work, and will result in possible alienation from other countries, exclusion from the UN, possible invasion by America if you happen to have oil in “them there hills”, and quite possibly arms dealers queuing up at the airport to sell you stuff. Overall though, being a dictatorship is generally seen as a bad thing by right thinking countries. Apart from anything else, you have to have eyes in the back of your head in case some discontented general in your army decides he’d make a far better leader.
But sport is a different case. There you can make your own rules, bend then to your heart’s content, get treated like royalty and generally do as you wish. You quite probably bribe representatives, that you picked, from third world nations to vote for you. You start your own marketing companies to sell off the TV rights to your events, getting a nice slice of the action along the way. You start introducing new competitions to increase revenues, without too much care about whether sports fans want or need another competition.
Yes comrades, sport is the last bastion of the great dictatorships!
There was someone from the London 2012 Olympic bid on Radio Five this evening being interviewed at the Crystal Palace athletics meeting this evening who was having a bit of a moan about this forthcoming documentary. Both he and the interviewer admitted that they hadn’t seen the documentary (I suspect that it’s not yet finished), but the stance he was taking was that this is likely to reduce the likelihood of London winning the bid. But as far as I can make out from what I’ve read and heard about this programme, the scandal is that agents are there to accept bribes for votes from IOC members. The fact that this sting was set up in London is neither here nor there. It could equally have been Paris or one of the other bid cities. The idea that we’ll have “all forgotten” about it come next summer when the decision is made is completely the wrong attitude. If the IOC has members who are willing to accept bribes then they need to be drummed out of the organisation.
The corollary of this is that the BBC, as a major news organistation in Britain, should not investigate possible scandals amongst Olympic members in the run-up to a bid. This is exactly the right time to be doing it. If people are accepting cash for votes to get London chosen, then they’re equally as likely to be willing to accept that cash for choosing other cities. The process should be completely fair and open, and any IOC members who are acting illegally should be discovered now and not later. Don’t forget that after the Salt Lake City scandal, the chosen venue wasn’t changed as a result. If Paris were to win the vote next summer, and subsequently it emerges that in a tight vote, several members had chosen Paris in return for cash then would they really change the host city? No. It’d be too late. As soon as the winning city is chosen, work begins, including major construction. There’d be major law suits launched and the entire thing would spiral out of control.
What would happen is that some people would end up in court, and be thrown out of the IOC. There’d be recriminations. But Paris would still get the games.
So let’s continue to investigate corruption in sport. It’s a multi-billion business, and there’s far less serious news coverage than there should be. I’d guess that the reason is that there are interests to be protected.
Panorama is on Wednesday 4 August at 9.00pm on BBC1 (and probably stored on the web subsequently). I’ll be watching.

Ups and Downs of ITV

I was pleased to see that the Tour de France was good (free reg reqd) for ITV2 this year – even if a certain amount of me says that “they would say that” for the sake of the programme’s sponsor. Whether ITV keep the coverage beyond what they’ve now got is anyone’s guess. But bravo for putting out a good hour’s coverage at peaktime five nights a week, with live coverage at the weekends. And VTV did an excellent production job.
But the main part of ITV is back in its usual habits of cancelling drama series that don’t perform after a couple of episodes. Latest, is Making Waves (which also has a sponsor – so maybe I was being harsh), which will no doubt be filling a late evening slot sometime soon. I wish they’d decide up front – and I wouldn’t have had to commit the Long Firm on BBC2 to tape. Well, Making Waves did star Emily Hamilton, so I was unlikely to be far from it!

New Roger Penrose Book

I happened to pass by Waterstones on Friday and couldn’t help but notice a display of copies of the new Roger Penrose book, The Road to Reality. This enormous book is 1000 pages long and copiously illustrated.
So I picked it up and flicked through it. Let’s just first reiterate that even picking it up is not something to do half-heartedly. Then you look at it, and are immediately taken back to college, as the whole thing feels like some kind of set text. But I was in a Waterstones on Oxford Street – not a shop that ordinarily does an enormous trade in set texts (that’d be the Gower Street branch of what was once Dillons).
I went away thinking “Woah! I must find out more about it.” The Amazon blurb from the publisher says that it’s a book for everybody, although I couldn’t help but notice quite a lot of maths included. The only review that I’ve seen of the book so far is this one in Scotland on Sunday (official publication is still a few days off). It explains that the first few hundred pages are indeed all maths and physics that enable the reader to get up to speed for the latter part of the book.
I must admit that I’m quite keen to have a read, but at a cost of £30 and the detail it’s presented in, aside from actual students, I’d have thought that the audience for this book is going to be quite limited.

Preparing For Emergencies

The government’s much vaunted document is now available to download from the tamely named “Preparing For Emergencies” website. Helpfully it’s available as a PDF which won’t easily print on A4.
Still, the best part is the BBC’s chosen graphic to indicate how we ought to put aside tinned food.

Rescue Me

Any UK TV channels reading might want to make sure that they pick up Rescue Me, the new FX Network TV series starring Denis Leary. In many respects it seems very similar to The Job which aired a few years ago, and more recently on BBC Choice/Three.
The only small criticism I’d make is that I think we’ve seen too many US drama series that feature dead characters appearing to those living ones – The Sopranos, Six Feet Under etc. Can we a have a moratorium on them [sic]?

Transport and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The other week I happened to notice in a moment of idle curiosity that the National Statistics service has an RSS feed. So I chucked it in my reader and every so often actually look at what it’s outputting. Then you see something like this!
This is a fragile planet, and we only have the one. Let’s go a bit carefully shall we? The included chart shows something of a flattening out – but that seems to be due to the post September 11 downturn in flights. Scary.