Stuff you should care about: Pogo

The movie ‘Up’, as sampled and remixed by the Australian DJ, Pogo.

It’s brilliant! It’s in my head. It has spawned this brilliant lipsync tribute too. Upular was commissioned by Disney Pixar (and so appears in Disney’s YouTube channel as well as Pogo’s own. Interestingly, of the two, the Disney one currently has fewer views). More recently, he has also worked on an officially sanctioned film for Toy Story Film called Toyz Noize.

Before that, Pogo was entirely sampling various films on the basis of Fair Use. He’s known for having sampled Alice in Wonderland (Alice), Hook (Bangarang), Terminator (Skynet Symphonic), Harry Potter (Alohomora) and more. He’s suffered several take-downs on YouTube as a result, and has written and spoken about copyright and fair use; to quote him, “remix culture is all about interpretation, not theft”. This guy’s body of work embodies why Fair Use is important.

BAFTA Film Awards 2010

I was fortunate enough to be invited to help out the BAFTA online team during the Film Awards on Sunday. I spent the afternoon and evening tweeting as @baftaonline and helping their team keep their Facebook page updated.

Initially, I was mainly sharing photos from the red carpet, which meant wandering around with an ‘access all areas’ pass and trying grab pictures of the buildup while staying (unsuccessfully) out of the way of various live news cameras. Here are a handful of the photos I uploaded to Twitpic during the afternoon.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic Share photos on twitter with Twitpic Share photos on twitter with Twitpic Share photos on twitter with Twitpic Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

I was only slightly hampered by not having much of an idea of who everyone was, and during the busiest time on the red carpet it was a struggle to get a photo and tweet everything. Fortunately, the Bafta/BBC TV crew I was embedded with were very helpful in confirming names of people I was unsure of, etc. Conscious of a fast-depleting iPhone battery, I was alternating between an iPhone and my Canon camera, grabbing snaps and video of whatever looked interesting.

Red Carpet Kimberley Walsh Guy Pearce on the Red Carpet James Cameron on the Red Carpet Andy Serkis on the Red Carpet Edith gets her make up touched up

Once the ceremony began, I went upstairs to the media room where I sat with the BAFTA online team watching the ceremony and backstage interviews live. I was updating their Twitter and Facebook presences with the award winners as they were announced and the response to these live updates was overwhelmingly positive. Rob (BAFTA’s online editor) had proposed a very clean, cut down style for the announcements which worked really well for giving it an official, definitive tone. Keeping it short meant it was more likely to be retweeted too.

Upstairs

During the ceremony, I had a list of who was announcing what, and had to fill in the blanks with the winner as they were announced, tweeting and updating Facebook as quickly as possible. This was pretty stressful, though obviously also an awful lot of fun. I soon found a rhythm and was pleased to be using a laptop where I could quickly copy and paste blocks of text between various windows. The iPhone is nice, but it would suck for this sort of work.

Backstage Carey Mulligan Backstage Kristen Stewart Backstage Backstage

There was some frustration, among people watching on TV, that the twitter stream was acting as a ‘spoiler’ for the event (though I should point out this was massively outweighed by vast numbers of people expressing supportive, grateful thanks for the instant updates). I think the call (which was, of course, BAFTA’s to make) to announce live, rather than in sync with the TV coverage, was the right move. People were looking to @baftaonline for the definitive results when rumours were circulating on Twitter, and it wouldn’t have made sense to wait. We should probably have been clearer as the ceremony began that the tweets were going to be out of sync, to reduce the risk of people being surprised by spoilers.

Once the ceremony was over, and I’d reluctantly handed back the iPhone, I found myself on the stage itself. This was, frankly, even more surreal than the rest of the day. Watch this video below to get a sense of what it was like.

Later in the evening, my wife and I attended the Film Awards party, which was great fun.

BAFTA Party BAFTA Party BAFTA Party BAFTA Party BAFTA Party BAFTA Party

On returning home, I discovered I’d been seen by the BBC News cameras 3 times. As Ian H pointed out, it’s a bit like playing ‘Where’s Wally’.

In the news (1 of 3) In the news  (2 of 3) In the news  (3 of 3)

This makes five times, to my knowledge, I’ve been spotted on TV. (The first and second both being on the set of Watchdog in 2008.)

So, all in all a fantastic day and what little stress I did feel was entirely exciting. Thanks to everyone at BAFTA for a brilliant time.

Making a podcast – some notes and observations

For the past 3-and-a-bit months, I’ve been making a podcast with my friend Leila.

It’s called Shift Run Stop and thanks to iTunes featuring it on their Podcasts page, it’s recently started getting rather a lot more attention and listeners than we’d ever have hoped.

Shift Run Stop hits the bigtime

A few people have asked me how the recording and editing works, so I thought I’d share what little I know about this stuff and how I do it. We co-host and co-produce, and while Leila is the video editor and publicist, I’m the sound editor and chief tech monkey. I think we make a good team, and it’s certainly a lot of fun.

Recording / Capturing / Studio

We both have Zoom H2 mp3 recorders (I copied Leila) and we use one or both of them to record the audio (generally as a 256kpps MP3, which we copy across to my laptop after we finish recording). Meanwhile, Leila uses her Flip camera or iPhone to capture video tasters, which she edits later in iMovie. She’s good.

Here you can see the Zoom H2, Leila’s Flip and The Internet’s Dave Green all in action together.

Leila and Dave

The Zoom H2 is very good for the price, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a decent sound recorder on a budget. For a slightly higher end option, I definitely like the look of the Edirol R-09HR.

Mixing / Cutting / Editing

I use Reaper to edit and mix the recordings. Reaper is amazing, has a hassle-free 30 day evaluation period and after that costs a very reasonable $60 for a personal/education/small-business discounted license or $225 for the regular license.

Some of the filters I use: compressor (to even out the loud peaks), reverb (though not very much or very often) and low-pass (as a hiss filter). Here’s what an episode looks like while I’m working on it.

The editing process

Most of the podcasts you’ll find on iTunes are really quiet. I’m learning to trust what Reaper tells me about the volume level, and keeping it as high as possible so it doesn’t quite clip.

One recent complaint was that the stereo separation is sometimes too great; you hear one person in one ear and one in the other. It’s (obviously) because we sometimes record at opposite sides of the stereo microphone, i.e. at the extremes of it’s recording field. More overlap would be better. I’m going to experiment with the chanmix2 filter in Reaper to narrow the separation a bit. Longer term, to do everything properly, I’m actually quite tempted by the Alesis MultiMix 4 USB Four-Channel USB Mixer for creating a bit more of a studio setup with multiple microphones.

People have suggested that we could tighten it up a bit by removing the ‘um’s, ‘ah’s and other pauses. That’s probably true, and I do increasingly take out a bunch of the worst offenses. On the other hand, my feeling is that I wouldn’t want to go too far; leaving a bit of who we are is a good thing, and totally stripping the conversation of its natural rhythms would be bad. Sometimes I think the odd ‘umm’ can be a useful break; a sort of pressure valve to stop your brain exploding from over concentrated conversation. There are extremes here, with totally unedited two-hour long raw rambling conversations at one end (with the bad bits left in too), and an ultra tight US commercial radio programme at the other (with every hestitation and every moment of silence removed to make way for more ads).

If you’ve ever listend to Radiolab, and you should, then you’ve heard a well produced podcast (perhaps sometimes slightly over-produced for my taste), but one where the imperfections lend it an enormous charm.

In editing, I’m generally just trimming out the more glaring diversions, conversational cul-de-sacs and dull bits, cutting some of the bigger pauses and generally tidying it up a bit. In a 45 minute recording session it’s usually not hard to spot the 20 minutes of really really good stuff. We generally don’t re-order anything, or (of course) make it sound like someone said something they didn’t. I do happily switch between conversations though, and even drop listeners into things with very little introduction.

Back in November, Leila described Shift Run Stop as “an ambient soundscape sort of production, an undulation of chatter and noise, ideas, games and food…”, which I quite like. In the earliest episodes it was probably a bit too confusing, and we’re getting better at signposting what’s going on. That said, one thing I’m still really proud of is the bit in episode 4 where we drop into a couple of conversations without any sort of introduction. One right at the start (which ends up being a lead into hearing a Commodore 64 programme at in the podcast [02:30], which nobody yet seems to have loaded and run) and again at [10:03] where Dave, Tom and Leila are talking about a film and it’ll probably take you until about 11:15 to work out which one. Introducing that with ‘And now, we share our theories about a film…’ just wouldn’t have worked. You might argue that it’s confusing and stupid and annoying and wrong, and that’s just fine. Someone recently described it as ‘overhearing someone else’s conversation’ and gradually working out for yourself what’s going on. I prefer to think of it like that. It works if the conversation is interesting enough.

Publishing / Syndicating / Hosting

I use Libsyn to host the MP3s and Video files in the podcast, an instance of a WordPress to serve the shiftrunstop.co.uk blog and finally Feedburner to take an Atom feed from the blog and turn it into a podcast, while also tracking subscribers, making it work nicely in iTunes, etc.

Our setup works beautifully and was relatively painless, not to mention fairly cheap, to set up. Robert Brook was kind enough to give me some advice about Libsyn (by recording the answer to my questions in his own podcast, so you can hear it too if you want to). The only real cost is Libsyn, where I’m currently paying $24 per month for 525MB per month of upload, which is enough for 4 half-hour-ish audio episodes and 4 5-minute-ish video tasters. They have cheaper packages too. Libsyn don’t cap download bandwidth, so although Amazon S3 might have been even cheaper in the early days, Libsyn is a nice predictable cost rather than a variable one. To do it totally for free, we could just use the Internet Archive to host the audio files. Sadly, to be brutally honest, their upload is still so disappointingly flakey that I didn’t want to trust it.

Enormous Caveat: I’m probably doing everything really badly wrong. I’m documenting it here partly to share what I’ve learned by trial and error, but mostly so that people who know more about it can correct me.

TV scrobbling and attention data – What’s Dale been watching?

Dale Lane's TV Scrobbling chartsI love it when people take control of their own attention data. Dale Lane has set up a lovely TV scrobbling service in his house, allowing him to capture and share what he watches on TV.

The overlap between rich information visualisations, attention data and television is fascinating. I’m not surprised to see Dale doing it based on his impressive track record with visualising home power consumption.

I’ve been running MeeTimer on my laptop for about 9 months now to spy on my own browsing habits (and had a stab at visualising that data last year), which I continue to find very useful. Did you know that in the past month I’ve spent an average 15 minutes visiting Gmail every day, but only 9 minutes using Google Reader? Nor did I.

Dale’s project brings the same sort of self-analysis to his TV viewing, and there are plenty of interesting discoveries. He cuts the data by channel, by time, by day, whether it was recorded or live and so on.

Dale Lane's TV Scrobbling charts

Publishing not only what he (and his family) watches, when and for how long is an astonishing amount of self-revelation and probably more than most people would be comfortable with. On the other hand, I now know that he’s watched the lastest Never Mind the Buzzcocks for less than 10 minutes and I now want to ask him about that. In the same way that sharing travel plans on Dopplr leads to more opportunities to meet with friends and hence more beer, sharing your viewing with your friends creates lots of conversation starters (useful for you), plus a chance for social discovery to uncover new gems his friends would otherwise have missed (useful for the broadcasters).

Dale Lane's TV Scrobbling charts

Be sure to also read his explanation of why he wanted this system, how it works, and future plans, which include thoughts on how to detect who is watching what.

For Dale, this is all made possible because his home entertainment system is also a computer. That and the fact that he’s a very talented hacker of course. For most people, this automatic capture would be a difficult thing to set up and it raises some interesting questions about the future for personal attention data. Should YouTube,  iPlayer or 4oD  provide me with a list of what I’ve watched, or is it up to me to capture that? Will Canvas allow users to make use of their own attention data?

Imagine if future set top boxes spat out convenient XML of exactly what we’d watched, so we could all decide ourselves what we do with our data. Wouldn’t that be useful?

Update: Tristan Ferne has done a similar (though more manual) thing for nearly all of his radio listening in 2009. Meanwhile, Matt Locke points out some work he commissioned in 2005 from live|work for the BBC about user data.

“The unanimous decision was that the BBC shouldn’t use personal data solely as a source for marketing information, but that they had a responsibility to enable the public, as individuals, to own, and get value from, the data trails we all leave behind”.

Hurrah. I also know I’m not the only person at the BBC who is excited about continuing to build on that kind of thinking.

BeeBCamp 3

The first BeeBCamp was about 14 months ago (here’s what it’s all about and here’s what happened at that first one).

Today’s was the third such event, and opened up not only to more non-BBC guests than the previous one, but also to people who don’t happen to work in London. We had live video link-ups with Manchester and throughout the day, one of the tables in London had remote guests from The North virtually joining us at the end of the table. It was a great way of bringing the two locations together for fun, creativity and getting to know our colleagues and guests. These events serve to get people together from across the BBC (and beyond), build our networks, let us spend a day away from the normal work and think a bit differently about things.

Why do this sort of thing? As Philip Trippenbach, who produced todays event, says,

It’s not just the number of brain cells you’ve got; it’s the connections between them, and the strength of those connections, that makes intelligence and creativity possible. The metaphor applies to an organization like the BBC, with its thousands of employees in different fields. … Ideas and solutions that may be obvious to one team might be revolutionary to another. The trick is to get people together to talk about those ideas.

BeeBCamp 3 sessions Blogable/Unblogable (pretty sure these are spelled wrong) Dan Biddle and Paul Murphy Wii game demo BeeBCamp

What are people saying about it?…

New podcast: Shift Run Stop

Shift Run Stop

I’ve been working with Leila Johnston on a new thing. It’s a fortnightly podcast called Shift Run Stop and as she explains it’s “an ambient soundscape sort of production, an undulation of chatter and noise, ideas, games and food”. Editing it is a lot of fun, as are the weekly recording sessions.

It lives at shiftrunstop.co.uk and in iTunes for your subscribing pleasure. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Roo Robert and Dave Cherry Yogurt Mentos James Bridle's MENACE Scribblenauts David and Roo How it Is

Playful ’09

Playful 09 was great.

Playful 09

I really enjoyed Playful 08 so was delighted to be asked back. Last year I demoed my Rock Band MIDI guitar hack. This year, rather than extend my P5 Glove project into another MIDI instrument, I decided to set myself the challenge of talking about games and films. This was perhaps a little foolish, as I know only a little bit about games and barely anything about films. However, the audience were mercifully forgiving of my ill-prepared nonsense and laughed in all the right places.

In case you missed it, here are my slides, complete with dodgy audio recording of the talk.

Thankfully for all concerned, the rest of the day was much better. Here’s some of what happened:

Playful 09 Leila at Playful Robin Burkinshaw talks about Alice and Kev Daniel Soltis at Playful James Bridle's MENACE Rex Crowle at Playful

A great day with lots to take home and think about. Thanks to Toby Barnes and everyone else at Pixel-Lab for making Playful happen.

More people who have written about it: Suw Charman-Anderson, Leila Johnston, Howard Pull, Adam Davis, Lawrence Chiles, Libby Davy, Daniel Soltis, Priyanka Kanse, Melinda Seckington and more, plus the official record: part 1, part 2 and part 3.

‘Enemy of Chaos’ walkthrough

Enemy of Chaos mapped (vertical)

Spoiler alert: when viewed large, this is a complete map and walkthrough of the wonderfully geeky ‘choose your own adventure‘ meets ‘Fighting Fantasy‘ style interactive book/game, Enemy of Chaos by Leila Johnston.

You might have read her previous book, How to Worry Friends and Inconvenience People. More recently, Leila’s reading from Enemy of Chaos was one of the forty very interesting things that happened at Interesting 2009. If you were foolish enough to miss that, I hope you’ve at least read Cory Doctorow’s review of the book on Boing Boing.

Earlier this week, Leila was kind enough to give me a copy. I loved it, and within a day I’d decided I absolutely needed to see what a map of every possible path through the book would look like.

I made this using the `dot` renderer from GraphViz, which does all the hard work of drawing the graph and laying it out. The source file only took about 20 minutes to create. I quickly flicked through the book from beginning to end, documenting all the ‘now turn to page x’ choices like so:

digraph g {
  node [ shape = plaintext, fontname = Tahoma ]
  1 -> 166
  1 -> 37
  23 -> 201
  24 -> 48
  24 -> 178
  31 -> 110
  31 -> 191
  // ... (etc)
}

Viewed as a graph, it also acts a walkthrough, revealing the dead ends and the various paths to the final page. It also highlights a few interesting things about the structure:

  • A six page loop between pages 201 and 23.
  • A glitch which means page 227 can’t ever be reached except by flicking randomly to it; it’s a reverse dead-end.
  • There are quite a few ways to reach the end, but a lot more ways not to. It’s very hard to win, and gets increasingly hard towards the end.

Below is the same map, laid out horizontally. As Leila points out, it “looks like a big Romulan ship”, which is quite appropriate for what must be one of the geekiest books of the year.

Enemy of Chaos - mapped

Recent Reading

Here’s what I read in September:

Recent Reading (September)

  • The Pythons’ Autobiography By The Pythons, Monty Python and Bob McCabe – pulled together by McCabe with care and loving attention to detail. Wonderful to see the personalities revealed via the history, the disagreements and differing perspectives. A rare thing: a top notch autobiography.
  • The Other Hand, Chris Cleave – the first book I’ve read for a while which I didn’t want to put down. I was instantly hooked (although not, I should mention, but the rather vomitous introduction by the editor) and wanted to eat it all in one go. I then lent it to my wife, who also, one she’d started, read it one day and had to finish it before she went to sleep. ‘Page turner’ isn’t the right term for it, but it begs to be finished and the characters are fascinating, three-dimensional and ambiguous as they get.
  • Incendiary, Chris Cleave – While it doesn’t quite match The Other Hand, it’s still an intriguing read which makes some interesting (if sometimes blunt) political points. Not quite a post-9/11 Nineteen Eighty-Four, but worth picking up. I will be keeping an eye out for more stuff by Cleave. I hope he gets some film deals too.
  • Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell – Meh. As always with Gladwell, there are a few central point here which can be made quickly, but he manages to labour them into pages of anecdote strews essays without the sense of any real underlying purpose. The essays that are interesting enough, but fail to really make you care. A bit better than Blink. (How’s that for faint praise?)
  • If it Bleeds, Duncan Campbell – Double meh. Laboured in so many ways. If you like good crime fiction you’ll probably want to avoid it. I wondered, more than once, how many times Campbell was going to use the is-that-my-heart-oh-no-it’s-just-my-mobile-phone-going-off thing.
  • Catch-22, Joseph Heller – Yay, yay and twice yay. I’d forgotten how good Heller is, at his best. This is it.

P5 Glove – Rock Paper Scissors and other fun

The P5 Glove is a consumer wired glove (tactile but not haptic). I bought one boxed as-new on eBay a while ago for not very much, and I’m glad I did as they now seem to be increasingly hard (and expensive) to get hold of.

P5 Glove

P5 Glove    P5 Glove (Rock!)

It contains five analog bend sensors, 3 buttons plus in theory x, y and z coordinates and yaw, pitch and roll (it emits IR which is picked up by a big USB IR tower so it knows where your hand is in space).

Here’s the P5 Glove intro movie…

I say in theory because while the p5osc Mac drivers handle the bend sensors very well the x/y/z output is jittery and yaw/pitch/roll sadly non-existent.

I’ve been experimenting with bridging the outputs for the buttons, fingers and thumb into MIDI custom controls so that I mess around with them in ControllerMate. Here’s a demo of a simple setup which detects whether each digit is straight or bent, and uses that to determine whether your hand is describing a rock, paper or scissors shape. For now, it just displays ‘Rock’, ‘Paper’ or ‘Scissors’ in large type on the screen but it would be pretty straightforward to turn this into a simple game.

P5 Glove – MIDI Rock Paper Scissors from rooreynolds on Vimeo.

Here’s the ControllerMate patch I made to do it (click through for the annotated version on Flickr).

ControllerMate VR Glove MIDI Rock-Paper-Scissors

Lots more fun to be had here with virtual pianos and guitar strings too; arpeggiating the MIDI guitar, for example.