Archive for April, 2005

blogstipated – The Sunday Times Magazine Dec 16th 1979

Bloomin’ ‘eck. This week I’ve been so blogstipated, a packed head full of stuff I wanted to comment on and share, yet without the laxative of time to do it. Work’s been busy, and there’s been a fair amount of socialising too.

So, here’s the first ‘brain movement’ of the long weekend.

I went to the doctors last Monday, and in the waiting room I picked up a copy of The Sunday Times Magazine December 16th 1979, that’s got to be a record!? Anyway, I expressed such an interest the receptionist said I could have it.

The cover story was the unearthing of the terracotta army in China, which is now facing a new enemy, and was a big deal back then. Some great ads too, and from companies that we’ve not seen adverts from for years.. Parker Pens, Mateus Rose, Yamaha Organs, some bath foam

In the back is ‘a day in the life’ of Colonel Richard Seifert, the architect of such London Skyline ‘faves’ as Tower 42 (nee the Nat-west tower) and Centre Point. but was he says the Guardian? A great view on Centre Point’s legacy is here. This legacy is all in contrast to Seifert’s ‘day’. Here’s some choice cuts: My wife Josephine is a human alarm clock.., he’s up and out in his chauffeur driven car by 6:30am. I liked this too.. At 8am young Michael – well, actually, I call him young but he’s been with me for 20 years – my office boy, brings in my morning coffee. Bloody hell, office boy! 20 years of bringing this guy coffee… ahh the days when jobs were for life eh? Anyway, he answers his post that comes twice daily, attends a few meetings, goes out on site once or twice.. . Then, after a a full day, this I’ll get home about eight, quite tired, but the great thing is Josephine always welcomes me home with a smile and a hug and without the slightest criticism for being late. She also has a splendid three course dinner waiting for me; soup, something plain like steak, chicken or grilled fish, and a sweet.. lucky sod.

Anyway, I wonder how many ill people have held this magazine, and how many of them are now dead?

A new Pope

Well, a new Pope was elected today and rather unfortunately it came as us ‘mighty homepage warriors’ were nearing the end of our working day. Good job we weren’t under work to rule conditions. It took a while for the grab of Benedict XVI on the balcony to appear on the newswires, so the Big Red Button aka pulling in the news feed, held the fort for a while immediately after the announcement. Eventually a poor contrast grab appeared, and I quickly whipped it off and went for the white text body copy option as the background was quite dark. It also went nicely with his robes and the whole ‘holy smoke’ angle of the day. I left the dark mysterious face at the bottom right of the picture in for the Da Vinci code nuts.

It’s been great being a witness to the recent papal events, often when discussing the suitability of editorial matters to do with the homepage we’d often say ‘say the pope dies’, well, he did! And it was really quite weird to work through it. Just like the capture of Sadam or the resignation of Greg Dyke. It’s fantastic producing iconic images for world events on such a high profile site, and much more substantial and thought provoking that say, ‘get digital’ or the recent ‘do’t forget to buy a TV licence’ promo.

I had a trainee in today. I’ve never got over ‘explaining your job’ syndrome.

Oi Scab!? Strikes at the BBC.

Recently BECTU recruitment leaflets and strike ballot information have appeared near the departmental coffee machines.

Unions haven’t been historically good for my family. My Grandfather was miner, and saw unions turn from a force of compassion and protection to something just as sinister and corrupt as management and government. My main concern with unions is replacing one power with another. So the employer says ‘you will work’, and the union says ‘you will strike’… where does that leave me? My Grandfather worked down the pit all his life, up to his waist in water chipping out coal by hand with a pick axe for nine hours a day. That’s bloody hard work in my book, there was no upload your CV to for the likes of him. He retired a few years before the miners strikes of the 80s started, but the whole situation had a great affect on him and he had some very strong opinions. But how does all that relate to my situation? Would I cross a picket line and be a scab? That’s a tough decision.

It tough in one way because my actual position as picture editor isn’t affected by the recent announcements, however, the people I work with and subsequently the sites I produce images and designs for are all subject to potential change, so yes, my working landscape might be affected. But then if my position was affected maybe I’d think different?

Also what’s happening has happened to me before, twice. I’ve been made redundant from my last two jobs, at and iBeam/nextvenue. IT’s always been swift, it’s been a shock, but that’s the best way to do it I believe. I’ve always received a big pay out, and found better work within a week. Now I don’t want anyone at all to loose their job, but I do know that those people who do will at least be best placed to deal with it, and in most cases will find something else. I’m in no way condoning the recent announcements, and I fully support those people who challenge and contest management’s decisions, as that’s a good and right thing to do. But lion’s share of the people I work with are mostly university educated, and could, should the worst happen, find work in other media organisations, most of whom have been dealing with this sort of thing for ages now.

No, the people I feel really sorry for the workers of MG Rover at Longbridge, who have no where else to go. There’s no other car manufactures to go to, hell there’s very little ‘anything’ manufacturers to go too.. they’re completely stuffed, they’re the ones who are going to face real hardship, despite a Government rescue package.

But the main question that me and the rest of the people I work with are asking ourselves is, how did we get in this position in the first place? After all, we’re the BBC, we know how much money we’re going to get every year right? Unless a load of people suddenly stopped watching TV we should have had a rough idea of how much was in the bank shouldn’t we? So where did it all go wrong? Did management know what they had to spend, but just allocated it incorrectly or over spend it? Has the media landscape changed that much in twelve months, or has the BBC changed? I think the later. The rest of the (new) media industry seems to be in a period of growth. Or did Greg Dyke really write cultural, financial and political cheques that the Corporation just couldn’t cash?

It’s all big stuff, big issues. What I will say is that at least these latest cuts have gone right to the top, they’ve gone after the big names in my dept at least, rather than just fire a few junior web assistants and divvy out their work load to whom ever is left. Trouble is there’s been a bit of a brain drain now, all ready a number of people have left, and not always because their position is affected, but because they can see the writing on the wall. And the writing is this; that the next six months are going to be HR hell, in fact the HR partner for New Media is one of the people leaving.. ‘speaks volumes’ is the water cooler gossip.

The coming months are to be tough because it’s really hard to keep momentum going when people are worried about the next pay check. So all projects get put on hold, every goes in to blitz mode and keeps they’re head down, it’s mend and make do, and everyone prepares for the worst. Meanwhile the industry and technology moves on six months and we emerge not actually having to make anyone redundant because 15% of our staff have left due to apathy and boredom. Meanwhile we’ve spent £’s on holding ‘change workshops’ and seminars. sigh.

hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Movie

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last night I saw the press screening of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, aka H2G2, and I’d like to think Douglas rests easy in his grave. On the whole a wonderful interpretation of the whole Hitchhikers story. I saw it with our own H2G2 team and BBC’s very own Mr Cult who all generally approved. And this on top of a successful Doctor Who return, they’re fit to burst.

Anyway, to the film. (contains spoilers)

Starts with dolphins saying ‘so long and thanks for all the fish’ and leaving, then the Arthur’s house scene, lots of bits kept in, the trip to the pub etc. The Vogons are done magnificently, as are their giant space ships. Also the destruction of the world is done well, it implodes. How many times have we seen planets exploding, sometimes with rings flying out and bowel loosening bass sounds. If we’re lucky rocks get hurled at the camera, but this was different. Also, with 100s of Vogon ships surrounding the planet, indeed, being in the upper atmosphere, they’d have been destroyed too. No, our beautiful shining orb pops in a small fizz, and then nothing, just rose bowl style grid around an empty sphere.

Other great points, the CGI production and art direction is incredibly well thought out, and there’s a constant connection between all the elements. Everything, from the giant Vogon ships to the stamps that they use to rubber stamp documents, is big, dirty and square. This contrasts nicely with the smooth roundness of the Heart of Gold, the escape pod, Marvin’s head.

The animations on the guide are all done in friendly ‘don’t panic’ 2D pastel colours, and have their own little bits of humour. The one concerning the uses of the Babel fish for example, show’s a farmer milking a mooing cow, then once the fish goes in his ear, the cow’s moo become a speech bubble with a heart in it… freaking him out.

The beauty of the HoG’s improbability drive in action is a joy to watch… the ship suddenly pop’s into space as a sequence of seemingly random objects, and the effects last a while, so in one jump the round ship ends up as a giant ball of wool… cut to the inside and all the characters and the ship itself are all woollen, clanger/flump style, and the story rolls on, with some great animation, including Arthur being sick, his vomit all multi coloured strands of wool. Slowly as normality returns, he end up pulling the last bit of string form his mouth.. it’s a sublime scene.

Other choice lines: In a bureaucratic building on Vogonsphere seeking to get Trillian’s release, ‘Leave this to me, I’m British, I know how to queue..’ This scene includes a cameo from the original Marvin.

The approach to Magrathea contains a great answer-phone style message too. “.. you death may be recorded for training purposes, thank you”. Bill Bailey does a great job of voicing the whale who suddenly finds itself called into existence miles up in the atmosphere. Bill Nighy goes a good turn as Slartybartfast. And the journey he takes Arthur on to see the Earth Mk2 being built in breath taking. Martin Freeman pulls off the emotion in that scene brilliantly. Towards the end of the film there’s a strong ecological message that we know was very close to Douglas’ heart, and the bit calling in the question the dogma of religion is done really well too.

In all, I thought it was great. Some fans may pick and quibble over specific plot points, or even deviation from the received doctrine of the radio series. but I thought it was a great way into the whole Hitchhikers IP for newbies, it encourages you to want to explore more, to (re)read the books, even play the game, whatever. It’s out on the 28th, go and see it, and I can’t wait for the sequel, Restaurant at the end… has the real potential to a great ensemble piece, there’s so many characters, Meatloaf playing the dead Hotblack Destino? Who’d play the cow? The compere? It’d be great..

And we all got free towels!

Also, watch out for ‘the guide’ on your PDA, it’s availiable now.

More BBC News image lampoonary

Link: AIAON | BBC NEWS | News Front Page.

Wow, another website calling into question the quality and suitability of BBC News online images. Though this one lets you vote on ‘Am I abstract or not’. The results seem a little distorted though, 33% of people think a picture of cookie monster to go with the feature ‘Cookie Monster curbs biscuit habit in Sesame Street health drive’ is abstract? huh.

The top abstract image (at present) is this map of Saudi Arabia… It all seems a bit arbitrary….

At the bottom it includes the hopeful lines Not affiliated with the BBC in any way. Don’t sue me. ;-).

That smilie is no defense blasphemer! The witchfinder (Director) General’s minions with be round with the hot pokers and leg irons.. Mwhahahah!

BBC News Online photography comes in for some stick

Link: Headless Zombie Bunny.

Hahahahah.. found this which made me laugh. The introduction says:
The BBC News website has some of the worst stock photo usage in the world. This is a daily log of some of the most awful photo choices.

In defence of my News colleagues, the images are often done by journalists who despite being trained in Photoshop usage, often don’t have either the time nor the skills to (re) illustrate a story properly, they are not full time picture editors. Having said that, they do illustrate some of the features terribly, often relying on spurious links pulled from the copy and the having to explain their choices in the caption. (Personally I think removing the safety net of a caption would force better image choices). However there’s some good one’s too, like this feature on taking pictures of the Pope lying in state. There’s also the excellent In Pictures section.

See, illustrating the big stories off the newswire’s is easy, as there’s often an accompanying image. It’s when you’ve got to illustrate abstract concepts again and again that corners are cut. Down turn in the housing market, taxes up, pensions down etc… a quick Google of pound coins and piggy bank show this.

But then imagine the uproar if we commissioned arty shots of pound coins every time we ran a finance story? Everyone uses generics, there’s one for football, we use it loads, it’s a ball in the back of a net, the TV weather people use it too watch out for it this weekend. Still, that’s no excuse for sloppy journalism, and that’s why proper digital picture editing is a skill. Not just dragging the first picture off the newswire’s and cropping it, but actually thinking about how to illustrate a story, and do it in 200×170 pixels.

And some of the competition’s not much better, making much more use of ‘say what you see’ imagery, Here’s an example from CNN I use to show people how not to do it. It’s a story about the US High court and internet porn law enforcement. So a picture of the High court, check. A computer as it’s on the internet right? Check. A badly done ‘no’ circle laid nicely over a pixelated image of a woman who’s not even in the buff….done. Or this example from The Times, bank of England, check, shares up/down line, check etc. etc.

Often newspapers, particularly the Independent and the Guardian’s G2, have full front page commissioned photography, it sets the tone, there’s bags of space to use, the eye having space to move around and take in the image. For example the Guardian today had a great crop of Gordon Brown being pointed at by just the for arm of Tony Blair right across the other side of a 8cm image, you kind of loose the effect when it’s around 300 pixels.

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
April 2005
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