Saturday 30 October 2010

The Internet Begins Here

Where does your internet start?

For many, it probably starts somewhere useful but perhaps a little dull, e.g. the stark white void of the Google homepage.  Back in the early 2000s, when the Lord of the Rings film trilogy was still in the making, I had as my homepage, to ensure I always knew what Jackson & Co were up to.  Then Rings finished, the site got a bit stale and boring, and so I used as my homepage for the next year or two, leading up to the release of Episode III.

But somewhere around 2006, I decided that I'd be darned if I kept using anyone else's page as the beginning of my internet.  I knew enough HTML to write a custom homepage, filled with all my favourite links, and it would never get stale and boring because I would keep tweaking the code to keep the page fresh and relevant.  So I did just that, and in a rather atrocious pun, I named the resulting piece of hypertext "MatNav: Matt's Navigation & Links Page".

Over the last four years or so, MatNav has grown and developed, changing beyond recognition from the humble little bunch of text links which constituted Version 1.  As of Version 5 (created sometime last year, I think), I replaced most of the text links with graphical ones, which made them bigger, and filled the screen more efficiently.

Today, I completed and implemented MatNav 6, the second-most-radical overhaul the page has ever had.  I've re-done a lot of the graphics, rearranged the links using a more thematic grouping, eliminated a few old ones which I don't use any more, and added some new ones to reflect the latest changes in my internet-using habits.  Plus I've changed the stylesheet, to replace the long-in-the-tooth custard-yellow colour scheme of Version 5 with a new, moodier and more graphics-rich look.
Okay, so maybe the idea isn't completely original.  A similar setup is included in certain web browsers.  But I've never seen one where you get to decide exactly how many links you want, exactly how you want them arranged, exactly what each graphic should look like, etc etc etc.  That's what MatNav gives me.  And of course, there's the added bonus of individuality.  "What's your homepage?"  "It's a unique browser-independent graphical splash page that I designed myself."

So, from my point of view, this is the beginning of the internet, right here:

The magic starts here: Firefox 3.6 and MatNav 6.0

By the way: if you like the idea and you want to build a similar page for yourself, then I'd be happy to share my source code and graphics to get you started.

Okay, so that whole blog post was probably totally irrelevant to most of you, but I enjoyed writing it anyway.  So there 8]

- The Colclough

Friday 29 October 2010

Do I have ze Papers?

Semi-random philosophical question: what are the most important pieces of paper in your life?  Books don't count, because if you included books, the list could get really enormous really fast.  So, just loose bits of paper.  Hmnnn...

I present, for your consideration, a list of candidates:

  • A letter?  Could be, if you're in the habit of sending and/or receiving letters on paper.  Not for me though, as mine are nearly all in electronic form.  Haven't had a letter on paper in... uh... no idea actually.
  • A cheque?  Depends on your financial situation 8p
  • Something you wrote or drew?  I have thousands of these, and if push came to shove, one of them might win out - but a lot of them are pretty negligible.
  • Your birth certificate?  Obviously important, but not that exciting.  After all, practically everyone has one.
  • Your marriage certificate?  Much more exciting... if you have one.  Which I don't.
  • Your death certificate?  Not really - you don't get one of these until  your life is over, so it can't count as an important piece of paper *in* your life.
  • Your driving license?  Could be a winner for petrolheads, but from my point of view it's more a practical tool, rather than a thing of emotional significance.  Well, I say that after having had it for more than three years, with the trauma of failing my first test long since lost in the sands of time.  You might regard your license as your most important piece of paper for the first few months after you get it.
  • A certificate of academic achievement?  Quite possibly, especially if it says something about first class honours.

I haven't actually picked one myself.  I just felt like having a philosophical ramble.

But then again, having been given a piece of paper at Guildford Cathedral yesterday which says something about Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours, I might just go for that one as my current choice for the time being 8]

I could take this as my cue to go tangential on the architecture of the Cathedral, but I'll leave religious masonry for another day.

It's a bit weird to find myself looking back on my graduation as a past event, after well over three years regarding it as something in the future.  Guildford may have one of the country's most minimalist and austere cathedrals, but it's a cathedral nonetheless, and being there with most of the other people on my course, all in matching superhero capes and funny hats (yes, we threw the hats afterwards) is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things that sticks with you.  I think it will be, anyway.  It's interesting to question which aspects will be remembered - the determination of my cape to become asymetrical... the commentary on last month's haircut (which most of my coursemates hadn't seen yet)... the endless, hand-numbing applause... the long, oddly smug-yet-awkward walk down the aisle after shaking hands with the principal... the mildly inappropriate but not overly depressing weather... the funny puddings back at the college afterwards... or something else altogether?  Only time will tell, I suppose.

Some of the other guys have already got jobs - Steve said his mostly involves watching lots of Irish film trailers, which somehow seems inherently funny - and others (myself included) are still looking.  Or in my case, looking a bit, and writing monster movies on the side - as you do.

We didn't get professional photos taken.  We've got a Nikon D80 DSLR, and we adopted the tried-and-trusted digital photography method of keep-on-pointing-and-shooting-until-something-works.  Well, more or less.  It wasn't quite point-and-shoot per se, but you get the idea.  But it was a heck of a lot cheaper doing it ourselves.

*long pause*

Uh... that didn't really feel like a properly-written ending, but I'm not sure what else to say, so I'm going to leave it there for now.  Photos maybe coming sort of soonish.

- The Colclough

Tuesday 26 October 2010

A Life Concluded

Some blogs you see coming from a mile off.  Others you find yourself writing at a moment's notice.  This is one of the latter type.

I've just buried Sophie's hamster, and got a little traumatised, so what follows is an exercise in catharsis.

We had Coco for about 14 months.  He was Sophie's third hamster, and our fourth overall (out of five to date - Ben has been keeping hamsters too). Although Coco wasn't one of the rodents that first inspired my dissertation film The Making of "Intergalactic Hamsters", he was one of the two who ended up featuring in it, so I had a bit more of a connection with him than I did with some of the others.

He seemed happy and healthy at the weekend, and I really don't know why he died.  I just looked in his cage this morning and he was sprawled on the floor, already gone.

Sophie doesn't know yet, as she's away on a church youth holiday until Friday.  I'm not looking forward to the explanations when she gets back.

But in the meantime, I've given him a decent burial.  He's in the raised flowerbeds in our back garden, along with his three predecessors, Hammy, Nibbles and Daisy.  I put him under a large stone, partly to mark the spot, and partly to stop the neighbourhood moggies digging up the grave.  By 'decent burial', I don't mean it was very elaborate - I just wrapped him in some tissue paper, along with a tiny little book that has been blu-tacked to the outside of his cage for months and months.  (I've been pragmatic a few times and pointed out to Sophie that hamsters can't read, but she's always insisted that it doesn't matter, and that he liked the book anyway, so it seemed an appropriate addition to his send-off.)  What I meant by 'decent burial' was more that, despite the simplicity, I tried to do it all with a certain amount of dignity.  It's what Sophie would have wanted if she'd been here.

So... it does seem surreal how fast you can go from not knowing/thinking there's a problem, to writing about the funeral in the past tense.  Such is the fragility of life on Earth, I suppose.  How people cope without any conception of life after death I have no idea.  If I thought this life was all there is, I'd probably have lost the will to live and gone raving mad by now.  Thank goodness for eternity.

- The Colclough

Coco as he will be remembered - alive and well and sitting on a QWERTY board, in a publicity still from the set of "Intergalactic Hamsters".

Thursday 21 October 2010

Dishonest Pixels

Warning: here follows a minor philosophical rambling on the use of video filters, following on from one paragraph of what I wrote on Tuesday.

The issue is this: sometimes, you point your camera at something, and the footage ends up looking quite different to what the human eye perceives, simply by nature of the camera.  If you're seeking a verite presentation, then which is the more 'honest' approach in these situations: to leave the footage as is, and claim the moral high ground on the basis that you've left the footage exactly as the camera recorded it, or on the other hand to apply filters to make the video look more like what the human eye would have seen?

An example from my own work: about four years ago, I was making a little promotional video for the art department at my sixth form college, and I ended up filming inside the darkroom, using my camera's night-vision setting.  Of course, if you're in a darkroom, the only light available is a dull red, but the camera's night-vision mode rendered the image in that familiar dodgy shade of green.  The problem was easily fixed in post by applying a colour filter to turn the image from black-and-green to black-and-red again, successfully emulating the way the darkroom looks to the human eye, and rendering the camera's presence somewhat more transparent.

More recently, in the aforementioned Root Hill 2010 footage, I've adjusted the colour curves for all my glow-in-the-dark passball footage, so that the players and ball stand out better from the black background, and once again I think the altered media looks closer to what I was seeing on the field.

But can I still make the same claims to authenticity if I've tampered with the footage in post-production?

I don't pretend to have a definitive answer to this question.  To be entirely honest, I'm not even sure that it matters that much.  It's not as if the darkroom or RH footage will ever be used as evidence in a court of law.  But Vegas just crashed (I need a RAM upgrade), and I thought I'd come on here and have a little ramble while I wait for it to start up again and reload my project.  If I hadn't told you, you'd probably never have known I'd used any filters anyway.

Quick update on the general status of the RH edit (leaving aside the issues of glowball filter ethics): I've now added all of the Box Hill and Concert bits, and made some more progress on the Crawley bowling section.  Which leaves me staring down the wrong end of the Pizza Hut footage.  Those of you who were there will know what I mean by that (remember the Yorkshire Pizza of Death?).  The rest of you should probably... um... yeah.  Let's just say some of the Pizza Hut footage is a bit scary... 8p

- The Colclough

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Root Hill meets the Digital Scissors

If you've never done any serious film/video editing, then you're missing out on something which can sometimes be gripping, fascinating, and even downright addictive, yet at other times can bore a mere mortal out of its little skull.

Well, I've been doing it for years.  I've tried out... *takes a moment to count* between 6 and 11 different editing programs, depending how you count them, of which my current favourite (if you want the detail) is Sony Vegas.

And right now, I've got five or six hours' worth of footage from Root Hill 2010 under my virtual scalpel, and I'm trying to reduce this rambling mass of frequently-disjointed material into a half-hour compilation of all the best stuff, that will (I hope) flow nicely and have some sense of internal logic, if not actual narrative.  Compared to the scripted-drama editing I was doing earlier in the year, it's a lot harder cutting verite footage, because there's no script to tell you what you're doing.  You just have to take whatever you've got, and try to trim and reshuffle it all into a form that makes some sort of sense.

Last time I did the RH video was in 2008 - I took a break from it last year because of my dissertation work, and left it in the hands of Josh Watson, better known for his short and zany YouTube sketches (see  In the 2008 video, I took a strictly chronological approach to the editing, which saved some decision-making, but in retrospect I think it might have let the finished product down a bit.  This time, I'm taking a more thematic approach, grouping footage together by place and activity, instead of laboriously chewing through one day at a time.

Sometimes, if you've got the right footage, some bits can be really easy.  E.g. the clip where Sam B claims that he's getting his shoes cleaned during the evening talk, but doesn't have a clue why - which then feeds in very conveniently to the footage of (guess what) Sam B getting his shoes cleaned during the evening talk, with an explanation by the talker.  (BTW, if you weren't there at RH, then you'll have to remain ignorant as to what was wrong with Sam B's shoes, as it'd take ages to explain, and I really can't be bothered to type it all up.  Sorry about that.)

Other times, it's just a mess, and the editing experience starts to resemble what it must feel like trying to disentangle a vast cauldron full of extra-long spaghetti.  With tomato sauce on it.

Of course, the fun bits are the ones where I get to play around with video FX filters, and that sort of thing.  There's a distinct lack of said bits in this project, as it's supposed to be fairly realistic, and I'm not allowed to go off on one and produce some massively arty-farty piece of surrealist film.  Un Chien Surreyou this project is not.  But there is the odd little piece, e.g. the glow-in-the-dark passball footage.  Yes, I filmed the glow-in-the-dark passball game.  And you know what?  It worked.  I've run a little filter on the footage to emphasise the glowy bits, but it basically worked, and so for the first time in its 4-year history, the RH glow-ball game gets featured on the official video.

There will also (hopefully) be some graphical intertitles to announce the beginning of each new thematic section, and designing and making these is a nice little something which I'm saving for later on.  It'll serve as Workflow Pudding, after the endless brussels sprouts of the main editing process.


After typing the previous paragraph, I briefly considered removing the phrase Workflow Pudding, and trademarking it before typing it anywhere again.  But then I decided that this would be churlish, so I'll release it to the public domain instead.  The public domain has given me many wonderful things (the GNU Image Manipulation Program, Audacity, OpenSong, etc...), so it can have my little phrase in return.

*Returns to the main point*

Anyway... for those of you who were at RH, the following should make sense to you: so far I've cut together all my footage from Glowball, LaserQuest (all 1 clip of it), Dorking Leisure Centre, the fire, and Littlehampton, plus some from Crawley (not all of it though).  Haven't got any Box Hill or Concert clips in yet.  If you weren't at RH, then you'll just have to take it on trust that that lot makes some sense.

I may or may not get round to editing a little preview and posting it on YouTube - if anyone has requests ("please can I be in the trailer?", "please can I not be in the trailer?", "I want to see some glowball footage", whatever) then I'm open to considering them.

So... ramblings over.  Back to Vegas 8]

- The Colclough

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Weird Child.

Little brother and sister each had a friend over to dinner today.  Had spaghetti, then trifle.

Sister's friend picked at the trifle (claimed she'd never seen or heard of it before - the poor deprived little mite!), and eventually decided she didn't really like it all that much.  After eating most of it anyway as part of the decision-making process, that is.

But then someone passed her what was left of the sugar-snap peas (ick), and she happily ate the whole lot.

So, she likes sugar-snap peas better than trifle.  This is bizarre and upsetting, but still sort of understandable - after all, some people don't like damp sponge cake, and others don't like cold custard.

But then, just as I was digesting this piece of weirdness, Mum tells me something even stranger: namely, that one of little sister's other friends likes cucumber better than chocolate.

This I am not sure I can handle.

I have a very definite view on the raison d'etre of cucumbers: they exist for the sole purpose of adding crunch to tuna sandwiches, which are otherwise a bit squishy and dull.  Outside of a tuna sandwich, a cucumber is a strange and meaningless thing.  Cucumbers are never, ever, under any circumstances an alternative to chocolate, and it is morally wrong to think otherwise.

I'm not sure I can handle much more of this...

- The Colclough

Tuesday 5 October 2010

That's Not Very Coherent

I tried to access my blog updates list just now, and I got this:

Someone's been drink-writing again.  It should be illegal 8p

Um... yeah, nothing important to say this morning.  Just throwing that one out there for my own amusement.

Did you like Megastropulodon?

- The Colclough