Saturday, 29 July 2006

Knight on the Rocks: Filming at Dinosaur Ridge

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An article by Martin Lockley following the visit I made with David Attenborough to film at Dinosaur Ridge last year...

"How many knights of the British realm have worked at Rednecks? The answer is at least two. The first was then Beatle Paul McCartney - now the 64 year old Sir Paul, who coincidentally played Red Rocks in '64, long before he was knighted. The second is Sir David Attenborough, world famous popularizer of Natural History films, and brother of the equally famous Oscar-winning film director Sir, (also Lord) Richard Attenborough.

Sir D. A. and his film crew from the BBC Natural History unit in Bristol. UK, visited on June 17-20th to film sequences for his new five part series In Cold Blood that will include shots of Red Rocks and Dinosaur Ridge, where some of America's most famous dinosaurs were first discovered. The series explores the perennial debate about whether or not dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures were warm blooded like modern mammals and birds.


I'm in the back holding the reflector whilst David takes a moment between shots.

Having traveled to many of the world's more exotic locations, he is no stranger to Colorado. In the 1980s he filmed parts of his Lost Worlds Vanished Lives series at the famous dinosaur track site along the Purgatoire River south of La Junta. At that time Paleontologist Martin Lockley, from the CU Denver Dinosaur Tracks Museum, acted as his tracking guide. On this trip he filmed the tracks at Dinosaur Ridge, again using Lockley and Dinosaur Ridge Executive Director Joe Tempel as consultants.

In the realm of natural history, Attenborough counts paleontology as one of his special loves. "As a patriotic Englishman" he said, tongue-in-cheek " I am proud to say that it was in England that the first dinosaurs were found and given their name, but there can be no doubt that it is here in the wild west that the most spectacular finds have been made and it is a great thrill to visit again and examine the evidence first hand."

As proof of his dedication to paleontology Sir David visited the Dinosaur Tracks Museum at the CU Denver Downtown Campus and left Colorado with an impression of his hand to add to the collection of dinosaur tracks and other fossil footprints. Lockley, told Attenborough that had he been a famous runner he would have asked for a footprint, but as he is a famous author a handprint was more appropriate. Lockley, whose naturalist father worked with Attenborough on BBC projects, remembers going to his first Attenborough lecture some 50 year ago. He said he was pleased to finally bag the track of such a rare bird."

Dinosaurs in Colorado

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I'm currently in Colorado working at Red Rocks and Dinosaur Ridge to film some dino sequences for "Life in Cold Blood". I am in my element and have always wanted to visit these world class palaeontological sites - trips like these certainly help to make all the time in the office feel worthwhile. I can't reveal the details of the shoot (you'll have to wait till we broadcast in 2008), but it includes a CGI T-rex and some new research relating to how it grew. We will also be filming the famous Iguanodon tracksite, as well as discussing some of the evidence which suggest that Dinosaurs were ectothermic, or at least giant homeotherms. The locations are wonderful, the weather is really hot and sunny (100f) and the people really helpful - we have had lots of support from Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Centre, especially Martin Lockley (leading palaeontologist, particularly in palaeoichnology - fossil footprints) and Jo Tempel, Director of Dino Ridge.


Me at the Dinosaur Ridge, Iguanodon Trackway

David Attenborough will be arriving tomorrow for two days filming with us, before he continues to several other locations in the USA. I only hope that everything runs smoothly and that all my research and work on these sequences leaves us with something to be proud of, and something even better than Miles (the series producer) is expecting.

Filming our T-rex sequence at Red Rocks park

Apparently, palaeontology is one of David Attenboroughs favourite subjects and so I'm sure that as usual he'll be wanting to ask me lots of questions - I had better learn as much as I can before he get's here! I hope he loves this place as much as I do.

Red Rocks Park is part of the Rocky Mountains and includes some spectacular exposures of red sandstone. It's a really evocative landscape in which you can't help but to cunjour up images of giant therapods roaming the gorges.

Thursday, 27 July 2006

Cape Farewell & Climate Change - an Arctic interactive experience

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Cape Farewell brings artists, scientists and educators together to collectively address and raise awareness about climate change.

Cape Farewell has led three expeditions into the wild, High Arctic, a place for artistic inspiration and scientific enquiry. The website is a fantastic interactive resource which allows you to explore these adventures and the teams outcomes and achievements. Featuring video, diaries, maps and information around climate change issues.

Recently Art from the Arctic, a 60 minute film directed by David Hinton, was broadcast on BBC FOUR and then BBC Two as part of the BBCs Climate Chaos season.

Sky News - Everest Video Podcast

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Sky News is offering another first: a video podcast from Mount Everest - possibly the highest altitude broadcast of its kind in history. The podcast is a video diary from reporter Gerard Tubb who is following the British Army's attempt to make history by putting a Briton on the top of the world's highest mountain by the toughest route.

Gerard gives viewers a flavour of life at 18,200ft and a window on the windswept location which is Everest advanced base camp.
For more: HERE

- Paul Williams

View RAW Image Files

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If you want to view RAW images on your desktop then here's a few options:

BBC IT suggest installing adobe photoshop elements or vsn 7, but that can be pricey.

I would strongly suggest installing the free software from Microsoft; "raw image viewer". This allows you to double click on the thumbnail and view like a jpg. Install it HERE. Microsoft will ask you for validation before you can install, just follow the quick instructions. Once that's done just double click and open the image as you would any other - you can now view it in the windows XP image and Fax viewer.

Here is another prog that I have used in the past and is particularly useful for batch converting to Tiffs and viewing Raws. Great general software.
FastStone Viewer

FORscene: Web Based Ingesting and Editing

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SENDING RUSHES OVER THE WEB
A few weeks ago I was filming in Canada and I had some lovely footage of turtles that I wanted my producer to see and comment on.

Rather than digitising from the DV cam, we were using the new panasonic P2 format, which records video directly onto memory cards, so I could import the media directly into Final Cut Pro on my laptop. I exported this as quick time files and sent these via www.yousendit.com and posted some to our FTP server.

I thought this was a really good system but I have now found something which would allow me to take this to the next level: FORScene.

FORscene
Recently Forbidden Technologies came to Bristol to demonstrate their FORscene service, which has already been used by BBC teams.

FORscene allows you to upload DV content directly into a FORscene account via Firewire. Once uploaded you can edit and browse content using a simple web-based interface. Using your username and password you can view content anytime, from anywhere in the world.

What helps make this service even better is that edited video can be published simply and easily in a web page or mobile phone (you can download Forbidden's FORmobile player for free).


Above: The ForScene Web-based edit interface

I was impressed with the system and can see its potential for allowing teams who are on seperate continents to work together more efficiently. For example, we could have a team in Australia ingesting their rushes into the system during their day time, so when we woke up in the UK they would be on the FORscene servers ready for us to use. You could also send a clip to your producer who is somewhere else in the world to get his approval! Magic!

An Example:The British Army has sent a team to Nepal to attempt the summit of Mount Everest via the treacherous West Ridge.



Forbidden's FORscene post production tool has been chosen to provide mobile updates of the expedition. Viewers can catch up with the highs and lows of the summit attempt by downloading a branded player from the expedition website to their mobile handset, and will get a text message alert whenever another video is ready for download.

"This project with the British Army further demonstrates the versatility of Forbidden's FORscene platform for mobile publishing," said Stephen Streater CEO of Forbidden Technologies. "This expedition is an amazing feat for the Army, and publishing video updates onto people's mobile phones is a great way to publicise the event."

Have a go yourself: http://www.armyoneverest.mod.uk/Mobile/

To find out more about FORscene email: sales@forbidden.co.uk

- Paul Williams

Watching HD on your PC

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I was asked recently if the so-called HD a friend has been watching on his laptop was true HD? Here's a little about what I found out. The upshot is that computers aren?t ready for proper new format HD video yet (but companies like Sony are working on it, and microsoft are ironing out some glitches in their new operating system Windows Vista). You can still use your computer to test the improved clarity of HDTV without spending a small fortune on a HD Ready TV though.











Computer Specs for HD TV
Watching HDTV content is system intensive so you?ll need to make sure your machine is up to it. I have been digging around and I've found that the recommended minimum spec is:
For a mac: iMac G4 (although G3 users can use the latest Quicktime)
For Windows: Windows 2000/XP PC with a 2.0GHz CPU, 256MB RAM and a 64MB video card.

Screen Display
You will need a screen display that is capable of 1024 x 768 resolution. This delivers a better than standard definition picture although its not really true HD.

To get the best out of HD
Ideally you?ll need something a bit better to enjoy the full benefits of HD downloads: a resolution of 1600 x 1200 (now one of the most common) will let you watch at maximum resolution 720p videos, but you?ll need a widescreen plamsa/LCD display to go up to 1080p properly.

For more information than you will ever need (if you can understand it) visit the Wikipedia HD page: HERE

- Paul Williams

Quick Guide to HD Resolutions

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Below is a simple and clear guide to HD resolutions from The Register:

Also, as Mike Armstrong points out, a good, very readable and relevant source of info is the BBC's own HD Guide internal to the BBC intranet only: Here

For a TV picture to be HD it has to be one of three resolutions: 720p, 1080i or 1080p. There are other resolutions, but they're essentially standard definition (SD) sizes. The resolution's number is the number of horizontal lines that make up the image, analogous to its height in pixels. The letter, p or i, stands for 'progressive' or 'interlaced'.


Interlaced Vs Progressive Images
Progressive images are displayed like a movie, one frame at a time, in rapid succession. Interlacing is the same technique used in regular TV: send half the picture at a time but do so twice as quickly. It's a bandwidth-saving technique. Each 'half' of the image comprises alternate sets of lines, so first you send lines 1,3,5,7... etc. then you send 2,4,6,8... and so on. The first set is drawn on the TV screen, then the second lot, but the speed is such that they eye doesn't notice.

Well, almost. In practice, this approach can create visible artefacts when rapidly moving images and there's a slight downgrade in the image's effective resolution. This isn't an issue with progressive pictures, which is why most US HD broadcasters show programmes in 720p not 1080i, even though the latter has more pixels and therefore should be more detailed.

At Last - BBC lines up year-long video podcast trial

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I have been waiting and waiting and waiting for this news. At last the BBC have jumped on to the train and are about to deliver Video Podcasts (or Vodcasts). This mornings Broadcast announced that this week"The BBC is to launch a 12-month video podcast trial that will make 30 programmes, including Newsnight and Question Time, available to download to portable viewing devices including iPods. "

Visit the Trial HERE

Using iTunes, or directly through the BBC website, you will be able to access weekly highlights of the Ten O'Clock News and Newsnight. The third programme, StoryFix, will offer a tongue-in-cheek look at the week's news - not as original an idea as it may seem - Sky have been producing a similar service for the past 6 months!!

Adrian Van Klaveren, the deputy director of BBC news: "There is no doubt that the bias among devices that are capable of playing the MP4 format tends to be younger, whereas news programming skews older." The trial, which will be evaluated after 12 months, will also aim to determine the length and style of content viewers want to download.

I'm really excited that the BBC are finally moving forward on this, Video Podcasting has been possible with a few simple clicks for an awfully long time. It is just that the BBC is so regulated by policy that everything has to pass "public value testing" which can take upto a year. In addition the BBC are working really hard to try and solve all the rights issues that are associated with using such technologies.
- Paul Williams

Google Rolls out Video Store UK

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Google has launched a new video online service allowing consumers to upload their own videos and view content from a selection of television networks and independent producers.






A number of UK media partners have signed up to the service including Talkback Thames and ITN. They will initially use the site - video.google.co.uk - to offer "free promotional excerpts".
Unlike the US version, Google Video Store, which launched in the beginning of January, there are no immediate plans to enable UK customers to rent or buy premium content.

Mark Wood, chief executive of ITN, said: "As one of Google Video's original launch partners in the US earlier this year, ITN is very excited to enter into the next stage of global roll out of this unique service."

- Broadcast

Another case of "who needs Broadcasters anyway?"

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Here is a case in point - why should producers rely on broadcasters to distribute their content?

Aardman are doing it with their short films sent straight to mobiles and others created exclusively for the web. Now Talkback Thames is to enter the burgeoning UK on-demand market, launching a broadband service by the end of the summer that will allow consumers to pay to download its content direct from the internet.

The RTL-owned company will initially make available 200 hours of its flagship British comedy series, including Tommy Cooper, Goodnight Sweetheart and Men Behaving Badly.

More recent Talkback Thames series will be added at a later date.

"It is important to start to give consumers the choice in how they want to view their programming. If we don't give them options, someone else will."

More in Broadcast if you are a subscriber

Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Diving in Koh Tao - Turtle Island

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I have just finished my 6th dive and it just keeps on getting better. We went down to 18 metres. The water is so warm it's like having a bath and so clear you can see for upto 20 metres.

Our first dive was around Sail Rock - a large reef jutting out of the sea miles from anywhere. Swimming around the reefs and pinnacles you quickly gain an appreciation of the delicacy and richness of these environments. I saw fish of every possible colour, moray eels, snappers, shoals of barracudas, and little Nemo Clown Fish. We saw some large trigger fish which are quite territorial and can be aggressive if you get too close - so we didn't. If the UK was this warm and clear I would be happy to dive every weekend. It's truly magical, another world and one that I feel very privelidged to be able to see first hand. I always said that after I learned to drive I would learn to dive and finally I have - now I can Scive! We are thinking of heading to Goa for a spot of diving over Christmas - "the Sea is our oyster!"

Sail Rock - Jutting out in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand.

We spent last night on the Island of Koh Tao with a room directly on the beach a couple of hundred feet from the sea - no air conditioning though, so it was nasty and sweaty, even with the soothing sounds of the sea to hush us to sleep. We did spend an hour having a Thai Massage in air conditioned rooms which was incredible, a much needed retreat from the thick air outside. After cracking your bones, twisting your limbs, and doing things that completely baffle you - the masu leaves you feeling like a million dollars, before you sweat to death again! This island is certainly an idylic and relaxing paradise and has not yet been transformed by tourism, its only a matter of time before it's just like Samui, my boat back to that island leaves in 10 minutes so I will have to dash - bye for now.

"The Twins" - two pinnacles seperated by a sandy plain - we dived these twice.

Back in Blighty!

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I'm back in Blighty. After two weeks of temple hopping, reef diving, jungle trekking, girl dodging, T-shirt bartering, pina-colada drinking, sweat-drenched, sun baked days in the tropics, I finally return back to the Paradise Island of Great Britain.

As a I reflect on my brief moment in the magical kingdom of Thailand I can't help but be impressed by the friendliness, persistence and hard working of the Thai People. When faced with swarms of people bearing such riches as we (westeners) must seem to have, many people would find it hard not to be envious, angry or full of disdain. But the Thai people treat us courteously everywhere we go. Whether they are bestowing the pleasures of their skilled massage crafts to our weary western bodies, or bringing rich and flavourful dinners to our bloated appetites, they are full of smiles and Wai Greeting (their traditional method of greeting - with hands together in a prayer like position). We felt constantly indebted to our hosts and showed this in the form of generous tips for just about everything we could.

Thailand is the most culturally rich country I have ever visited; the food and scenery are majestical and the weather is exquisite. The temples are glorious and stand out in even the most slummiest neighbourhoods like flecks of gold on a muddy bank, glistening in the sun. The people are dedicated, religious and hospitable. The sea is warm and the beaches white - what more could we ask?

View from my room on Koh Tao

On the down side, it was hard to see children as young as 7 spending their days alone on the beach trying hard to sell a few flowers, or to see men and women older than my grandparents strolling endlessly up and down the hot streets desperate for their one sale of the day. We may not like the ever apparent sex trade which follows you like a shadow wherever you turn, the animal welfare standards or the stories of corrupt authorities, but we must remember that we are placing our western views and opinions on an eastern culture, it will take time, as all cultures do, to develop to a level where these problems make way for new challenges. I only hope they can retain their traditional and historical ways and fight the "mac-culture" epidemic which is spreading across the world, already having made victims of the once idyllic retreats of Phuket, and even Samui. In a few years Koh Tao will be as Samui is today, Samui will be like Phuket, and Phuket... well, it can't get any worse than Ibiza can it!

Anyway, that's enough of my wax lyricals, all I can say, is GO! Get there fast, and see it for yourself.

See my photograph page for pictures from my trips.

Melting on Samui

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On Samui melting! One hour from Bangkok but a whole world of difference - much more relaxed and civilised, less chance of being run over by a crazy driver. Less chance of people trying to sell us massages or girl shows. Bangkok is nice but you don't half get pestered by everyone from T-short sellers, to tour guides and Taxi drivers - you have to be strict and assertive, dont be led astray. Samui is a little different...

We know some people on the island who took us to a friends bar to see a ladyboy show last night - it was suprisingly very good and entertaining. The costumes were incredible and it was a great mix of comedy drag and classical culture. Its quite weird to be mesmerised by the dancing of men! But if you could see these "girls" I am sure you would be stunned too - the only way to tell (so I am informed) is that they are too beautiful to be the real thing. There was a Tina Turner act and he was brilliant - everything was just like the real artist, I'm sure Tina would be proud. We are of to visit the Dive shop and then to buy an "Armani" suit, get my eyes tested, buy some designer japanese glasses, and then go for a dip in the sea. I went for a swim at 2am and the water was so warm it was like a hot bath - if we dont get back in the water we'll be reduced to three pudles on the pavement... we melt away into the bustling street outside...

Big Buddha, Girls and more spending

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In a mad bar where they have some very graphic adult manga cartoons playing on the screens. To stop thai girls trying to grab me, or get me to buy them drinks, I thought I'd update my blog, and so did Steve (when they were in Chang Mai they spent 85pounds in one night just buying girls drinks, and in a country were a beer costs 60p - nutters!)

We've had a very busy day on a tour of the island. Saw elephants, monkeys, big buddha's and lots more - we were transported on the back of an army truck and it was so humid we melted - a swim in the pool at the bottom of a waterfall helped for a brief moment. We were taken on a landrover safari to the top of the mountains, along some very dodgy tracks, sure that we were either going to slide down a steep mountain side, tilt over, or be kidnapped by a mountain tribe - but it all turned out well in the end!

When we arrived back to our "beach bungalows" we quickly dived in our showers and then headed for the Armani Shop for the second fitting of our designer suits. I ordered two three piece suits - a pin stripe one and a tuxedo, and a couple of shirts, tailored just for me - it cost 350pounds! This place is so incredible for making a pauper like me feel like a prince. I even had a pedicure and a manicure.

Yesterday I got my eyes tested and it seems my prescription is now slightly worse since I last had it checked (I guess two years staring at the computer screen will do that to you), I bought some pilot frameless specs and some ray ban presciption specs for 100pounds each.

Tomorrow we are going to be picked up at 7am for the first of our diving trips. I will be with an instructor finishing my open water course.

The adventure continues...but first to deflect these girls!!

Waiting to fly to Samui

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We spent most of last night in Bangkok Hard Rock Cafe - quite an experience! There was a pretty fantastic Thai band playing all the great rock hits. After a morning lounging by the pool at the hotel, we are now waiting in Bangkok airport for our flight to Samui - should be seeing the white beaches in a couple of hours. Then we will have 7 days to explore the reefs and the mountains of Samui and Koh Tao. I only hope our accomodation is as good as the brochure says it will be - a thatched bungalow on the beach! Im looking forward to seeing elephants and the giant buddha (which is apparently much bigger than the reclinging budda that we saw at Wat Po yesterday). The adventure in the sun continues...

Bustling in Bangkok

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I landed in Bangkok a few days ago - thought I would give you a quick update:
In the words of the 1985 song "One night in Bangkok and the worlds your oyster"

We got here well after a 11 hour flight. Thai airways lost my luggage - bit of a bugger but not too much of a problem. Its very cheap, fake (although difficult to tell) top designer clothes a few pounds each - filling my bags up with shirts and shorts! Bangkok is a crazy city - hot, humid, weird smells, weird food, incredible buildings and temples. I'm staying in tallest hotel in city - on 63rd floor (it has 90!!!) we eat in the restaurant on the top floor - fanstic views of the city. Weather is very hot - dark tan on first day!

I have to barter with everyone I buy things from but thats part of the fun. Everyone trys to sell us things - they follow you around trying to get you to buy things. We also have a crazy journeys on the back of tuk-tuks, bikes which take you around the place - it fills us with fear, but its exciting too!

Flying down to islands from Bangkok tomorrow to go diving, should be lovely.

Our Hotel:

November Trip to Scotland

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Earlier this month I spent a week travelling around Scotland with Steve. It was my first chance to drive after finally passing my test - we drove almost 2000 miles in just 7 days. I never realised just how beautiful Scotland is, little islands and vast mountain ranges, a real explorers paradise. I also found out that you can survive on nothing much more than haggis and whiskey!

More on this later...

Living in the Catskills

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Click Here for the Frost Valley video - it's Pretty Cheesing but you get the idea:

When I lived in upstate New York, Catskill Mountains, I used to help look after the injured raptors. They are incredible animals and can sure squeeze tight if your not careful. They gave me a real insight into how fascinating the living natural world is, until then I had been mostly fascinated by the prehistoric and by fossilised animals. If your ever in the Catskills stop by Frost Valley and send my best: http://www.frostvalley.org/

Me and my buddy Vinny tried to climb as many of the Mountains as we could, he is passionate about birds and I learned a lot from him. In exchange I told him all i could about the geology of the region. Here I am on my favourite; Slide Mountain - you could even see our house from the top.

By the Grand Canyon

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This was just after my second big trip to the USA in 2000. Me and two friends, Matt and James travelled most of the US West Coast. Dont I look young - still wearing my RAG shirt from my University days.

Picture Quiz: Famous Faces & Characters

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Answers: 1. Dr Strangelove, Movie, 2. John Locke, Lost, 3. Madam Rolanda Hooch, 4. Brittney Spears, 5. Paul Gambachini, 6. Steve Rider, 7. Leonard Rossiter, 8. Jody Foster, 9. Lisa Kudrow, 10. David Duchovny, 11. Courtney Love, 12. John Inman, 13. Mick Jagger, 14. Hillary Minster, 15. River Phoenix