Monday, 31 March 2008

"Cool" behaviour filmed for Elephants Nomads of the Namib

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'Cool' elephants caught on film
Elephant (Natural World)

A BBC crew filmed the tusked beasts spraying themselves with water that they had stored in a reservoir in their throats several hours earlier.

Although this skill for storing water was first documented 100 years ago, the team believes this is the first time it has been filmed.

It forms part of Natural World's Elephant Nomads of the Namib Desert programme.

Cameraman Martyn Colbeck, who has spent the last two decades filming elephants, said: "Elephants normally drink every day, but the desert elephant has adapted to go up to five days without drinking.

"Just behind the tongue they have this little pouch called the pharyngeal pouch. This is an area that is used partly in communication - it allows the elephants to have all of the deep calls, but they can also store several litres of water in it.

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Friday, 28 March 2008

360 Virtual Reality puts you on location

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Check this out for a great use 360 Virtual Reality images for the "World on the Move" radio series. This one was sent back from my colleague Stephen Lyle who is in Tobago filming red-billed tropicbirds for the series 'Life'. Play the accompanying audio and it really brings the location to live, even better than linear video could.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

First Choice for Nightmare Journeys: 19 disasters and a Mustang

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I've never done a package holiday before but when I and my buddy Steve saw a holiday to Florida for £350 we just had to go. The price is where the value ended. A short last-minute get-away to Florida turned into a bugger of an adventure!

The holiday itself was fantastic but the journey to and from Florida was just an endless list of disaster, delay and discomfort... without rattling about it too much here are our top 19 moans... Grumble, Grumble...


1. It all started so well, we were awake at 5am, ready and in the Taxi by 5:30am and at the airport by 6. Our outbound flight was due to depart from Bristol at 9am. Upon check-in we were told that the flight had been delayed until 3pm and was now departing Manchester Airport. OK we thought, these things happen. I'm sure it's because of safety or some other important aviation thingy.

2. A bus would be arriving at 9:30am outside Bristol Airport to take us to Manchester. Great! however it did not arrive until 10:30am. Still no problem, an extra hour stood in the cold to help us appreciate how bad the weather was that we were leaving behind.

Me, still grinning and looking forward to some great films and comfortable seats. Behind me, passengers gather patiently - if only they knew what the day had in store.

3. While we waited, we were given a five pounds food voucher for the inconvenience, not enough to cover a sandwich and a coffee. Nevermind, we thought, at least we'll get some good food on the flight in the premier seats that we'd paid for.

4. At Manchester Airport, however, we were informed that we no longer had the premier seating.

5. The flight was now delayed a further 2 hours and would be departing at 5:30pm.

6. No £5 food voucher this time, instead we were given a £10 duty-free voucher! but what use is a bottle of whiskey (usually we'd be more than happy to drink whiskey to drown our sorrows) and some cigarettes (we don't smoke) when you want food.?
At least we still had some good films to look forward to, I'd heard that the Bee Movie was one of them.

7. Eventually, we were told that the aircraft had arrived and we boarded. We soon realised that it was an incredibly cramped aircraft most suited to short haul flights to Paris. The seats were more cramped and restrictive than any standard class I'd ever travelled on before (and i've been on some interesting flights in my time). This was a bit of a bugger for Steve who's 6’4” and it left him with creaky knees.

Once we had finally taken to the skies and settled into our cattle pens the long-awaited entertainment began. Sadly, all we had were those rubbishy, neck-aching TV's which dangle from the roof and which you can never quite get a good view of. Bee Movie was starting, that would surely help to pass a few hours - and if we were lucky, Enchanted would follow helping us to pass into drooling unconsciousness.

Unfortunately (bad point 8) all we could hear on our headphones was buzzing, and that wasn't from the bees but from a dodgy connection in the sound system which much to our dismay was only effecting our side of the aircraft. Almost in tears, and with no entertainment for the duration - my worst fear on any flight (the power on our personal entertainment devices had already expired during the long delays earlier in the day) we were given a free drink to make up for it! Had this been a drink of opium it might have been graciously received. A small bottle of JD was hardly enough to keep us occupied for 12 and a half hours, when we had expected premier class entertainment and refreshments.

9. It turned out, the captain informed us, that due to the size of the aircraft we didn't even have enough fuel to get to Florida! A flash of genius had however made them arrange for a stop over to refuel. Phew! but this would take us via the semi-arctic and to a place called Gander in Newfoundland. Nothing but ice, ice and a tiny airport. We were delayed further.

Surely we should have been in hot semi-tropical climes by now!

We eventually arrived in Sanford-Orlando around 23:00 local time, after a long and very stressful day almost 24 hours from when we first arrived at Bristol airport. Once again we were super-efficient getting through customs and out of the baggage lounge (when our luggage popped out first I was sure something bad was going to happen). We ran straight to car hire and managed to get the last red mustang convertible. Could our luck be changing? The holiday had started.

10. It wasn't ideal, to be driving over an hour to our resort, in the dark and on unfamiliar roads but by this stage we were willing to take the risk. Besides we were now super-cool dudes in our 'Tang.

Driving the 'Tang on Daytona Beach. Our Holiday was going well.


Nothing could possibly go wrong with our return journey, we'd had all the bad luck on the way here. So now it was time for things to be slick and efficient, back to the miserable cold, sleety weather in the UK. We waved goodbye to our friend, the 'Tang and checked in.

11. Ta Da! We were told that we would not be departing Sanford for at least 24 hours and that we would be transferred to a hotel. Well, an extra day on holiday. At least we're not stuck in Manchester we thought.

12. Our bus to the hotel arrived 1 hour late (we'd expected nothing more) and then dropped 50 of us at this really fantastic looking hotel, right in the heart of the action on International Drive. Only the hotel had no idea we were arriving, and had no room for us. We'd been dropped off, abandoned at the wrong hotel. The driver quickly had quickly driven away mumbling something about getting back to his Harley. 50 of us stranded four miles from the actual hotel we were supposed to be at. We tried calling First Choice on the number that we had been given at the airport but the automated message said that the offices were closed.

Still waiting

13. The staff at this hotel arranged taxis for us, which we paid for ourselves, it was so disastrous we just laughed. When would the camera crew pop out -"You've been Framed".

The actual hotel was OK, nothing much around but at least the food was great. Having an extra day at the hotel wasn't a problem as we'd missed a day of work by now (bad point 14 for me although I think Steve was more than happy about this). As it was the beginning of the Easter break by now we'd be happy to stay another 4 days over the holiday weekend. I doubt we'd be so lucky.

15. The First Choice rep at the hotel was as hot and flustered as some of the passengers, he'd obviously had enough and with a few rude words to some of the less patient travelers he quit and left the hotel for good.

16. From this point on we were pretty much on our own (nothing much had changed in our minds) and any information we received about our return journey was second hand and not entirely accurate.

We spent the evening investing our remaining dollars in the bar, and enjoying the unity of being stranded with several hundred fellow Brits. Steve and I just made the best of it and were determined to use this as a holiday extension rather than a period of winge and wait.

17. The next morning (20th March) we discovered that we would be picked up at the hotel at 3pm to be taken back to Sanford airport. We spent the morning constructively and had a nice long walk in the sun down international drive, popping into Ripleys believe it or not. We rushed back for 3pm, to be told that we would now be leaving the hotel at 5pm. Had we known this earlier we could have occupied ourselves with a whole range of activities available in the area - I could have gone and spent more quality time with Donald and Goofy. Instead we waited in the foyer which by this stage resembled a refugee camp.

Meeting Donald earlier in the week. I'm a big fan of all his films.

18. To our great surprise the bus arrived 10 minutes early (at 4:50pm). But, it was a really hot day, 35.5 degrees C and the bus didn't even have air conditioning. An alarm was continuously sounding and after an hour of travelling we realised why. The engine stopped, we coasted for about a mile and then just stopped, broken down 6 miles from the airport and stranded (again) on the side of a highway. Hot and exposed Steve and I still wondered where that camera crew were. It seemed odd why it was always our bus.

The police and sheriff arrive to take control of the situation, meanwhile Steve attempts to flag down any passing vehicle.

19. The only way we were able to reach the airport was by flagging down one of the other coaches and squashing into the aisles. I would have clung to the roof if it had got me to the airport. By this stage I just wanted to be home knowing that nothing else could possibly go wrong.

I wasn't sure whether it was safe to board the flight, but it was worth the risk.

What a relief when we boarded a nice big long-haul aircraft, sat in our comfy premier chairs and sat down ready for good refreshments and personal TV's with sound that actually worked.

I would certainly need a holiday after this little adventure.
First Choice, Last Choice.

- Paul Williams

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Checking out Spinvox: Voice to Text, Phone to Blog...

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SpinVox is a service that automatically converts incoming voicemails to text messages and delivers them to your handset. It's an interesting Web service that I've spent the evening testing. It's not very transparent about the payment plan for the different elements of the service (so keep an eye on your phone bill) but at least the first week is a free trial and certainly worth a go.

After a signing-up process that will leave some people confused, you select which of the different services you would like to use. In addition to the voicemail to sms text service, you can also opt to phone your blog, update your facebook status or twitter over the phone. You receive a unique phone number for each of these services which you can store and access as easy as calling Mum.

It worked pretty well in my trial, I called over a dozen times and spoke in various accents (it only recognises English, but not Yorkshirish) and I even mumbled at times. I'd give it 8 out of 10 for voice recognition (particulary when you consider that it is over a phone line) compared with 9 out of 10 for the Dragon Naturally Speaking desktop software which is also lots of fun to use - in a Trekkie sort of way!

For the most part Spinvox recognised the general gist of what I was saying, although missing out the odd verb can completely change the meaning of your message so be careful when calling the girlfriend... "Of course your bum did _ look big in that dress last night"
- Paul Williams

The Wild Film History Project

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Anyone with a passion for Natural History Television will find the WildFilmHistory website totally enchanting. Watch films from those first pioneering days of Wildlife TV and hear from the people who made it happen.

From the early days of clockwork cameras to the latest in HD technologies, Wild Film History is a fascinating online guide to the pioneering people and landmark productions behind one hundred years of wildlife filmmaking.

Uncover ground-breaking films, 'behind the scenes' photographs, essential production information, and specially crafted learning resources, as well as a unique collection of personal memoirs from key industry players.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Three reasons why geek can be Sexy and Cool.

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These girls are witty, intelligent, sexy and fun. They are, or were, the presenters of, my favorite video blog. It was the quirkiness of Amanda Congden which first got me hooked back in 2005, and since Joanne Colan became Anchor in 2006 she has really made it her own. The occasional appearance from Elspeth Rountree, who produces the show, adds greatly to the already eclectic range and style of the daily videos. You just can't appreciate Rocketboom until you've watched for at least two weeks. It might feel strange at first, a little weird, but then you're hooked, and you can't wait until the next episode.

Visit SexyGeeks for more sexy geeks.

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Ellie Rountree

Co-producer, resident blogger, and occasional host of Rocketboom. Super hot and highly knowledgeable of internets.

Amanda Congdon

From her blog: "Amanda Congdon is the President of Oxmour Entertainment. She is a videoblogger, writer, actress and producer. You can watch and participate in her videoblogs on Amanda graduated Magna Cum Laude from Northwestern University with an undergraduate degree in Organizational Communications and later received her graduate degree in videoblogging at"

Joanne Colan

Wikipedia: "With an eye for irony and a comedic slant, she began hosting Rocketboom on July 12, 2006.[1]. She offers amusing and/or informative video clips and web links from a desk in the Rocketboom studio, and has delivered many Rocketboom field reports from the Lincoln Center, Coney Island and other New York locations."

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Thursday, 6 March 2008

Life in Cold Blood: Armoured Giants more valued than any other programme on TV

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Monday 3rd March, 21.00, BBC1
6.1M Viewers, 26% Audience Share
(Average for Monday 21.00 = 5.62M, 23%)
This programme recieved an AI (Audience appreciation Index) of 93 - which is a BBC record.
This shows, out of a hundred, how much the audience valued the programme, and is considered more important than the number of viewers.

Radio Times: Armoured Giants
In tonight's final dispatch from the world of the reptiles one scene stands out. We see a male marine turtle in the throes of what David Attenborough likes to call "making love" or "union" with a female. The mating couple are enjoying an undersea embrace that looks tender and beautiful - until a rival male turns up and starts trying to get in on the act, biting the first male's flippers, swatting him in the head and so on. Then more interlopers arrive and they all try to butt in. The tussle that ensues is astounding - a mixture of brutal and touching. For that matter, so is the moment when an alligator lunges at Sir D, and not forgetting the postscript about the world's loneliest creature, the Pinta Island tortoise, who is about the same age as Attenborough and, perhaps also like him, one of a kind.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Cambridge University: Secrets behind Life in Cold Blood

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Secrets behind BBC's Life in Cold Blood series to be revealed
15 February 2008

The Museum of Zoology will offer a unique insight in to the production of the BBC's new natural history series at a talk taking place next week.

To celebrate the final part of David Attenborough's 'Life in....' series the Museum is to host a special talk on 22 February about the making of Life in Cold Blood. The exclusive event, which has been organised by wildlife charity Froglife, will include behind-the-scenes footage and inside information on the making of the show from members of the production team.

Series producer Miles Barton and researcher Paul Williams will be giving a talk and taking questions from the audience.

The series, made by the BBC's world famous Natural History Unit, uses the latest technology including ultra-high-speed, thermal, miniature and on-board cameras to obtain never-before-seen footage.

The evening will also feature a presentation from Dr Trent Garner of the Institute of Zoology, who will talk about current research on amphibian declines globally.

Froglife's Kathy Wormald, who helped organise the event, said: "This event will give an amazing insight into how 'Life in Cold Blood' came about. By including talks from global experts, attendees will hear about the dramatic declines that are occurring for many species worldwide, and the conservation work that is being undertaken by a host of conservationists."

The Department of Zoology will be hosting a number of free events at the forthcoming Cambridge Science Festival. The Museum will display an exhibition of local wildlife images by international photographer Chris Gomersall as well as hosting a series of games, craft activities and museum trails with the help of the Wildlife Trust.

Cambridge Hands on Science (CHaOS), a student society aimed at increasing public interest in science, will be holding events at the Department throughout Science Saturday on 15 March. Events include Crash, Bang, Squelch, a series of hands-on experiments, demonstrations and explanations run by a group of student volunteers.

Tickets for the talk can be purchased by calling Lucy Benyon at Froglife on 01733 558960 or by emailing

Froglife is a national wildlife charity concerned with the protection of Britain's amphibians and reptiles.

Skin eating Caecilians: behind the scenes with the Scientists

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The image below is a close-up of the tooth of a Caecilian, specially adapted for peeling the mother's skin, discovered by Natural History Museum scientists in 2006, and filmed for Life in Cold Blood. Watch the original scientific footage on the Natural History Museums website.
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Close up of teeth of young amphibian caecilian that they use to eat their mother's skin.

Close up of grappling hook teeth of young amphibian caecilian that they use to eat their mother's skin. © The Natural History Museum/Alexander Kupfer

A remarkable form of parental care, where young amphibians feed on their mother's skin, is revealed today in the journal Nature.

The species is called
Boulengerula taitanus.
The females transform their outer skin into a thick, nutrient-rich meal for their babies. The young crawl over their mother and peel and eat the skin with their specialised teeth.

This highly unusual method of parental care is called dermatotropy and was previously unknown in animals.

'That this amazing behaviour has never been seen before shows how much we still have to learn about the diversity of these animals,' said Mark Wilkinson, zoologist at the Museum.

Caecilians are snake-like amphibians related to frogs and newts. They mostly burrow in tropical soil and their underground behaviour is rarely seen. B. taitanus is from Kenya and can grow up to 30cm long.

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Tuesday, 4 March 2008

6.1 million watch last episode of "Life in Cold Blood"

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The last ever appearance of David Attenborough in a major natural history series attracted just over 6 million viewers to BBC1 last night, March 3.

Attenborough's Life in Cold Blood concluded with 6.1 million viewers and a 26% share on BBC1 in the 9pm hour last night - up 500,000 viewers and two share points on last week's outing, according to unofficial overnights.

The audience for the fifth and final episode of Life in Cold Blood increased throughout the hour, peaking at 6.4 million and a 28% share in the final quarter hour between 9.45pm and 10pm. The series launched with 6.7 million viewers and a 28% share in early February.

Life in Cold Blood will be Attenborough's last major full-scale natural history series - the 82-year-old has vowed to film one-off programmes from now on, including one on evolution.
Attenborough's examination of the reptilian world continued to easily win its slot against the final episode of ITV1's drama series about a fictional British royal family.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Crocodile feeding frenzy filmed for Life in Cold Blood

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In Australia, David reveals newly-discovered behaviour. On a flooded road by a small river, over 40 huge saltwater crocodiles gather and work together to feast on migrating fish. Just like bears feeding on salmon, they gather together especially for this event and dramatically pick off fish as they leap through the air. This is remarkable behaviour, since these crocodiles are highly territorial and have to suppress their aggression when they are massed together.
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Crocodile feeding frenzy

A BBC crew managed to film over 40 of the huge beasts gathering and working together to feast on fish migrating up the Mary River in Australia.
This cooperative feeding behaviour has only recently been discovered - saltwater crocodiles are usually highly territorial creatures.
The animals were filmed with the help of infrared cameras because the spectacle took place during the night.
Mullet migrate in spring; they wait for the high-tide so they can swim up-river to breed.
The crocodiles knew when to gather at the river. The BBC crew filmed them picking the mullet off one by one as the fish swam past.
The footage was recorded for BBC One's Life in Cold Blood.

Life In Cold Blood is on BBC One on Monday, 3 March at 2100 GMT.

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