Post-fact Britain

I was in the graduating class of 2000 with 99 other students representing more than one hundred countries. As an individual I already have three nationalities and four identities. I am British, Italian, Polish and a foreigner living near Geneva, Switzerland. As a result of this mixture I said, when I was in Tanzania in 1999 that I was European because that was the simplest way to describe my identity. When I first heard about the Brexit Referendum months ago I thought that this was so stupid that I thought it was not a serious project. It did become a serious thing, especially in a post-fact Britain.

Because these narratives typically involve a selective use of facts and lenient dealings with matters of truth, they have given rise to symptoms of a post-factual democracy. A democracy is in a post-factual state when truth and evidence are replaced by robust narratives, opportune political agendas, and impracticable political promises to maximize voter support. source

For months I saw that The Guardian and other newspapers were heavily critical of the European Union. You couldn’t read an article from their website without getting the feeling that Europe was a terrible place. This bias, this message encouraged me to switch to French language media to get a less biased, less anti-European narrative. The Guardian is relatively open compared to the British tabloid press. The British tabloid press lied and misled its readership. Twice The Sun lied about the Queen supporting Brexit. Twice it suffered no consequences.

It is well known that Murdoch is anti-European. Few men have done more to fuel anti-European frenzy than the Australian-American media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, owner of several newspapers and the UK’s most important private television news channel. In his book How Britain Will Leave Europe, former Minister for Europe Denis MacShane describes how former Prime Minister Tony Blair considered holding a referendum on adopting the euro, only to renounce the plan for fear that the “shadowy figure of Rupert Murdoch” would use his media empire to campaign against it. Source

When you control the media it is easy to push your agenda forward. Conspiracy theories are always about how our privacy is being invaded and about how our phone conversations, e-mails and other communications but few of them address the problems of indoctrination or brainwashing. They rarely look at the message that we are being given on a daily message. We have to ask “What is the root message that we are getting?” In the United Kingdom the root message was “Europe is bad”. Imagine if the BBC, The Guardian and other news sources had provided both sides.

The website notes that as an EU tier 1 area, “companies can benefit from the highest level of grant aid in the UK”. Earlier this year the sports car company TVR announced it would build a factory and create 150 jobs there. Will it still come? Will the Circuit of Wales, a multimillion-pound motor racing circuit a private company has been proposing to build on the town’s outskirts creating 6,000 jobs? Will the £1.8bn of EU cash promised to Wales for projects until 2020 still arrive? source

Imagine if the Fourth Estate in the United Kingdom had been used to provide people with clear examples of how the EU was investing in the UK. Imagine if instead of focusing on getting people to vote Leave the British media had provided a complete and unbiased view of the European Union. Wales voted against the EU and yet this article shows that they had a lot to gain by remaining within the EU. Between 2014–2020, Wales will benefit from around £1.8bn European Structural Funds investment. Source . 

In his first public comments since last week’s historic referendum vote, the owner of newspapers including the Times, Sun and Wall Street Journal said leaving the EU was like a “prison break … we’re out”… Source

There was a period when we could read about the imbalance in wealth and investment between Rural England and London. This imbalance was making people uncomfortable and one of the reasons for which the BBC decided to become decentralised was to address this concern. It is interesting that for a number of months the BREXIT campaign has focused all of that dissatisfaction at the EU rather than London. In a 2010 article by the BBC we find this sentence: But even fans of London admit it is too expensive, too dirty and too crowded. And its critics say that it sucks talent, money and opportunities out of the rest of the country. sourceBrexit has not resolved this issue. Could this explain why around 7 percent of the British population have emigrated from Great Britain?

According this this article 4.9 million brits emigrated from the United Kingdom to live as migrants in other countries. This figure is from the UN population division. In theory I am British migrant as I live outside the United Kingdom. Brexiters (I will not play their game and call them brexiteers) made such a big song and dance about migrants coming to the UK and yet  British people are the single most mobile population in Europe. In Switzerland you can’t go a day without meeting Brits. Can you imagine the backlash if Europe decided to behave like England did?

I believe that people spent so much time worrying about privacy that they forgot to think about the prominent message in the media. They were groomed to see Europe in a negative light and voted accordingly. By choosing to provide people with the message that they wanted to hear the Leave campaign won. In a Post-fact Britain the checks and balances to hold brexiters to account failed. A campaign was won on lies and instability has resulted. The silver lining for other nations is that pro-european sentiment has risen. They have seen what a farce anti-European movements are.


Watching clouds form as a 360 timelapse

Time-lapse videos are fun because we can see something happen faster or slower than real time. By watching this content we gain a better understanding of the world and how it works. For years I have been filming time-lapses and the results can be fun. In some cases we record time-lapses with video cameras and at other times we set an interval timer to take pictures every so many seconds. In this post you will be watching clouds form as a 360 timelapse.

I have chosen to share both the flat image and the spherical image. The reason for sharing both versions is to give you an overview of how objects move in both.

Spherical Version

With this version look to your right and you will be able to watch the clouds move through space. As they move you will see them grow thicker and then cover the sun. At this point everything gets darker. If you watch this video a few times you can watch the landscape change.

The next step would be to get a 360 camera somewhere high during a total eclipse of the sun by the moon. During such events you will see a grey mask cross over the landscape, you will see birds fly away and then everything will be dark. You can then turn around and watch totality, the corona and then the reverse process. The time is right for eclipse chasers to be at the right place to capture such an event as a 360 video.

Flat Version

With the flat version you can imagine where you would aim a standard camera. Would you try to get the clouds that are forming over the mast or would you prefer to look out towards La Dôle and watch as the large clouds form and float to block off the sun? In this image you can see from Villeneuve and Lausanne to Geneva and the Salève.

Having such a wide angle of view allows you to see everything that is going on in front of and behind the camera. The timelapse is a sequence of pictures rather than video so in future I hope to export the video in a higher resolution.

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.

Thoughts on the New York Times Article about Project Aristotle and its findings

When I read this article I can’t stop thinking of the Prototyping sessions at Lift 2016. Teams from big corporations worked together to collaborate on exploring new ideas and developing new projects. Some had to work on a video, others had to work on models. Others had to create 2d representations. One set of tables had people working on music, graphics and more.

We had to record a number of interviews and they often said that they enjoyed being out of the office, in a different setting with different people. They spoke about how valuable this experience was and that they wanted to do this frequently, rather than once every few years.

In this article they mention that ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ is important for successful teams. I agree whole-heartedly with this statement. I am not a forceful person, I wait until I am asked a question before speaking. As a result it is easy for me to switch off and think of other things. By finding a team where people listen to everyone else we engage people.

This is a topic discussed in Insanely Simple. It’s a book about Steve Jobs and how Apple works. They speak of the eight-person meeting. If you’re not needed you’re not allowed to be in the room. The focus is on keeping groups small and dynamic rather than large and clunky.

‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ Woolley said. ‘‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’. That’s because listening is an act of kindness but no more. What responsibility or accountability do we have in a team where one person takes over the conversation?

‘‘average social sensitivity’’ That’s good for my personality type. When I take personality type tests seriously and for fun I get Intuition as one of the four words… “skilled at intuiting”. Compassion is an important part of good team dynamics. “People on the ineffective teams, in contrast, scored below average. ”

One of the books “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success” explores this idea in depth. It devotes quite a bit of time exploring team dynamics within the Simpsons creative team. It speaks about authorship, co-writing and collaboration as keys to success. It speaks about letting people work a first draft of the script and getting teams of people to re-work and re-write it. I have heard about this taking place on a lot of television shows. This could be one of the reasons why American television shows are compelling to watch. As teams work on projects everyone feels compassion for the end project, rather than individuals.

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations.

I started writing this as a facebook comment but saw that I was inspired enough to write a blog post instead.


Cycling in Winter

After cycling over 1100 kilometres in 2015, I aim to cycle 1200 kilometres in 2016. This goal is an easy one to achieve. It’s the 21st of January and I already have 100 kilometres logged. The weather over the last three weeks has been cold and wet. We have had rain almost every day and it recently turned to snow. As there is a lack of good weather there is no choice but to go out in the bad weather.

Cycling in these conditions is messy. Your clothes get soaked from the rain and as I cycle in the countryside I come home covered in mud. When I get home I change into dry clothes and I recover quickly.

Rain is easy to deal with once you’re ready to feel wet and dress for the cold. What is more challenging is cycling on slick tires on snow. Some of the roads I cycle on are salted and cleared but as I also use agricultural roads they are covered in snow. Safety takes focus and concentration. The rear wheel skids if you apply too much force to the pedal and the bike can skew if you are not careful.

Cycling in such conditions is not ideal. It demands resistance to the cold, stamina to continue making the effort and determination to set an achievable goal. I will continue towards 200 kilometres by the end of February. Cycling consistently now will make summer all the more pleasant and rewarding.


Day In Auschwitz

“If you were young and healthy and if they needed labour then you were selected as slave labour. You would have suffered a slow death rather than a fast one”. This soundbite is 13 minutes in.

In this documentary a concentration camp survivor takes two girls who are the age she was when she arrived through the camp and tells them about her experiences.

We owe it to future generations to keep re-sharing these accounts and documentaries to prevent such actions from ever happening again.

I have just finished watching the documentary and I feel almost shell shocked. I have been to the camp and I have read about the topic. I have also watched a number of topics on this topic. What makes this the most poignant documentary is that this woman, this grandmother of eight is making sure that future generations are aware of what Auschwitz life was like. She tells us about survival.

Netflix provides a better opportunity for documentary content distribution than Discovery

In the 1990s when satellite distribution of television content was in it’s infancy we got a satellite dish and I would watch the Discovery Channel from the start of the broadcast day to when the programmes were played for the second time that day.

By watching so many documentaries I learned a lot about the world. I watched Mythbusters, Lonely Planet, Modern Marvels and many many other documentaries. It is only ten years later that I stopped watching Discovery. By that time I was no longer in the family home and so documentary viewing was more restrictive. Whilst at the University of Bournemouth and the University of Westminster I did take advantage to watch as many documentaries as I could find. The dissertation I wrote during my third year of studies was about the documentary genre. I had an academic reason to watch these documentaries. It was no longer a hobby.

Aside from the selection of Discovery channels and University VHS tapes documentaries can also be found on national and European channels. I am thinking of Temps Present, Passe Moi Les Jumelles and other factual programmes and current affairs content. These documentaries fit within a specific format to be broadcast at the same times every week.

We then have artistic documentaries like those broadcast on Arte, shown at independent cinemas, festivals and more. These documentaries are not adapted for mainstream viewing. They fill a niche. They are sometimes hard to watch and other times so niche that aside from those with that passion or interest no one will ever watch them.

The Discovery Channel network broadcasts set documentaries at set times on set channels for a set number of hours per day. Viewers can either watch documentaries as they are broadcast or on demand. As PVR arrived viewers could shape their viewing habits around their lifestyle rather than the other way around.

Discovery channel documentaries have two serious flaws, that as a documentary professional cannot stand. The first of these is commercial breaks. When I watch content I want to watch it from start to finish. I don’t want it to be interrupted because it means that for two or three minutes I have to find something else to do. This could be a serious trigger to people having a laptop or tablet with them when watching TV. The second very big flaw with Discovery TV documentaries is sensationalism and repetition.

I found that when watching hour long documentaries on Discovery television channels more than half of the time is spent repeating what has happened and what will happen with very little content left over. You will spend an hour watching a show that could have been over in just 24 minutes. This is an excellent way to lose viewers.

Netflix is a video on demand platform. This platform makes available all of the content it has licensed to it’s customers. This content is ready to play within seconds and has no adverts. This is great for content creators. It means that they can spend more time moving the story forward. There is no need to worry about viewers starting to watch a show half way through. It means that if you have a 42 minute slot you can spend 52 minutes telling the story. This is great for content creators.

The flaw of Discovery Channel documentaries and commercial television in general is that they make mediocre content and then add adverts every few minutes. This means that a mediocre programme will be watched from one commercial to another before the channel is changed. They live under the misconception that sensationalism and excited narration will keep viewers. It has the opposite effect, at least on me.

Netflix allows you to watch the BBC Blue Planet and Planet Earth documentaries with no adverts. This gives documentary makers an advantage. Imagine watching Planet Earth documentary episodes that are 52 minutes long with an extra 15 minutes or more of adverts thrown in. For this reason Netflix is an excellent documentary distribution platform.

‘Make what people want to watch and the rest goes with it’. I don’t think that has changed at all. My job every day is to make what people want to watch.”

I have written several times about my notion that documentaries are encyclopaedias. Planet Earth and Blue Planet documentaries are a perfect demonstration of this. Each episode is about a specific biome. By watching each documentary your knowledge and understanding of the world around you increases.

Compare this to the sensationalist hyperactive content that the Discovery channel network places in between adverts. Their content is so sensationalist and so condescending that I switch programme within minutes, if not seconds, of tuning in. Through having to appeal to a mass audience the Discovery Channel documentary network fails me as a viewer. Their content is too unpleasant to watch.

I want to learn, I want good camera work, good editing and good narration. When documentaries have all of these features I will watch them. I want both the content creator and the content distributor to treat me with respect. Although Netflix is not perfect it does a better job than Discovery.

On the lack of Common interests and mobile phones getting the blame

On Linkedin and Facebook people believe that mobile phones are making people less sociable then they would be if phones were not around. They believe that the world in which we lived before mobile phones was an open and sociable place where everyone communicated with everyone. These people are forgetting the social context that brought them Home Alone, Problem Child and other films.

Society and social interactions have always been about finding the people whom you appreciate and those whom you prefer to keep away from. In the age before mobile phones I remember watching films and cartoons where certain characters were ostracised for being different. These people were seen as isolated or loners. Society does not like these people. We see it conversation and we see it in films.

If a group of people in the physical world does not want to spend time with you, does not want to listen to you because your passions are incompatible with theirs, because your tone of voice is not right then that is their right. These people though, are not satisfied with excluding you from their conversations, are not satisfied with having their monologues and showing no interest in you. They will go a step further. They will prevent you from entertaining yourself.

One of the most common forms of entertainment when people are not fully engaged with groups is the mobile phone. Mobile phone use is stigmatised by a lot of people. Just a few weeks ago I took a chance and met with a new group. As I am an ingress player and as I had nothing positive to add to the conversation I took the opportunity to farm from two portals that were in range. As I live in the countryside Ingress “farming” is a treat and I took advantage of the opportunity.

I was listening to the conversations taking place on both sides of me. On one side it was the stereotypical “What do you do?” International community conversation and on the other they were discussing a few topics. One of these topics was music festivals. I have had a lot of fun at music festivals but I also have some views that I share with facebook friends rather than the wider world as it would see me ostracised.

As I drove home from the meeting above I got a text message and felt that it would be bad. I read it when I got home and left the group. I won’t be told how to behave by strangers. I won’t be judged in a town by a group of people who hike and do via ferrata. If you participate in both of these sports there is a good chance that you will appreciate my company. When I am in the mountains one of the cameras I carry around is out but my mobile phone is in a pocket until I get to the end of the activity or the car.

I am a member of the Geneva Ingress Resistance as well as the Lausanne Ingress resistance. As a result of this I have access via Google Hangouts to at least 120 people in the Lac Léman (lake Geneva) region. These people are unique. What makes them stand out is that they’re always looking at their mobile phones and when you see the entire group is silent it’s because they’re “glyphing”. I like to spend time with these groups because we eat crisps, drink wine, eat ice creams, hike and do other activities. These people meet because of the game but you see that there are deep friendships that have benefited from mobile phone use.

I love the paradox. The paradox is as follows. Every user is in the Google Plus community, every user converses with other players in Google Hangouts and every player meets other players in the real world. The mobile phone is a link between those who are not present and those who are present. In effect whether you converse with these people from a computer, by mobile phone or in person changes little.

Last week at the end of one operation to field over Yverdon with blue fields and another operation to field another city a phone call was made via google hangouts and we all answered and put the phones to our heads for a conference call. Instead of the mobile phone isolating people it is doing the opposite. It is uniting people.

Look at the conventional social interaction. When two normal people call each other the people you’re with are isolated for a period of time. It’s the same when people in face to face conversations start talking about mutual friends, certain types of activities and more. Sometimes the conversation that two conventional people are having is more likely to isolate the people you’re in the same physical location with. More often than not small talk is frustrating because A) you don’t know whom they’re talking about and B) you don’t know the context. As a result small talk is less polite than mobile phone use.

I love the mountains and I enjoy via ferrata and hiking when it’s with the right people. I also enjoy spending time with ingress players. With these three groups of people I feel that I can be myself. I spend no time acting and performing. They appreciate the real me.  When I go to towns and listen to normal people small talk I get bored and I feel isolated. It has nothing to do with the mobile phone and everything to do with the difference in interests and passions.

If we don’t have the same interests and passions then don’t blame mobile phones for our lack of conversation. Either we find something we are both passionate about or we co-exist in the same space without talking much… Sometimes the inability for people to accept silence when they are not alone encourages others to be alone.

Social conversations and the social media

If you read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” you see how important it is to take notice of other people, to be positive and to be interested in what they are doing. That can be a challenge for everyone. We all have different priorities so putting other people first is a challenge.

The World Wide Web is a place where we can listen and talk at the same time. We listen to a conversation and then we comment. We can start our own conversation and wait for others to see it and respond. As a result we are both engaging with others and letting others engage with us. There is a bilateral trade which leaves both parties feeling good.

Social media, today a misnomer, was a conversation place. Everyone talked with everyone and everyone became familiar with everyone else. The Global Village that Marshall McLuhan wrote about looked like it would become a reality.

At the time when this reality looked the most feasible was the time before mobile phones and proper data plans. At this time we used computers from a fixed location, either at home, an office, university or other places. With Wifi we had some freedom but nowhere the freedom that smart phones and data plans have provided us with.

That’s why people’s feeling that mobile phones are disconnecting people is such a ridiculous notion. In my vision of the world, in the adoption cycle that I observe the mobile phone is the great connector. We meet people online, we appreciate them, we meet them in person. Seesmic and the early days of twitter were very good tools for this lifestyle.

As data plans included more and more data so it would follow that social media websites would be about individual to individual conversation. It would logically follow that people would feel more at ease conversing online as their friends adopt the technology and have chats. Facebook, twitter and Google Plus should be social web forums where people are interested in the people they follow.

What I see, as data plans and smartphone adoption rises is the opposite. People share links and promote rather than converse. Social media should be rebranded as Ego Media, brand media or advertising media. The platforms that should have made us conversational have been overtaken by advertising.

It’s a good time to continue blogging. It’s a monologue until you contribute a comment. The World Wide Web is a de-centralised conversation tool and we move from platform to platform looking for the places where the personal connections are strongest. As the social media days fade in to history now is the time for each of us to blog, to write about what we feel passionate about.