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Digital blog | Resolution Square | Page 2

Digital blog

This is where I’ll be banging on about all things digital media and probably social networking…

I shot: lots of people on the Underground with no pants

Happy New(ish) 2011. I don’t do resolutions as a general rule but this year I’ve promised myself I’ll keep this blog going properly. I’m not looking to become the next Perez Hilton or even Philip Bloom (check him out if you’re in any way a camera person or into your film-making, he has achieved God-like status amongst the DSLR world and camera geeks the world over go weak at the knees in his presence) but apart from anything else I want this to serve as a record of what I get up to because sometimes I find it hard explaining what I do nowadays!

So, onto my first shoot of 2011. I’ve been a fan of Improv Everywhere for a while now; they’re an American group who stage fun, brilliantly creative stunts, often on a huge scale. I haven’t by any stretch watched their entire output but amongst other things they’ve given a little league baseball game the full-on sports OB treatment:

they sent a fake Ben Folds on stage to pretend he was Ben Folds at a Ben Folds gig:

Ben Folds Fake

and they recreated a classic scene from Ghostbusters in the New York Public Library:

I imagine the brand itself is now big business, judging by the number of YouTube views, but at the heart of Improv Everywhere is a sense of fun and community. The success of most of their ‘experiments’ depends very much on the participation of its volunteer ‘agents’ and in many cases anyone is welcome to join in.

One of their most famous and successful stunts is the annual ‘No Pants’ Subway ride which started in New York in 2002 and now takes place in many cities around the world. The premise is simple; on a given day, as many volunteers as possible take to the world’s subways, take their trousers off and pretend that it’s perfectly natural. There’s no real point to it other than doing something fun and trying to raise a smile. The key for agents, however, is to keep a straight face and not to acknowledge the fact that others are doing the same thing.

New York’s ‘No Pants’ day now counts agents in their thousands; the scale of the London mission is somewhat smaller

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but by all accounts this year’s event (I estimated around 100 took part) saw around a 300% increase in numbers from 2010. So with nothing better to do with my Sunday afternoon I rigged up my camera and met the London organisers in a pub just north of Trafalgar Square and then proceeded to follow the mission up and down the Bakerloo line for the next hour and a half. (Rules officially stated that even members of the media were expected to disrobe but my backpack was full of camera gear and nobody needs to see my worn shreddies on God’s day of rest.)

DSC_8142

Reactions to carriages half-full of pasty Brits in their undercrackers were mixed; some laughed and clearly appreciated the silliness, others resolutely refused to accept that it was happening and apparently some were ever so slightly hostile. The mission was organised so that some agents got on at every stop along the line, adding to the confusion of those inside. All in all it was a welcome sight; London tube etiquette has it that you stare blankly into space so it was a refreshing change to be actively encouraged to look around and acknowledge your fellow passengers. And for those involved, I fully understand the sense of achievement they felt when the train rattled back into Charing Cross; it’s not up there with discovering penicillin or climbing Everest but making London Underground passengers smile is no mean feat.

Video-wise, shooting without a permit on the London Underground is a tricky one, especially given the current climate, but one of the benefits of shooting on my 7D (for the uninitiated, it’s a stills camera but they’re increasingly used to shoot video…won’t go into why right now) is that it doesn’t attract the attention the way a video camera does. The downside is that they’re notoriously hard to keep steady without a rig (more on that in a few days) and recording sound is a pain, but as I needed to keep a low profile I shot everything handheld, no rig, just attaching a mic for the (very noisy) interviews in the pub at the end. For the geeks amongst you I did have two lenses, my Sigma 30mm f1.4 and Tokina 11-16mm f2.8. I really could have done with my zoom but it’s still in lens hospital after Watford FC did this to it:

So here’s the vid, a bit rough and ready in places as it was shot very much on the hoof and edited quickly, but hopefully it tells the story. I’m certainly hooked, and although I don’t expect to be riding the Northern Line trouserless any day soon, my name’s going to be first on the list if there are any more Improv Everywhere style stunts planned over here.

If you like your videos with a smoother encode, I’ve also got it on my new Vimeo channel:

2011 London ‘No Trousers’ Underground Ride from Resolution Square (Neil Smythe) on Vimeo.

Video by me, photos courtesy of Idil Sukan, thanks to Improv Everywhere for their inspiration!

I shot: Rio Ferdinand

It’s been a while.  Far too long, but I’ve had a few months of solid work and haven’t had the energy to keep this up.  It’s a poor show and defeats the object of starting the site in the first place but I’ve had to forego forward planning in order to meet all my deadlines.  I will catch up though and will try to do a blog covering recent jobs but restarting where I mean to go on, this is what I was up to on Sunday.

The England captain took a trip back to his boyhood club, Eltham Town

Rio Ferdinand at Eltham Town FC

to promote e-on’s ‘Energy Fit’ campaign, in particular their ‘Club Makeover’ competition which is offering amateur football clubs the chance to get an energy saving makeover worth around £40k.  The e-on team decked out the club’s facilities with swanky stuff like solar panels, energy saving lights and even hot water, and Rio was given a tour before hitting the mud and coaching the young pups outside.

Rio Ferdinand and young players at Eltham Town FC

I have to say I didn’t know much about the club beforehand but I was really impressed with their setup, fancy lights or no fancy lights, and I couldn’t help thinking that the national game can’t be in that bad a state if there are clubs like Eltham Town around.

We then had a quick chat with Rio

Rio Ferdinand speaking to FATV at Eltham Town FC, Nov 2010

about the e-on project and the France game, where he revealed that he can’t contemplate losing because of the stick he’d get from Evra when he returned to training.  It was the second time I’ve interviewed him in 6 months and although he clearly didn’t remember me, Rio was professional as ever.  I’m a big fan of his because he’s clearly got more in his locker than booting a ball around and I genuinely believe he cares about the projects he gets involved with.

An unexpected bonus of the day was catching up with old Soccer AM and Channelbee mucker Fenners in his new capacity as tv personality, complete with showbiz scarf.  Always good to see him and I’m so happy he’s back in the Sky fold as on-screen talent.  I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t seen his new show Take It Like A Fan yet but I’ve only just signed up to Sky Sports again; must do that this week.

I’m editing the bits and pieces today so I’ll post a link when they’re up.

(Shot on Sony PMW EX1)

Slacker

So the idea of starting a blog is to keep it going.  You know, the odd musing here, a great link or video you find there.  Oops.  Must do better and will do better when I’ve got this pilot done.  Yeah I know, I never mentioned a pilot because I haven’t been keeping this going but I can’t really talk about it anyway.  I have been doing other stuff as well and I also went on holiday so…you know how it goes.

I’ll write something vaguely interesting soon, anyway.

Oh, and I did stop watching Seven Days after ep 1.

Seven Days

A few months ago when I was on my Hyper Island course, one of my fellow students told us about a show she had worked on when in development, a show which was apparently being touted as Channel 4′s replacement for Big Brother.  Coincidentally one of our visiting experts then gave us an exercise where we had to brainstorm ideas for the digital side of the same show (his company had pitched for the contract, I seem to remember).  So I’ve had longer than most to mull over the idea, in theory at least, and was particularly interested in last night’s launch, especially as I was led to believe that this could mark a new episode in interactive/social tv.

If you didn’t watch, the premise is that we’re following a series of residents of Notting Hill, docusoap style, with the unique selling point in this case being that it’s happening almost in real time.  In tv, you see, that’s considered groundbreaking because unless you’re live, it tends to take ages to do anything.  Unlike Big Brother, the participants are able to see the reaction to the show, and what’s more we as audience are being encouraged to interact with and help them decide how to lead their lives.

So far, so unoriginal.  It’s Paddington Green with bells and tweets on, but without Todd Carty and the weird wigmaker.  The initial irritant is the location the production team have chosen; Notting Hill.  I can see why they’ve done it (U.S. sales?)…but judging by Twitter reaction it’s a potentially fatal flaw.  We know what the rest of the country feels about London and London-centric media, and I’m sure that most Londoners have the same opinion of cliched Notting Hill-billies.  Play a game with me now; if you didn’t watch the show, guess who they’re featuring….

Blonde sloaney type who calls her mother ‘Mummy’…check

Gay hairdresser…check

Models…check

Property developer (ok he’s entertainingly bizarre; the frozen cat anecdote made last night worth watching)…check

Young black youths who hang out and do pull-ups in the street…check

Now unlike many of those on Twitter last night I’m not going to get involved with slating the participants.  It’s not what I do; what right have I to criticise other people’s personalities?  I just think that the casting is desperately cliched and therefore I’m not sure I want to get involved with their lives on the level Channel 4 expects of me.

So did it work as an hour of tv?  Not really.  I really didn’t learn much, cared even less, and the attempts to make the whole thing up to date were ham-fisted to say the least (radio bulletins, staged chats about the day’s headlines).

Did it work as an hour of interactive tv?  Potentially.  I found interacting with the Twitter feed (#sevendays) more entertaining than the show (the Channel 4 website crashed so can’t comment on that but it doesn’t look a patch on what we came up with at Hyper Island)…but maybe that is the point.  I suggested at one point that perhaps Channel 4 execs might be more interested in tweets than ratings, and certainly as the series progresses and we see the effects that ‘fame’ has on the participants, and potentially a two-way dialogue between them and us, there could be interesting consequences.  I do feel for them if they were following the Twitter feed, however; most people didn’t have the same attitude as me when it came to offering opinions on their personalities.

So will I watch it again?  Yes.  I’m genuinely interested in how the whole thing pans out but more from a professional than personal standpoint.  I do think that tv has to get more interactive and social if aspects of it are to survive, so I do hope that the series is a success in the long run.  But I do fear for a project which gets caned by Brian Belo from Big Brother (no I don’t follow him, I spotted his tweet in the timeline).

If you didn’t watch, here’s the link, although another irritant is that for a supposedly modern, interactive tv show, C4/4OD have uploaded the whole episode onto YouTube but have panicked and disabled embedding.  So here’s the link: Seven Days Ep 1

Twitter grows up

One of the ironies of Twitter has been that the more successful it has become, the more users have turned to third party applications (Tweetdeck, Ubertwitter etc) to run their Twitterverse, the general feeling being that although we love the micro-blogging concept, the host platform itself hasn’t offered us much to keep us there.

As they now look to make their millions (and deservedly so) from their efforts, Twitter Towers have clearly decided that one of the ways they’re going to do that is by encouraging us to spend more time on their site and not on others.  So the new Twitter started rolling out last night.  No idea how long it’s going to take to reach us all but when it arrives, it promises us a far more integrated experience.  We’ll be able to embed videos and images with ease (they’ve signed partnerships with many of the multimedia hosters such as Flickr, TwitPic, YouTube etc) and there’s the addition of a second ‘details’ pane which will offer either a user profile or additional info relating to a tweet (@ replies, geo-tagging, other tweets by the user etc).

It’s definitely a step forward but I’m unlikely to abandon TweetDeck because I find their column set-up perfect for following certain users and tags.  I want to know less about a particular tweet and more about tweets in a wider context.  But as my new mantra is ‘change is good’ I’ll give it a go when it finally reaches Carshalton.

Here’s Twitter’s official explanation of it all which seems pretty clear, and their explanatory video which doesn’t really explain much, least of all why they’ve edited it like this:

For another take on the new Twitter, check out Mashable

A modern fable

I may or may not make a habit of blogging great vids I’ve seen or have been sent but this is so good it had to go up.  Thanks to Sheephead for sending this through; I’m sure we all know someone like this (no names) or perhaps even recognise it in ourselves?

Google Instant Search

It’s official:  Google now knows what you want before you know you want it.  If that’s the sort of statement which gives you the cold sweats you had better steer clear of their ‘Instant’ search facility which launched yesterday.

If your browser supports it, you’re signed in to a Google account and you’re online in one of their chosen launch countries, instant search results now appear on your page as you are typing.  Not just suggestions in the search box, but full search results populating the page.

More knowledgeable techie types than me are suggesting that this could mark the beginning of the end for SEO, apparently because the constantly changing search results will make it harder to track search terms.  More obviously, this is a real stab to the heart of Microsoft, whose Bing search has been picking up market share but will surely now be seen as old hat compared to this lightning-fast service.

Here’s their explanatory vid:

Two things of interest there; firstly, I’ve learned a new word.  Zettabyte.  It’s equal to one sextillion bytes apparently, whatever that is.  But that’s two new words for the price of one so I’m not complaining.  Secondly, I would have thought they could have come up with a better selling point than ‘I didn’t have to press Enter’.  It’s hardly up there with ‘we’ve cured cancer’ or ‘we’ve sent a man to the moon’, but I’m being pedantic.  As far as I’m concerned, anything which speeds up my workload is a good thing even if it does give them one more step on the road to world domination.

For a rather more informed look at what Google Instant does, check out The Guardian

Tipp-Ex cellent video

Have you seen this superb new interactive Tipp-Ex online ad?  I won’t spoil the fun, I’ll leave you to discover what you can do with it so have fun finding all the different combinations of things you can do with the bear…

Just goes to show that with a bit of thought, a decent coder and presumably the help of YouTube, you can produce something a lot more engaging than a linear video.  Will it persuade me to buy Tipp-Ex?  No, I’ve got a backspace key now.  But it’s gone a long way to putting the brand name back out there in the blogosphere and beyond…

Apple’s Ping pongs

Now I’ve had a chance to download Ping I thought I’d add a few more thoughts to yesterday’s ramblings.

So like Apple do, they created all the massive hype yesterday to triumphally announce their big new plans for world social media domination.  A shiny new social network just for all of us who like music and can’t be bothered to find it anywhere else but iTunes.  So presumably millions of early adopters and geeks worldwide frantically download iTunes 10 with its new, 80′s throwback logo and its Ping capabilities.

So we sign up, fill out the extremely basic profile which doesn’t allow HTML so really can’t be made to look interesting and certainly can’t link elsewhere because nowhere else exists outside of iTunes.  We are told we like Alternative, Rock and Rap but that’s ok because we can change that to something less cliched (like Alternative, Rock and Pop in my case; I couldn’t face putting soundtracks down even if I am partial to a West End musical).  We don’t have any friends yet but that’s ok, no need to panic because we can follow our favourite artists on there.  Let’s see…they’re recommending Jack Johnson, Yo Yo Ma and Lady Gaga.  Thanks but no thanks, I’ll check out what Kasabian are up to.  Eh?  No Kasabian listed.  What about Radiohead?  Nope.  Erm, The Cribs?  Nada.  The Killers, surely as U.S. rock gods they’ll be there?  Sorry.  Kings of Leon (not a big fan but I’m getting desperate now).  No go.

Why couldn’t Apple warn labels and bands that this was coming so that those of us who want to check it out whilst it’s still hot actually have a chance to communicate?

Frustrated, I decide to post out there into the wilderness so search for the post button…and there isn’t one.  Turns out you can only comment on a post in the timeline, so I can say something about the latest item I bought, or reply to Coldplay’s posts (they’re on there because Chris Martin was guest of honour at the launch and they’ve already got 36000 followers so there are people out there).

I could go on, but I won’t.  This is worse than I feared; it’s not at all like social networking in jail as was suggested yesterday, it’s like social networking in a dream where you just can’t get your words out and even when you do, nobody’s listening.  And then when you wake up and try to talk about the dream nobody understands what you’re saying…because I can’t even link to a page to show you because it’s not on the web.  How are we supposed to share any information we want to from Ping?  Where is the ‘social’ or the ‘network’ apart from within the microcosm that is Apple?

I really don’t like being negative but I’m struggling to see the point of this apart from as a MySpace killer and a cynical vehicle to increase purchases from iTunes.  Anyone see it differently so far?

Apple updates iTunes, IOS, Apple TV, iPod, Chris Martin and…Ping

A vaguely considered review of the new Apple updates announced by Steve Jobs minutes ago follows…apologies for the lack of pictures but I’m sure you know what an iPhone looks like.

So I was babysitting today and as I promised myself I’d keep up with all things techie from now on, I attempted to juggle following the update live on my iPhone with In the Night Garden, bath, book and bed.  Martha (18 months) is now fully au fait with the full product range but is a little dubious as to their new foray into social networking.  More on that in a bit; just don’t tell the mrs that I wasn’t paying full attention to the small person.

First thing to note is that the whole thing was streamed live, iPhone compatible, naturally, which is always impressive.  If Apple do one thing very well, it’s pulling the collective geek-strings of the world to create a huge buzz around their new product launches.  Less impressive was the lack of a jump forward button in the timeline so even though I was running a few minutes behind live (Special Agent Oso was on so I couldn’t jump on it straight way) I couldn’t skip the boring bits (no, not Chris Martin, the ads and stuff).

So…the updates.  Gadget reviews aren’t really my thing even though I’m as prone as anyone to new stuff so I’ll keep this brief:  iPods are getting smaller.  Really small, and the Nano is now touch screen.  Presumably surgeons and concert pianists will be fine picking the album they want but the rest of us might struggle.  Oh and the iPod touch is getting even thinnner.  That was one announcement which the assembled audience didn’t bother whooping.  Also, iPhones are getting an update next week which should fix bugs (which is as close to an admittance of fault as you’ll ever get from Apple) and the new iOS 4.1 includes HDR (‘High Dynamic Range’) photo capability.  This latter update sounds interesting although I’m dubious as to how much you can improve your photos when your source is the pretty poor iPhone camera.  It apparently takes 3 photos with 3 different exposures, merges them to collate the ‘best’ image and offers you that as an alternative to your original.  Also included in the free update is GameCenter which apart from being incorrectly spelt opens up your games to live multi-player gameplay.  Beyond that, 4.2 will roll out in November and will mainly concentrate on the iPad, offering wireless printing and AirPlay, an updated version of AirTunes, a wireless music streaming service.

More interesting to me was the news that they’re giving Apple TV another aggressive push.  Accepting that it has never really taken off, Jobs and co and offering the new, 1/4 size box at $99 (or £99 over here, apparently).  It’ll offer HD, streaming content for rental from several major U.S. networks (TV shows for 99c) and first run movies for $4.99 including compatibility with NetFlix.  YouTube will also be supported although apparently still no support for the iPlayer.  At that price it’s going to tempt a whole new market into the possibilities of streaming media on demand.

For me, by far the most exciting news of the day was iTunes v10.  No, not the new icon, the announcement of Ping, Apple’s new social network.  I say ‘exciting’, as that’s with my digital head on, but at the same time I’m really wound up by it.  In a nutshell, it’s a social network run through iTunes where you can connect with friends or artists on a musical level, so share recommendations, leave messages, find out about gigs etc etc.  Fine; I get that.  It’s like…Facebook for music.  Sort of like…MySpace.  What??  Haven’t we been here before?  It’s a new social network to belong to which focuses on one subject (music) and which has no apparent links with the outside world.  Oh, and you have to do it all on iTunes which for all Apple’s worth is clunky at best in my opinion.  Someone on my Twitter feed just said it was like being on a social network in a jail.  I may be wrong; they may open up the API to allow it to link to other social networks but I’m doubting that.  I’ve got a feeling this is Apple’s attempt to suppress the might of Facebook and to a lesser extent, Twitter.  In the spirit of research and digital open-mindedness I’m going to give it a go (apparently the download is available today but not yet, apparently), but if I’ve got to do it through iTunes, and if I can only use it to talk about music, it’s not going to win me over as much as a thinner iPod might.