The High Tech World is not making us weak and weird.

The High Tech world is not making us weak and weird. I believe that the opposite is true. According to Patrick Mustain in his article “Welcome to the Devolution: The High-Tech World Is Making Us Weak and Weird” for The Daily Beast he worries that modern technology and conveniences have taken the physical aspects out of our daily routine. We don’t need to clean clothes by beating them against a rock and we no longer need to clean dishes manually. We take the car from point A to point B and we take a lift to go up a floor or two.

“We find ourselves interacting with chairs and doors and walkways, and as a result, we get used to bending only forwards. Almost never backwards, never to the side, we don’t really rotate our hips very much.

This premise is false. This article ignores that there are a growing amount of climbing and bouldering gyms. This article ignores that there are an increasing number of via ferratas being built and that crossfit gyms are common. “But our evolutionary drive for acquiring cheap energy also makes us loath to unnecessarily spend it.” is a fallacy. Look at Strava, Sports Tracker, Movescount, Runkeeper, fitbit, Withings and other products. Each one of these not only tracks the effort that people are making on a weekly basis but congregates that data so that people can compare their workout to that of others. This implies that technology is encouraging people to move, to compete with friends, family or other sports enthusiasts.

strava stats 2016
Strava stats so far for this year

There is some humour in the article. “I think any change in the direction of just moving more is better. You don’t have to take off your shirt and go climb a tree to get value.” It is not simply about moving more but about moving more energetically, more enthusiastically. If you’re walking down the street increase your stride length just a little and you will increase your heart rate and energy expenditure. When I walk up to the base of the Val De Tière via ferrata and when I walk up to the base of the Tour D’Aï via ferrata I am usually the first one, leading the way. I love endurance training so I forget about the group and I enjoy the hike. Once I am at the base I relax, I look at the landscape and I take photographs.

As a camera operator/photographer I need to be at least as fit as everyone else and if possible I need to have more energy. By having more energy I can go ahead of the group and document their effort as they make their way up or down a mountain.

Since I owned the Nokia N95 8GB model I have tracked more than a thousand sports activities. I have tracked skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, cycling, climbing, via ferrata, indoor training, sailing and swimming. It is thanks to the high tech world that I can track my progress and assess how well I am doing. It allows me to set goals and exceed them and it allows me to evaluate when to take breaks and when to continue pushing forwards.

I love technology but I still walked up five floors to get to my office. I almost never sit in public transport and I usually take the stairs or walk up escalators rather than stand around. Movement is an integral part of my daily routine so I do not accept the premise that high tech world makes us weak and weird.


Montagne en Scène Genève

Au Vieux Campeur held the summer mountain film screening event at the Batiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva. They introduced the event as being the opportunity for them to share the passion of the mountains with people who may not be aware of the activities that are possible. They then went on to say “but as we’re having the screening in Geneva we know that you’re just half an hour from the mountains so many of you are practitioners and today we may even have participants from the cancelled Patrouille Des Glaciers.

Mountain film screening
Montagne en Scène, four films screened at the BFM buildling in Geneva

Four films were shown at Montagne En Scène. The films shown were A Line Across the Sky, a documentary following two less experienced climbers as they attempt the Fitzroy traverse during a rare good weather window, Chasing Niagra, a documentary about Rafa Ortiz and his preparations to shoot the Niagra Falls in a Kayak. The third film is Mont Rebei Project, a documentary looking to achieve a new Rope Jump record.

The Last film, and my favourite is Valley Uprising. It takes a look at the American climbing scene from the fifties up to the Modern day. This documentary is great because it provides us with a deep understanding of the American climbing psyche. Mountain climbing is a sport of passion and so to see how different groups helped this passion progress over the years is interesting.

Film screenings are in Switzerland, France and Belgium

Social Media and The Human Return on Investment

Social Media and the Human Return on Investment, because contrary to popular belief we use social networks to socialise, not to shop.

As we grow older and more mature our close network of friends changes and evolves. We go from school friends to university friends and then to professional friends. In the process we move from a village to another village, from a town to another town and eventually from one city to another. In the process the links we have with some friends strengthen and others degrade over time. This is modern life.

I find it hard to discern whether the return on time invested on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others is decreasing because people’s understanding of these social networks is shifting or whether it is related to growing up. As the people I know get married and have children their priorities change and privacy becomes more important. We have to keep the children safe.

Facebook, as a social network is less engaging than it used to be. The people I have as friends post less frequently, the events we can participate in together is shifting and the content shown in timelines is evolving. To compensate for the decline in friends engaging in social networks like twitter and Facebook people are following publications, brands and news sources. This flow of information is tailored to the lowest common denominator. The sensationalist writing style discourages me from following these sources of information.

I have a concern that what were social networks until two or three years ago have become advertising networks on which people occasionally socialise and interact with other individuals. I feel that a bigger and bigger portion of the time that people spend on advertising networks is looking at mainstream content and comments. On Facebook as I scroll down the timeline I notice an increasing number of adverts. Personal posts are less and less frequent. Has the community left this “social” network?

I have spent years thinking about online communities and how they interact. During this time I have seen the ebb and flow from one type of community to another across multiple platforms and applications. Within the next two to five years social networks will be virtual reality environments such as we saw with World of Warcraft, Everquest and Second Life. The question is whether people will want to socialise in virtual reality or whether it will be populated by gamers.

Every online social network is stigmatised. This stigmatisation prevents people from fully exploiting the potential of social networks. We see this stigma through the use of dating apps rather than Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social networks. Dating apps are stigmatised but at least you swipe left or right and you’re done. ;-). You’re only “active” for a few seconds at a time. On Facebook and twitter you need to be active for hours, days, weeks or even months… You have to be careful. You may be stigmatised. 😉

Now that most people see social networks as a waste of time it gives us more time to do other things. It gives us time to read, to do research, to watch television and even to go two or three hours without looking at a mobile or computer screen. Imagine that. 😉

I believe that on the one hand the stigmatisation of Social networks as a waste of time has discouraged people from using them to their full potential. As a result of this people feel comfortable spending ten to fifteen minutes a day on these networks. On the other hand I see marketers, public relations specialists and advertisers push for their campaign to be seen. As peer to peer communication goes down and human return on investment (ROI) decreases, and as marketing campaigns take over the timelines they are effectively closing the door on people’s motivation to spend time reading through their timeline.


Self Driving Cars will teach us How to Drive

I am impatient to try a self driving car. I am impatient for the day when the car will know where we’re meant to be and at what time. That is when cars will be autonomous. In this future I envision that self driving cars will teach us how to drive.

For the moment learning to drive a car is problematic because you need fuel, you need a car and you need someone trusting enough to put their life and car in your hands. You also need to find enough money to pay for a driving instructor to teach you how to drive. These are seen as barriers. People say that they would like to learn but that lessons are too expensive.

Self driving cars that teach us to drive are the solution. Cars are driving themselves around California and self driving truck convoys are driving around Europe. As these cars drive and provide data for algorithms, and as exceptions are found so the algorithm is tweaked. We remember the story of the Google car confused by a track standing cyclist and by the Google car that was crashed in to by a human driven bus.

When the bugs have been ironed out, when the challenges have been overcome I visualise a future in which we will choose whether we want to use our phones to read the news or socialise or whether we want to drive the car. In this future the car will be advanced enough to teach its passenger/driver to drive. Cars already provide drivers with a lot of assistance. Breaking assist, automatic windscreen wipers, parking sensors, automatic gear box, cruise control, parking assist and speed limiters are already familiar. The car is “teaching” us to be better drivers, or at least assisting.

The next step is for cars to teach us to steer and situate the car on the road. It could warn us if we are too far to the left, too far to the right, if we are below the speed limit and creating a traffic jam or driving too fast for the road conditions ahead. At a roundabout it could remind us to indicate our intentions both when entering and leaving. It could also assist with parallel parking, backing in to a parking and more.

Once the basics have been learned we could also envision cars teaching us to drive with a trailer or caravan. Software could be written to help people negotiate bends properly, place the caravan properly in a parking and more. Driving assist can be as complete or as passive as we want.

I would like to see how self driving cars would cope with mountain roads. It would be fun to get them to go up narrow roads with traffic and teach them to get around easily. It would also be interesting to develop a behaviour which the car knows will minimise motion sickness for people not used to mountain roads.

Weather and climate affect driving ease. Cars have sensors that are optimised for driving in good weather. When cars meet, rain, snow or other conditions they may get confused by reflections or obscured road signs. Humans should be able to take over in these conditions. We have to see whether cars or people are better suited to drive in fog. In theory cars have technology that should help them see through fog so it should be safer handing control to the machine.

When autonomous cars are ubiquitous and self reliant the shift will move away from humans teaching machines how to drive. Machines will teach humans how to drive instead. In theory there should be no need for humans to drive cars anymore. Redundancy is good.

Sharkwater – a documentary worth watching

Sharkwater – A documentary worth watching.

If you have one and a half hours of free time I recommend watching this documentary. It discusses the anti-whaling work by the Sea Shepherd, the work it did to combat long lining around the Galapagos and it touches on the shark finning mafia and corruption.

The documentary also looks at the public perception of sharks. It shows that they are not the dangerous animal that they were thought to be until recent history. The film ends with a shot of the narrator free-diving with sharks and being perfectly relaxed. At one point he says “sharks are so sensitive that they can feel your heart beat, if you are calm they will stay but if you panic they will flee”. I paraphrased his exact words.

Another theme that is explored in this documentary is the food chain. He mentions that plankton absorb a lot of Carbon dioxide and that with the overfishing of sharks the ecological balance will be ruined as the apex predators are lost. He pushes strongly for the conservation of shark numbers. We are familiar with the current Save our Sharks movement.

This is an interesting investigative documentary about the economy surrounding shark finning and why it has a negative impact on the food chain. If the documentary was updated it could look at the economic viability of shark tourism that has grown in recent years. Sharks, in some places are more valuable alive than dead. If you don’t have time to watch the entire documentary then I recommend that you watch the last thirty to fourty minutes.

Spy-cam wildlife filmmaking

Spy-cam wildlife filmmaking is an interesting discipline. It builds upon the decades of innovation that the documentary film genre has built upon. From the earliest images by the Lumière brothers of the workers at a factory to the development of film editing by Eisenstein and Dziva Vertov demonstrated by “The Man With the Movie Camera to sync sound with the Crystal sound system used by Jean Rouch for Chronique d’un été.

The BBC is seen as the leading example of high quality television programming and this has been the case for decades. The Natural History Unit is responsible for some of the best wildlife documentary films and series and with good reason. They adopt the latest technology, hire crews for months or even years at a time, to capture nature’s spectacle and beauty, and bring it to living rooms around the world.

Sensory: BBC Wildlife Director John Downer & the technology of ‘spy-cam’ filmmaking from Getty Images on Vimeo.

This attention to detail and this dedication to getting the best images has resulted in some of the best looking documentaries around. the Blue Planet Series, the Planet Earth series, Life and others have provided people with what I like to call a video encyclopaedia of the natural world.

The technological innovation that we see in the video above demonstrates how animals and behaviour that we had seen through a tele-lens can now be seen up close and with as natural a behaviour as possible. Almost every book I have read about the documentary genre speaks about capturing life with as little alteration of natural behaviour as possible. This technology is making that wish a more realistic goal.

Getting an audience to film screenings

Adam Aron, CEO of AMC recently made a generation of cinema non-goers angry with him when he said that he would allow texting to take place during projects. My generation, previous generations and the generations of the future complained on social media. Getting an audience to film screenings requires an understanding of what they prefer to do instead.

In the “Golden Age” of my cinema going life I would go to the cinema up to three times a week. I went this frequently because I lived close to the cinema, because we had two GBP Tuesdays and because it was something to do when other people were not available. Over a period of months I went to see more than 90 films. A consequence of this habit was over-familiarity with the codes and conventions of mainstream cinema. Since that “golden age” I have seldom been back to the cinema. When you know everything that will happen in a film within the first 15 minutes you get bored.

I know AMC through its television Series of which the Walking Dead is one. This is a series that I did binge watch when it was fresh and again when it was made available via netflix. Television series have better writers and better storylines than films. They also don’t overdo it with super hero rubbish and special effects. As these productions have storylines we care enough to watch one episode after another. Films fail to engage us in this manner.

When I was in London I went to a few screenings. The screenings I usually went to in London were at the Front Line Club. You would watch a documentary about current affairs and there would be a panel to discussion to discuss what you had just seen. In Geneva I found that the graduate Institute has started to do the same thing. I regularly go to such events because I like to complement what I already know by watching interesting productions and then listening to questions and answers sessions and learning something new.

Montagne en Scène is an example of what AMC should think of doing. They need to find and fund the production of films for niche markets. Montagne en Scène is an event where four mountain related films are projected to a specialist audience of mountain and sports enthusiasts. This niche usually relies on youtube and vimeo to find and share footage of their passions. By organising a special day these enthusiasts are encouraged to come to film screenings.

AMC is competing against mobile phones, televisions, Virtual reality goggles, tablets and Video on Demand via the World Wide Web. what they need to do is lower the price and make it more convenient for people in contemporary culture. Having panel discussions at the end of a screening is one way of attracting people. Lowering the ticket price would be another way. If they stopped making CGI films with no story then I would start going to the cinema again. This complain extends to the crappy films currently available, at least in Switzerland on Netflix. If Netflix did not have television series I would have stopped paying for their service months ago. If you treat your customers/viewers like mature adults then there is a good chance that you will attract them to film screenings on a more regular basis.

The start of the Via Ferrata Season

Via Ferrata has been one of my favourite sports for five seasons and yesterday marked the first outdoor climb of the season. It took place at the Val de Tière near Champery in Switzerland.

What made this experience special was arriving at the car park near the Telepherique and seeing hundreds of cars parked. Yesterday marked the end of the ski season and with the end of the ski season the mountains are abandoned by the masses. The mountains are then left to people who love the mountains when we see rocks, plants and more.

The Val de Tière Via Ferrata (VF) is an easy one for beginners but don’t let that fool you. Just because people say that it is easy does not mean that beginners won’t be petrified. As a precaution make sure you go with someone who knows the VF well and is ready to offer assistance to those who get scared.

Yesterday one person was afraid. He was really clinging to the bars and his arms were always tense. He was afraid and tense and this tired him. As I had a spare drink I offered it to him, so that he could get some strength and re-hydrate himself. He made it to the top.

Via Ferrata are not as easy as climbing a ladder and fear does play a very important role. Always go with someone who knows Via Ferrata well and make sure that you are with a patient and attentive person. People underestimate their ability on via ferrata and then get stuck. When a person gets stuck six to eight rescuers are needed to assist and they sometimes have to drive a big distance.

If you have never rock climbed and if you have never tried Via ferrata or canyoning then make sure to go with people that will help calm you down and build up your confidence. If you take less experienced people make sure that you have spare food and drink. If someone is distressed this small anticipation may provide them with the strength to continue.

Virtual Reality Advertising

At this moment in time Virtual Reality is an abstract notion for most people. It is easy to find news features and documentaries speaking about the potential of the medium. The video above is the most effective demonstration of Virtual Reality that I have seen so far. I like that they use a greenscreen to key in the environment that the guinea pigs are in. We are immersed in to the reality that they are seeing. It demonstrates not only the games and environments you could find yourself in but how it is a communal rather than solitary experience. This advert removes some of the stigma of virtual reality.

From the 6th of May to the 8th of May 2016 a meeting will take place in Crans Montana Switzerland. It has the title of World Virtual Reality Forum.  “The World VR Forum is dedicated to advancing the virtual reality industry and culture.” Artists, documentary makers, news producers, architects, surgeons and an ever-expanding group of people will benefit from this technology. The video above helps us understand the intricacies of using something as simple as two hand held controllers.

In two to three months the Music festival season will start with Caribana, Montreux Jazz, Paléo Festival and many other music festivals. During these events media outlets and artists love to give interviews to journalists to drive interest in their upcoming performance. For now we usually have two or more cameras. In some cases you have one wide shot of the room or the artists and the second camera is a close up of the artist as he speaks. This summer I expect that we will watch interviews in 360° video where we can turn and see the journalist asking questions and turn to face the artist when he answers. When a group of artists are interviewed you will be able to watch the antics whilst listening to what they are saying. You will watch the artists and the journalists smile and laugh.

When I think of VR goggles I do not think so much about gaming as I think about documentary and television production. I like to think about how it could provide new opportunities for content producers to create interesting and immersive video content. “Their headsets were connected with the school campus more than 900 miles away in Okinawa, where the school’s headmaster spoke. The students were also treated to a 360 degree view of the campus inside the augmented reality.” (source) Google Streetview could provide live 360° vision of specific squares, St Marco in Venice, Notre Dame in Paris, St Peter’s in Rome or the market Square in Wroclaw. Imagine Google Street view when wearing a VR headset.

VR headsets are being offered by a number of brands for all mobile phones and the number of cameras able to provide 360° video are growing in number. As both of these democratise the market so content creators will have more customers and more incentive to produce relevant content.

Virtual Reality Goggles and multicamera Production

I have worked with video cameras, from hi8 to MiniDV, Beta SP, SX, DVCAM, XDCAM, AVCHD and other formats. Cameras have grown and shrunk, controls have changed from manual to partially automated to fully automated. Television news and Studio camera productions have gone from three or four camera operators to needing a couple and then a single camera operator sitting in a side room with controls for all three cameras. Crane and jib moves are programmed so that the same action is performed at the start of each news program.

Virtual Reality technology and Virtual reality headsets are going down in price. Apps provide mobile phone users with 360° videos in normal vision and 3D. The technology we use to watch 360° content and immerse ourselves in the VR world could be adapted and made suitable for multi-camera production.

It would be nice for software to be written that moves the camera as we move our heads. This technology is already used by gunners flying in Apache helicopters. The point would be to adapt this technology to camera operating. I would manual controls for zoom and focus and a control  to lock off the camera once the desired shot is ready.

Imagine how much simpler controlling drone and crane cameras would be. Imagine also how much nicer it will be for conference attendees, concert goers and UN delegates if a smaller remote controlled camera could be used. Camera operators often obscure people’s view. This technology would be less intrusive. Camera operators could sit rather than stand for hours at a time, barely able to move.

VR goggles and the technology they contain should not be used just to consume a finished product but should instead be used as a creative/production tool. VR goggles and related tech could be used to simplify people’s work, to make it more intuitive. Multicamera production with VR goggles would reduce costs and make high-quality video coverage achievable even for modest budgets. The excuse for using a single webcam to Livestream an event will be gone making virtual attendance of events more enjoyable.