A crude Awakening, the oil crash

What makes a good documentary is the quality of the interviews and how they are put together to inform and educate us on the topic they are tackling. A Crude Awakening – The Oil Crash is a perfect example of this. Using a great wealth of interviews and archive material it illustrates why the current consumption of oil is unsustainable. It is well constructed and has a strong message.

Basil Gelpke, born in 1962, in Basel, Switzerland has had an interesting career. He studied anthropolog, economics and the production of scientific films. He went from working in advertising to 24hr news with the European Business channel during which he got promoted to become the channel’s Paris correspondent. On assignment in South East Asia he was one of the first journalists to venture into Camobodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. He would later help setup N-TV, a 24hr news channel in Berlin. He did some work on the Swiss Survivor series and “Expedition Robinson” programs. In 2002 he read a paper from the Sydney based Hedge Fund on the topic of decreasing oil reserves and spent many years researching the documentary before finishing this documentary for a screening at SXSW2006.

Look out for this documentary, it’s an interesting piece of documentary making.

Travel with an ipod touch

Travel with an i pod touch is great because of what it can do. I was able to test the usability of the device on two flights between Geneva and London and found the experience to be good. Whilst I was travelling on the tube I prefered to keep it hidden so I listened to podcasts but once I got to the airport I changed tact. It’s at this point that I started to watch video programs. I watched NBC’s Meet the Press and it’s a nice clear easy to view image. I also watched Futurama and it’s good as well.

I had no problems with glare or reflections whilst watching it in the terminal and once onboard the aircraft it was good to use as well. One thing I did notice was how fast the device notices wifi networks. Within just a few seconds I had nine wifi networks but the only free access one was for printers so I preffered using the laptop.

In Switzerland I connected to the home WIFI and took advantage to surf to a number of websites of which Facebook was one. The user interface is really nice, optimised for the device’s screen with tabs context sensitive to the type of activity. On the way back from Switzerland I listened to podcasts, rather than watched and one of those was Macbreak Weekly. One of the special features of that podcast are the chapters that are added. The i pod touch is great at displaying a menu for each chapter as well as the running time for each therefore if you zone out for a few minutes you can return to the bit of conversation you want to follow. In other situations you have the ability to jump straight to the chapter heading of interest to you. It could save you time if you’re in a rush.

On board the plane I noticed that there were some contact details I wanted to save from a magazine so I tested the user interface for the contact book and am quite happy. Inputing all the details was quick and easy, with a slightly different layout when inputing phone numbers, e-mail addresses or normal text, for example notes.

So far I’m happy with the device and have used it in a number of different situations without finding any major problems. I’ve working at learning to touch type on the device but there is improvement still to be made.  It’s still a great toy to have for video content and web surfing whilst on the move.

What I’m reading – Kadaré’s L’Hiver de la grande Solitude

From friendships and the people we meet so our knowledge of authors increases. It is through English literature classes that I learned to appreciate Milan Kundera. I read all his books over a period of years. Following a conversation with an Albanian friend I heard of Ismail Kadare. He originally wrote in Albanian and French, living in Paris for many years.

The two books I have read so far are Spiritus and Les Tambours de L’automne. Both of these books are interesting in their own right. Spiritus is interesting because it’s taking a look at the effect that being a listening spy can have on how you feel others perceive you. It’s an eye opening book into the world of spying that is not often discussed in books. Les Tambours de L’Automne is based on a key moment in Albanian history several centuries ago. It’s only near the end that you understand the title.

Now I’ve started to read L’Hiver de la Grande Solitude and so far I’m enjoying it. It was completed in the mid 1970’s and within the thirst few pages I found what I love. There is a description of a photographer and film developer who is about to retire. He was developing photographs of a personality and as he did so he noticed something different. Upon closer inspection he realised that the expression he read on the photographed person’s phase was one of concern.

I enjoy reading such sections because of the depth of perception that comes from books from this time period. Rather than having on a superficial level you learn about characters and their perception of the world. It is through the characters that we learn a lot about the world within which we live. Some like Sartre write more technical documents whilst skilled authors write like Camus, Kadaré and Kundera. These are the authors that bring history and a different world to life.

Ismail Kadare reads better in French and finding his works can be a challenge so whenever I drop into a bookshop I look to see what they have available hoping to find one or two of his books. It’s a shame that his writings are not easier to find.

France leads the way with Freebox HD

For those who are interested in community video French operator Free is providing one of the most interesting services around at the moment. They are offering you a user generated television channel and the technology to broadcast content live from the comfort of you own home. All you need is a subscription to ADSL 2 and the Freebox HD box.

The idea behind this service is to bring community video straight to the user. Youtube gives people the chance to upload poorly produced content so that the masses may view them. Current TV provides a website where users submit content and hope that it works it’s way up to being broadcast. Blogtv allows people to chat and is interesting for live events. Operator 11 is currently my little favourite thanks to it’s ability to switch from one webcam to another with participants from around the world. It’s great and offers you the ability to plug in a dv camera but is let down by picture quality.

Free are revolutionising the process. They are providing the user with break out boxes that take the video content, either via s-video or another method and encode the content within the box. From this point on there are two options. The first of these is to provide the content live at a lesser quality level or share it differed, in other words once the data has been transferred from one point to another. According to SVM the compressed video is around 1,4 gigabytes for an hour. Normal DV streams would be 12 gigabytes per hour but with the correct encoding they’ve saved on space.

If you want to find out more about this service then the SVM article can be found here. It includes a video. The content is only in French though.

Operator 11, your own television show

Operator 11 has taken video sharing and webcasting to the next level. Whereas websites such as youtube, google video, myspace and facebook all allow you to upload and share videos this one allows you two additional features.

The first dfference can be spotted when you sign up and arrive at the profile page. Rather than have text dialogue boxes you are offered a set of questions. You are expected to respond to these with a video message. You can describe who you are, what films and television you like, what books and interests you have.

As a result your status as a lurker has already been compromised. People see you and you see them. That’s just the first step.

It’s whilst watching The Old Grey Video test that I saw the great potential that this website has. It allows you to switch between webcams in different countries. What this means is that the presenter presents the show and tells everyone about the program before introducing his guests, at which point he switches from his camera to that of one of the guests. As a result of this technology a video dialogue between individuals is possible.

You may deal with video content in a number of ways. The first of these is that you start a show and just talk until you run out of things to say before quitting the show and stopping the livestream. The second option is to go into the video library. Here you can see your old shows and comments, you can upload video clips with a size limit of 200 megabytes, plenty for video inserts. The third option is to record some video straight from the computer to the website.

Once this step is complete the fun may really begin. You go to create a show and have the choice between starting the show immediately or scheduling it for another time of day. If you start the show immediatly then a few people may hear about the show but there’s a good chance that the viewership is low. A second option is that you schedule the show for a different time and day. As a result of this you may tell your friends that at a specific time you will have a live show.

Now that the first two steps are done and that your show is about to start you start preparing your inserts and making sure that your guest video streams are ready. The clips which you had selected earlier and uploaded are now all in the video library. You may select up to 9 video streams ready for play out when you chose to cue them. Assuming you’ve had a show for a while you may roll the intro clip introducing the show. You may select a second source, for example your camera and press cue. What the cue does is tell the website’s software that the next source should be your camera. Once the intro finishes rolling you’re on, telling the world about your show and during this time you’re going to go to select another source, for example some interview from the street. You cue that source and select to broadcast that stream. The camera’s off you and you’ve got time to prepare the next clip.

When preparing the clips you can preview them, making sure that it’s the right clip. Once that’s done you cue that as the next video. As long as the clips are long enough in duration you can keep switching from clip to clip. If you’ve got more videos than sources simply replace a video you’ve already played with another one.

Whilst I have not yet had the chance to switch between live sources through this software I have watched how it is used. Already I’ve found that there are three or four social groups that are part of the system. As one group of friends sit in one apartment another individual is watching them. If he choses to he can go into the “live” room. Once he’s in there the “director” can see the video stream coming in whilst the guest can make a request to be on camera or to play a video clip. That’s the business end of this software because that’s what allows conversations to occur between indivudals. At times this may be between two people but at other times this may be between a cluster of live feeds. As a result you can talk to anyone around the world about any topic. It’s great.

In the past few hours of use I have seen computer gaming shows, teens talking to other teens, cats playing with string and walking on ledges. I have seen people play music on request and live events in various parts of the world. As a result there is an interesting diversity of programs on offer.

It’s also a great learning experience. Having done vision mixing, directing, studio camera operator and insert editor with full production crews mainly for my university course I find this environment is quite complete. It’s a simple but powerful user interface and I should be giving it a proper try out at 8pm British summer time, 12am PST. The show will be called twitter vox and should discuss the twitter phenomenon.

An additional bonus is the fact that you can plug a dv input into your laptop and the source will be recognised as a result of which you can get a much higher quality video image, aside from pixelation. Better than not seeing anything.

Overall I think this is one of the most interesting video sites I’ve seen in a long time and i plan on using it to it’s full potential.

The Cult of the Amateur – thoughts on the book

When I heard with what hate one podcaster talked about the Cult Of The Amateur I told myself that I should read this book because it addresses a question that is at least two hundred years old, mainly the difference between high culture and low culture. High culture is seen as everything that has taken research and thought to create whilst popular culture is anything else. High culture might be a painting displayed in a museum whilst popular culture is something that most people could succeed in doing themselves.

The book begins with the idea that an infinite amount of monkeys can produce the work of Shakespeare given enough time. The fact they may write shakepeare is not the problem. Andrew Keen, the author is more worried by all the uninteresting, inaccurate content that is produced and how easily it is spread. He is worried that as websites like myspace and youtube become more popular so the level of the product is degraded. He sees this as having a negative effect on culture.

He works from the premise that, back around 1999, when he was part of the first internet boom he had the ideal that the World Wide Web would help distribute great works of art and culture, from Tchaikovsky to Stendhal and others. He was disappointed that at a Friend of O’reilly’s meeting people were concentrating on user generated content rather than high culture.

That is one part of the story. Another of his concerns is that people are writing about topics they know little or nothing about and as a result are spreading disinformation. He looks at a few examples in politics and current affairs to show how there are some failings within the new media landscape. This made me think of how important university would become. If everyone is a writer/editor and publisher so it would make sense that they train to become experts in their chosen field. Anyone can write and share their knowledge but that is no reason for the work to be sloppy.

Look at the Roman section of my website. I wrote it ten years ago when I wanted to write down everything I knew about the Romans and within a short time it had been formated for the web. Over the years people found the site and found that the information was useful therefore they referenced it. As a result of this i became a resource for school children worldwide. I had no credentials. I was an IGCSE and then IB student as I worked on various parts.

Finally ten years later I’ve graduated and through learning the academic process the value of the content I produce has improved. I have gained slightly in authority. When I listen to people speak about the media and how it works I have familiarity with two hundred years of technological progress therefore I am familiar with some of the “old media” and how they influenced popular and media culture. As a result of my studies I found myself disagreeing with one podcaster and how he expressed anger against Andrew Keen and “The cult of The Amateur”. Such views should not be expressed.

One aspect that is of particular interest to all those that I have studied with and myself is that of the amateur as producer of content. When you have six thousand people who are writing about specific themes for free where is the demand for the professional author or content producer. He takes the example of advertising and how, because amateurs want their content to be seen, offer this to advertising firms. As a result advertising firms save a lot of money. Personaly I believe that this is a trend that is popular because of how cheap the means of production have become but that within a number of years the passion for users generating their own content may disappear.

As more and more hobbyists and amateurs produce media content so the role of the professional becomes more uncertain. Why spend years studying at university to be a media producer or journalist if a construction worker is making films in his free time for no money and distributing it to a global audience? It’s an interesting time to work in the media because of how affordable the technology has become. I have everything it takes to create and distribute video comfort from the place where I am living in London. As long as I get a good documentary idea I can carry out every stage of the production process without going through the production companies. As a result of this I have complete editorial control.

Andrew Keen is getting us to pay attention to questions that it is essential we answer. Who is our audience, how are they getting our content, how reliable is it and how can we sustain ourselves to continue doing what we enjoy?

The Now Habit

At the moment quite a few of the podcasts I listen to have been speaking about audiobooks and how practical they are for people who communicate and I decided that I would try this out for myself. Since I am not always the most effective person at getting things done I decided that I would get The Now habit.

The book, written by Neil A. Fiore takes a look at how we spend our time and how to avoid procrastinating as much as we do. It takes a look at a number of situations from corporate environment, through physical sports and activities to arrive at the dissertation writing student and how goo they are at wasting time.

Having listened to almost the entire book he has mentioned some elements that I found I have been applying to my life before reading the book, mainly doing just a few minutes at a time for bigger projects rather than forcing myself to do several hours in one go. This was particularly useful when working on the dissertation.

You know what it’s like. You’ve got a report to write and you feel that you should do it all at once but this is not the right mentality because the task is too daunting to do, which results in procrastination. There are a number of tasks he recommends including the unschedule, giving yourself a time limit as to how much time to spend on a project per week. He also recommends to play hard. All of these things are common sense but through case studies you may find solutions that may help you with challenges that are affecting you.

He has made some interesting remarks on university students and how those who do their dissertation in one year rather than two or three do better because as well as setting time aside each day to work on their dissertations they also take the time to enjoy themselves and relax.

From what I’ve read so far this is a good book, helping understand that there is no need to spend all your time on a task and that projects can be worked on in stages over a longer period of time than you may originally assume. Thinking of such things can help improve your quality of life and help make your life more bearable.